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Citizen‐Soldier. The concept of the “citizen‐soldier” is based on the notion that citizens have the obligation to arm themselves to defend their communities or nations from foreign invaders and from domestic tyrants. Usually associated with republicanism, it is best understood in opposition to other forms of military organization, par ticularly the practices of hiring mercenaries or establishing professional standing armies of the state. In the latter two cases, soldiers and officers are isolated from society and can represent a praetorian challenge to legitimate rule. By contrast, the citizen‐soldiers embody the will of the people directly because they are the people. They have a stake in preserving liberties and rights in a society, hence supplying a check on tyranny and corruption of governments.

In American history, the concept gained widespread popularity in the decade before the Revolutionary War and became associated with colonial militia. Philosophically grounded in more than a century of Whig antimilitarism brought over from England, calls for citizen‐soldiering spread throughout the colonies, especially after the Boston Massacre in 1770 (in which regular soldiers in the British army killed five civilians in the streets). Pamphleteers whipped up American hatred of the British “standing army,” which became a catch phrase associated with all colonial grievances. The Declaration of Independence repeatedly charged King George II with abusing his power through the use of his standing army of non‐citizen‐soldiers: “He has kept among us … standing armies”; “He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power…”

In the early years after independence, the concepts of the citizen‐soldier and the standing army also became identified with the larger struggle for political power between the states and the central government. Federalist politicians, many of whom had fought in the Continental army in the Revolutionary War and had firsthand experience with the indiscipline and inefficiency of militia soldiers, pressed for the establishment of a strong, standing army under the direct command of the central government. However, Anti‐Federalists claimed that such an army could be used by a national government to oppress the citizenry and argued for the continued maintenance of state‐raised and state‐commanded militias of citizen‐soldiers; their concern was that in a nation as large as the United States, the central government could become dislocated from its citizens and enforce its authority only by use of its army. A compromise emerged in which the Constitution allows Congress “to raise and support armies” as necessary, but the Second Amendment also allows states to maintain militias.

Throughout history, the problem of the “citizen‐soldier” has been that it represented an ideal abstraction rather than an operationally efficient strategy in anything but the most local kinds of community defense. In the United States, the concept evolved through the militia and the U.S. Volunteers, and lives on in the form of the National Guard.
[See also Arms, Right to Bear; Army Reserves and National Guard; Civil‐Military Relations.]


Richard H. Kohn , Eagle and Sword, 1975.
Allan R. Millett , The American Political System and Civilian Control of the Military, 1979.
Eliot A. Cohen , Citizens and Soldiers: The Dilemmas of Military Service, 1990.

Mary P. Callahan