In a suit concerning the alleged servitude of previously disparate citizens, the meticulously prepared terms of the U.S. Constitution were construed to be no more than oppressive and unfair expectations of those living under their otherwise protective measures.
Art. I, § 8, cl. 11 of the U.S. Constitution reads that Congress is empowered:
“To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water….”
And thus, art. I, § 8, cl. 12 provides that Congress can:
“[R]aise and support armies….”
While art. I, § 8, cl. 18 further states that Congress has the power:
“To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”
Those same constitutional powers are then supported by art. VI, cl. 2, which explains that:
“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”
However, in times of crisis the Federal Constitution also provides that Congress is granted power:
“To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”
Which denotes that while Congress was constitutionally free to raise armies by enlistment or compulsory draft, the actual construction of the U.S. militia was one left for individual States to arrange.
Under the National Guard Act of 1903, those same militia use during the preceding civil wars were converted into the National Guard, while a further number were used to create the National Guard Reserve under the National Defense Act of 1916; both of which, were then trained and organised by the individual States.
Thus, when Congress enacted ‘An Act to authorize the President to increase temporarily the military establishment of the United States’ in 1917, a number of men argued that such legislation violated the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which itself read that:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Despite which, all six of the defendants were convicted in the District Courts of both Minnesota and New York, before petitioning to the U.S. Supreme Court under writ of error.
Here, the Court reminded them of the above separation of powers under the Constitution, while also noting by way of example, that when referencing the definition of militia, art. 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 clearly explained:
“That every member of society hath a right to be protected in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and therefore is bound to contribute his proportion toward the expense of that protection, and yield his personal service when necessary, or an equivalent thereto.”
Therefore with little empathy for the petitioners’ complaints, the Court upheld the two district court judgments in full, while holding that:
“A default in exercising a duty may not be resorted to as a reason for denying its existence.”