Trivia: The Creation of the U.S. Army

On September 29, 1789, Congress approved legislation that provided for the creation of an army under the terms of the recently ratified U.S. Constitution. To celebrate the official birth of the U.S. Army, try your luck with some trivia. 

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What Happened to the Army That Defeated the British? # Originally built in 1700 to serve as New York's city hall, Federal Hall in the late 18th century was home to the newly organized U.S. Congress. Although the U.S. Army traces its roots back to the Continental Army, created by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, that force, made up primarily of state militias, was largely disbanded after its victory over the British and the end of the American Revolution. All that remained of that once-large military force were about 700 troops, who remained in service to protect frontier settlements from attacks by Native Americans or British forces.

Anti-military sentiment was strong among the citizens of the newly created United States. In its June 2, 1784, resolution ordering the disbanding of the Continental Army, Congress observed that "standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican government, dangerous to the liberties of a free people, and generally converted into destructive engines for establishing despotism."

What Cabinet Department Originally Oversaw the U.S. Army? # Henry Knox, who served as a senior officer under Washington during the American Revolution, was selected to head the newly created U.S. Department of War. Nearly two months before the creation of the U.S. Army, Congress on August 7, 1789, created the Cabinet-level Department of War. It was this department's responsibility to oversee and direct the field army, which at that time consisted of only about 700 men.

For the next 158 years, the department was responsible for the supervision of American armed forces, including the Navy for almost a decade until the establishment of the Navy Department in 1798. The War Department continued in existence until September 14, 1947, when it was split into the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force. Those two new departments joined the Department of the Navy as part of the joint National Military Establishment, which in 1949 was rechristened the Department of Defense.

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Who Prodded Congress to Create the U.S. Army? Given the anti-military sentiments common among Americans and their representatives in the federal legislature, Congress was in no hurry to establish a new army. Under the new U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1788, Congress was given the authority to raise and support armies, yet its members apparently assigned a relatively low priority to this new responsibility.

On August 7, 1789, as Congress created the War Department, President George Washington urged legislators to create a military force "on which the honor, safety, and well being of our country so evidently and essentially depend." Three days later, Washington again called upon Congress to create an army, but it was not until September 29, 1789, the final day of the congressional session, that legislators finally took action.

Who Was the First Secretary of War? Henry Knox, a native of Massachusetts, served as a senior military officer under General George Washington in the Continental Army. At the end of the American Revolution, he retired to his native state. On September 12, 1789, Congress chose Knox to head the newly created Department of War, a position he retained until December 31, 1794.




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