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It was the late 1800's, and despite the use of Regular troops in notable instances, the organized militia under state control saw more strike duty than the Regulars in the years after the Civil War. The volunteer militia organizations that had existed since the colonial period became, in effect, the only real militia in existence in those years. The events of the 1870's in particular led many persons to fear another insurrection, and as a result legislation was introduced to improve and to provide better arms for the organized militia. In 1879, in support of this effort, the National Guard Association came into being in St. Louis, and between 1881 and 1892 every state revised its military code to provide for an organized militia, which most states, following the lead of New York, called the National Guard. As such, it was by 1898 the principal reserve standing behind the Regular Army.

There was a certain martial enthusiasm in the 1880's and 1890's, despite the general antimilitarism of the period, that swelled the ranks of the Guard. Also, the Guard attracted some persons because it was a fraternal group that appealed to the manly virtues of physical fitness, duty, and discipline; and it attracted many because it was a kind of social club whose members enjoyed a local prestige. Although organized by states, the Guard had roots in the new nationalism of the period, as may be seen in its very name. Despite this new proposal for a new militia act, apathy, states' rights, and antimilitarism prevented Congress from enacting the desired legislation. Through the efforts of the National Guard Association, the Guard nevertheless succeeded in securing an act in 1887 that doubled the $200,000 annual federal grant for firearms that the militia had enjoyed since 1808.