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The Virginia militia is an armed force composed of all citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia capable of bearing arms. The Virginia militia was established in 1607 as part of the British militia system. Militia service in Virginia was compulsory for all free males. The main purpose of the Crown's militia was to repel invasions and insurrections and to enforce the laws of the colony.
In 1623, the year following the outbreak of the first major Anglo-Powhatan War in Virginia, the Virginia General Assembly commanded, "that men go not to work in the ground without their arms; That no man go or send abroad without a sufficient partie well armed." In 1661 Governor William Berkeley stated, "All our freemen are bound to be trained every month in their particular counties." The British county lieutenant system was employed as the population grew and every county had a lieutenant appointed who became the chief militia officer of the county. The militia system was originally used to defend against Native American tribes of the Tidewater area of Virginia. As the slave population grew in Virginia the militia played a role in keeping slaves from running away or from revolting through the use of militia patrollers. This Virginia militia system was put to the test in 1676 during Bacon's Rebellion. The Crown's militia was victorious over Nathaniel Bacon who tried to seize power. The English Bill of Rights of 1689 guaranteed Virginians as loyal British subjects the following:
During the French and Indian War (1754–1763), a formal act came into effect.
In 1774 revolution was at Virginia's doorstep when Royal Governor Lord Dunmore dissolved the Virginia House of Burgesses because of their support of the city of Boston against the closing of the Port of Boston by Lord North. On May 15, 1776 the Virginia General Assembly voted unanimously for independence and to have a declaration of rights drawn up. Colonel George Mason became the principal author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights which was published on June 12, 1776. Mason drew from his own previous writings upon his founding of the Fairfax County Independent Company of Volunteers on September 21, 1774. This company was a paramilitary organization independent of the Crown's militia. Article 13 of the Virginia Declaration of Rights which established the militia clause as a fundamental right was based upon three solid English rights: the right to revolution, the right to group self-preservation and the right to self-defense. Under Article 13 of the Virginia Declaration of Rights he wrote:
"That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power."
The Virginia militia system as a compulsory service composed of the body of the people trained to arms as envisioned by George Mason remained intact until the end of the American Civil War. Reconstruction governments forced upon Virginia an all-volunteer militia system in opposition to Virginia's Bill of Rights. The militia became statutorily composed of the volunteer and the unorganized militia.
In 1971, the Virginia Bill of Rights under Article I, Section 13, was changed to the following by popular vote:
The current Virginia Militia under Virginia Code § 44-1 states "The militia of the Commonwealth of Virginia shall consist of all able-bodied citizens of this Commonwealth and all other able-bodied persons resident in this Commonwealth who have declared their intention to become citizens of the United States, who are at least sixteen years of age and, except as hereinafter provided, not more than fifty-five years of age. The militia shall be divided into four classes, the National Guard, which includes the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, the Virginia State Defense Force, the naval militia, and the unorganized militia."
Permanent faculty members of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) are normally offered commissions in the naval or unorganized militia of Virginia. The Superintendent of VMI is normally a Lieutenant General of the unorganized Virginia militia unless he or she is a regular US military officer of higher rank. The corps of cadets also serves as cadet members of the unorganized militia. Staff members of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets also may hold officer appointments in the Virginia Militia, unless they hold higher rank as active or retired US military officers.
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