In fact, this is precisely how Thomas Jefferson wanted to interpret the constitution, because his ideology revolted against a standing army, or any long-serving professional military service. Fortunately for the United States, a professional navy had been formed, trained and provided what were then the most modern warships in the world in the administrations of Washington and Adams.
Jefferson would have seen American shores defended by a gun-boat navy, and the interior of the country defended by the militia. In late 1812, the attempt to invade Canada at Queenstown, Upper Canada (modern Ontario) was hampered by large numbers of the New York militia refusing to cross the Niagara River. Of those who did, many, upon discovering that they might actually be shot at, pushed aside the wounded to board the boats and hurry back to the New York side. I'm sure Jefferson would have applauded militia members who would not have invaded another country.
But what of the performance of the militia elsewhere? In 1814, after veterans of Wellington's peninsular campaign had been landed in Maryland, they began to march toward Washington, D.C. At Bladensburg, Maryland, they were opposed by Maryland and Virginia militia. The English numbered about 2,000 troops (somewhat less, in fact); they estimated their opponents at 9,000. That was an exaggeration, though--the militiamen numbered only about 7,000. So the English were attacking a 1 to 3.5, not 1 to 4.5. The militia threw down their arms, and ran, as fast as the fat little civilian legs would carry them. The position was defended by sailors and Marines of the gunboat navy, which the Royal Navy had handily sunk in a matter of days. The sailors were so devoted to their profession that the English reported that they continued to serve the guns (the artillery which the militia had abandoned when they ran away) "even after we had shot down all of their officers and were among them with the bayonet." The Marines defended their position until the sun went down, and then marched away, carrying all of their dead and wounded.
The battle we lost at Bladensburg nevertheless enabled Mr. Madison's government to evacuate Washington with all of their papers and archives. No thanks to the militia.
By contrast, the Royal Navy, which prided itself on not having lost any fleet action in more than 20 years, which prided itself on having lost no more than a handful of single-ship actions in the 20 years, which prided itself on having taken on and humiliated, even defeated out of hand, the fleets of Spain, France, Denmark, Prussia (for what little "fleet" they had), Sweden and Russia--fared considerably differently with the tiny American navy. The immediate consequence of the outbreak of war for the Royal Navy was that the United States Navy--then consisting of no line of battle ships, nine frigates and a handful of brigs and sloops--humiliated the English as they had done the rest of Europe. The Royal Navy put over 80 ships onto the North American station, and the United States Navy had just barely more than twenty in commission. U.S.S. Constitution
engaged H.M.S. Guerriere
, and in half an hour, dismasted her, forced her to strike her colors and burned her. U.S.S. United States
engaged, defeated and captured H.M.S. Macedonian
, which he manned and brought into port to be put into American service. Constitution
then engaged H.M.S. Java
, and after a three hour running gun fight, forced her to strike, after which the hulk was burned. The sloop of war U.S.S. Hornet
sank outright the sloop of war H.M.S. Peacock
after a 15 minute engagement. When, on June 1, 1813, after a year of war, H.M.S. Shannon
took U.S.S. Chesapeake
(one the Americans smaller frigates), the English responded with hysterical joy. They had been thoroughly humiliated. The Admiralty sent out orders that no English frigate was to engage an American frigate unless accompanied by two consorts, and that only a line of battle ship was allowed to engage an American frigate if not accompanied by consorts. Constitution
took H.M.S. Cyane
, despite the fact that Cyane
had originally begun a chase of Constitution
in the company of two consorts.
The difference between the performance of the militia, of whom the conservatives are so fond (especially the gun nuts) and a professional service such as the United States Navy or the United States Marine Corps are striking. From deploring standing armies, the conservatives of America have come to a fanatical praise of the professional military services, and one, in fact, which will brook no criticism. However, the constitution does not authorize a standing army, and only authorizes Congress to provide for a Navy. Perhaps the constitution does not quite occupy the position of holy writ, scripture inspired from on high.