In 1787, when the Philadelphia convention authorized Congress to “raise and support Armies” and “provide and maintain a Navy,” what Congress actually raised and supported was not much of an improvement on the Confederation’s version of an army and navy. It was only in March of 1792 that Congress finally decided to expand the army.
Indian Tribes of the Iroquois Federation
On the northern and north-western frontier, the powerful Indian tribes of the Iroquois federation, the Six Nations of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas and Tuscaroras, as well as their western dependents, the Shawnee, Wyandot, Chippewa and Delaware were willing to concede that their allies, the British, had been defeated in the Revolutionary War, but they were much less willing to admit that they had been defeated.
So when American commissioners and Iroquois chiefs met at Ft. Stanwix in the fall of 1784 to create a peace settlement, the Iroquois balked at being treated as a conquered people who had lost title to their territories along the Great Lakes. In the end, the Seneca sachem Corn planter bargained away land in New York and Ohio in order to get peace and secure title to what was left. Similar treaties with the Iroquois’s western allies followed in 1785 at Ft. McIntosh and in 1786 at Ft. Finney, while to the South, the Cherokees and Creeks made similar bargains in the treaties at Augusta and at Hopewell.
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The Dissidents Fight Back
The bargains angered dissidents among the tribes—Joseph Brant among the Iroquois, Alexander MacGillivray among the Creeks, and Dragging Canoe among the Cherokee—who eyed these agreements with suspicion.
In 1785, low-level warfare broke out in the Ohio country and Kentucky, as Shawnee and Cherokee war parties pushed back on encroaching white settlements.
When the Confederation proved unable to respond, the extended North Carolina settlements, which are today the state of Tennessee, made disturbing motions toward proclaiming themselves the state of Franklin and began conducting back-door negotiations with the Spanish, with Don Diego de Gardoqui, in order to put themselves under the sovereignty—and protection—of Spain.
In spite of this, Americans remained entranced by the reputation of citizen-soldier militias like the ones they thought had won the Revolution.
Learn more about post-Revolutionary America.
The Department of War
The Department of War was created on August 7, 1789, and Washington’s old artillery chief, Henry Knox, was appointed to head it as he had done the Confederation’s war department. But when Knox introduced Washington’s plan for a “legionary corps” of 2,000 men whose cadres would absorb the state militias in times of emergency, the new Congress stiffened; when Congress finally approved a plan on September 29, 1789, it provided only for a single regular regiment of 840 men in eight infantry companies and four artillery companies.
A year later, Congress grudgingly authorized a modest expansion to 1,200 men in 12 companies. They might have saved themselves that small trouble.
Army Regiments and Indians
In 1790, three companies of the First Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmer, along with 1,500 Pennsylvania and Virginia militia, attempted to track down marauding Shawnee and Miami Indians along the Maumee River in western Ohio. The Indians instead turned on Harmer’s force, sending the militia fleeing in panic and allowing the regulars to stand and be massacred.
Congress was galvanized into authorizing a second regiment of regulars. But when the Governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, tried to lead them in a second expedition, St. Clair blundered into an Indian ambush at the headwaters of the Wabash River and they were nearly annihilated.
Learn more about the Articles of Confederation.
Expansion of Army
Finally, in March of 1792, Congress voted to reconstitute the two existing infantry regiments, and recruit three further infantry regiments and four troops of mounted infantry or dragoons.
Armed with the independent financial powers given by the Constitution, Congress did not have to go cap-in-hand to the states for the money for these troops; in fact, Congress passed a national militia bill in May of 1792 which spelled out the federal government’s authority over the state militias in explicit terms.
With those resources finally in force, Revolutionary veteran Anthony Wayne brought the Shawnee and Miami to bay at the battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794, and ended at least that threat—for the moment.
Common Questions about the Expansion and Strengthening of the American Army
The Department of War was created on August 7, 1789, and Washington’s old artillery chief, Henry Knox, was appointed to head it.
In 1790, three companies of the First Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmer, along with 1,500 Pennsylvania and Virginia militia, attempted to track down marauding Shawnee and Miami Indians along the Maumee River in western Ohio.
In March of 1792, Congress voted to reconstitute the two existing infantry regiments, and recruit three further infantry regiments and four troops of mounted infantry or dragoons. In May of 1792, Congress passed a national militia bill which spelled out the federal government’s authority over the state militias in explicit terms.