Asked to embody their communities and enforce the rule of law, members of the militia and National Guard had, in decades past, found themselves torn between these two duties when their neighbors took to the street in protest or riot. In 1812, for example, the Baltimore militia had stayed home rather than stop the lynching of an unpopular group of Federalists. In 1844, by contrast, Philadelphia militiamen had battled their fellow nativists in defense of a Catholic church, putting the law above their own sympathies. And in the chaos of 1877, guardsmen split over how to respond to orders to suppress angry strikers.
This paper will explore how guardsmen, officers, politicians, workers, and industrialists regarded the loyalty of the Pennsylvania National Guard in that dreadful summer and in its aftermath. Focusing on events in Pittsburgh, it will ask why the violence of 1877, more than previous decades’ riots, prompted a broad reconsideration of the militia’s role in civil disorder.
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