Museum Spotlight: Founding the U.S. Army
When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the question of what to do with the Army remained a crucial issue for the Continental Congress. Skepticism of a peacetime Army remained high owing to costs and the potential threat to peoples’ freedoms for which the Revolution had been fought. The “Founding the Army” exhibit, located within the Founding the Nation sub-gallery, will explore the events that shaped the early Army and how the foundations that were set have proven durable and remain the cornerstone of today’s modern Army.
Visitors will first be introduced to the Congressional debates throughout the 1780s about the need for an Army. The ultimate resolution of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was the system of checks and balances that protects against the possibility of a permanent Army taking over the government.
On the walls of the exhibit, questions will be posed regarding three main dilemmas facing Congress, the Army and all Americans: What does the Constitution say? Do we need a peacetime Army? Who controls the Army?
Below each question, information will be provided to expand upon how these issues were handled by the new nation’s leaders. Visitors can learn about the importance of checks and balances within the government to ensure that no single person or group has sole control of the armed forces and that the military is ultimately run by the American people. The exhibit will discuss the continuing debate over the size and/or need for a peacetime Army. Additionally, it will explore the speci c question of who makes decisions for the Army which fundamentally cannot take action on its own.
Displayed among this information will be quotes from contemporaries of the time, including George Washington and Thomas Je erson, speaking to these issues during this tenuous period of American history which ultimately laid down the foundations for the government and Army we have today.
“ I believe the power of raising and keeping up an army, in time of peace, is essential to every government.”
– James Wilson, Pennsylvania Delegate to the Constitutional Convention, 1787.