You didn’t learn about this in your public high school history class, at least not recently. “Muster Day” was established in the United States after the passage of the Militia Acts of 1792 and remained a yearly tradition until the Civil War. It’s a great institution, and it’s high time to bring it back. It may even help preserve the right to keep and bear arms if we continue our Parkland-driven anti-gun spiral.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last twenty years, you’re likely aware that there are two interpretations of the Second Amendment. The first, recognized by the Supreme Court in the 2008 D.C. v. Heller decision, holds that the right to keep and bear arms resides with the individual. The second interpretation, popular among the anti-gun lobby though never validated by the Supreme Court, makes the Second Amendment contingent on militia service, which would currently disqualify most Americans from the right to own a firearm in the U.S.
The anti-gunners have made no secret about their intent to establish this second interpretation as the law of the land. Hillary Clinton said as much leading up to her failed election bid, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens argued along these lines in his dissenting Heller opinion. This interpretation is how gun control advocates can claim that they support the Second Amendment while promoting firearms regulations: if the Second Amendment only applies to militias, individual gun rights can be restricted to virtual oblivion.
Right now, the chances are slim that the Supreme Court will reverse the Heller decision, but here’s a doomsday scenario that, as our prepper friends are constantly reminding us, isn’t all that unlikely.
Democrats, galvanized by their hatred of President Trump, descend from their Martha’s Vineyard mansions and win back Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020. The anti-gunners immediately pass an “assault weapons” ban, which President Joe Biden signs. Texas and South Carolina sue the federal government on Second Amendment grounds.
The Supreme Court can’t ignore this Second Amendment case. Unfortunately, 85-year-old Ronald Reagan appointee Anthony Kennedy retired in 2022, and Uncle Joe has given leftists a 5-4 advantage. This new Court decides to take advantage of the opportunity. They strike down Scalia’s interpretation and instituted their own: Second Amendment rights are contingent on militia service, and both state and federal laws can prohibit private ownership of firearms.
Here’s where Muster Day comes in. The Militia Acts of 1792 required every able-bodied citizen between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to be a member of the state militia. Congress was concerned about responding to civil unrest, so they passed two laws that, to a certain extent, established uniformity among the various state military units.
Muster Day was the annual gathering in towns and cities by which the actual enrollment was accomplished (Stone 33). Members were required to appear on the stated day and furnish a musket or firelock, bayonet and belt, spare flints, knapsack, and a pouch containing not less than 24 cartridges, along with other pieces of gear (“Militia Act of 1792”). Officers took the opportunity to train their members, and the men also gathered to drink and socialize.
People of all political persuasions believed the militias would be the “shield of the Republic,” and state units provided the vast majority of American forces during the War of 1812 (Stone 33). Since then, militia troops were used less frequently until the Dick Act of 1903 officially replaced the 1792 model with the National Guard.
But for over 100 years, Muster Day comprised a central part of American life and culture. The following excerpt was published in a periodical called The Youth’s Companion on April 19, 1883. The author describes “muster days” when he was boy, which likely occurred in the early-to-mid nineteenth century:
When we were boys, in what was then known as the Province of Maine, we were deeply impressed by “muster days.” As the martial notes awoke in the early morning, we rushed out of bed, hurried on our clothes, and ran to the place of rendezvous. It was an exciting scene; it looked so grand, so warlike!
Troops had arrived in considerable numbers, and others were constantly arriving. Here and there a company was attending to the calling of the muster-roll. How strangely grand all that sounded! The calling of names, the response in a prompt, rapid manner all along the line. Then there was a drill and a series of revolutions, preparatory to the greater scene to be acted later that day.
The author goes on to describe how the entire town had gathered to watch the demonstration, and the soldiers even put on a mock battle between English and American troops. Though muster days took a variety of forms, they all worked to ensure militia membership, train troops, and give local communities a holiday.
The U.S. Congress isn’t going to reinstate compulsory militia membership any time soon, but what’s to stop private entities from resurrecting Muster Day? What if, even after the hypothetical Supreme Court grants Second Amendment rights only to militia members, the Muster Day revival has enabled millions of Americans to enlist in the National Guard and retain their right to keep and bear arms? Imagine the surprise on President Biden’s face when the Court’s misinterpretation of the Second Amendment increases militia membership and guarantees gun rights for citizens across the country.
National Guard service shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, of course, and thousands of citizens won’t be permitted to join the Guard per their enlistment requirements. But if the anti-gun lobby wants to tie gun rights to militia membership, they should prepare to swell the ranks of the modern-day militias. Muster Day could be a way to get that ball rolling long before the anti-gunners get their way.
“Militia Act of 1792.” The Gun Debate: An Encyclopedia of Gun Control & Gun Rights, edited by Grey House Publishing, 3rd edition, 2016. Credo Reference, http://ezproxy.baylor.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/greygun/militia_act_of_1792/0?institutionId=720. Accessed 02 Apr. 2018.
“MUSTER-DAY.” The Youth’s Companion (1827-1929), vol. 56, no. 16, Apr 19, 1883, pp. 162, ProQuest, http://ezproxy.baylor.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/127060108?accountid=7014.
Stone, Richard G. A Brittle Sword: The Kentucky Militia, 1776-1912. 1st ed., University Press of Kentucky, 1977. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jd0c.