[Philadelphia]: 18 April 1796. Folio. 6 pages. Stitched, untrimmed. In very good condition. Item #408196
First edition. Most Founding Fathers viewed a standing army as an evil not to be established, but many Federalists soon saw it as a necessity. In the 1790s, during and just after the Indian wars, "the American military came into existence piecemeal. The Federalist leadership sold it to a suspicious public over Republican objections, one element at a time, always as a temporary defensive expedient" (Kohn, p. 174). By 1795, Jay's Treaty with Britain and treaties with the Indians of Ohio removed all threat of hostilities for the first time in the young nation's history, and there were calls for the army to be disbanded. In 1796 Congress debated the shape, if any, that the American military should take.
This rare bill presents the moderate House plan for reduction and reorganization of the army. The nineteen sections of the bill, which after joint conference with the Senate became the Act to Ascertain and Fix the Military Establishment (approved on May 30), establishes the number of officers and men for each regiment as well as pay, rations, penalties for desertion and enticement to desert, benefits for wounded and disabled, and other matters. The final section prints in full what is likely the first Oath of Allegiance for the United States military.
Though the Republicans overcame the Federalists in the bill's particulars, "in defeat they [the Federalists] achieved an objective for which they had long been striving: a peacetime regular army." "In institutional terms the act of 1796 became the foundation of American military policy for the next century... Every war would inspire army expansion or reorganization, but afterwards it invariably returned to its 1796 outline. Born in a partisan attack on the military, opposed by an administration obsessed with the security needs of the moment, and shaped by the intense personal struggle between two sensitive generals [Wilkinson and Wayne] and the peculiar international and domestic situation of the Washington administration's last year in office, the 'Act to asce1tain and fix the Military Establishment' of 1796 marked the true beginning of America's peacetime army" (Kohn, Eagle and Sword: The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America, 1783-1802, p. 186).
VERY RARE. Not in Evans or Bristol. This is evidently the second copy located; the other is at American Antiquarian Society.