An honorary commission or a regular military commission is the American equivalent of being knighted, The honorary title of Colonel is conferred by some states in the United States of America and certain military units of the Commonwealth. The origins of the titular colonelcy can be traced back to colonial and antebellum times when men of the landed gentry were given the title for financing the local militia without actual expectations of command. This practice can actually be traced back to the English Renaissance when a colonelcy was purchased by a lord or prominent gentleman but the actual command would fall to a lieutenant colonel, who would deputize for the proprietor.
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There is an aristocratic tinge to the social usage of the title “colonel", which today designates the southern gentleman, and is archetypal of the southern aristocrat. States conferring this title as an honor include Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Alabama. In 2005 Illinois allowed for the Governor of the State to make appointments to the Governor's Regiment of Colonels, but no such appointments have been made. Many states have provisions in their articles or bills concerning state defense forces which allow the governor to grant honorary membership of the officer ranks. While the honorary colonel of this usage has no actual military role, the title did evolve from the military.
The highest honor of Tennessee is “Colonel, Aide de camp, Governor’s staff". Those who receive this award are recorded by the Secretary of State of Tennessee with those who have been commissioned into the State Guard and Tennessee National Guard. This distinction went to only American citizens or Tennessee residents until Governor Phil Bredesen awarded it to the first non-American, a Canadian, Cory Ward Dingle of British Columbia for his contributions to the People of Tennessee.
Kentucky’s famous colonelcy evolved from the personal bodyguards of the governor and now confers its recipients as honorary members of the governor’s staff. Like Tennessee, Georgia’s honorary titles give its members a rank as Aides-de-camp to the Governor's staff and is codified in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 38-2-111, while the Alabama honor specifically makes one a lieutenant colonel in the state militia.
The Colonel is also often a shorthand reference to Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC, who was an honorary Kentucky colonel. Another famous "colonel" was "Colonel Tom Parker", the manager of Elvis Presley whose title was granted by Jimmie Davis, the governor of Louisiana.
Oklahoma Honorary Colonel
§446. Honorary staff of the Governor.
The Governor may appoint an honorary staff to consist of such number of honorary aides with the brevet title of Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel or Major, as he may desire. All of these staff officers shall be appointed by the Governor and hold office at his will and their commissions shall expire with the term of office of the Governor making such appointment. Staff officers shall not be subject to jury duty during the period of their service. The Adjutant General shall be ex officio Chief of Staff.
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Oklahoma Sate Militia
|Choctaw Governor Victor M. Locke and Oklahoma state militia officers, Oklahoma, 1910? – 1918? |
Image courtesy Marquette University Archives, 11499
§4441. Composition of Militia Classes.
The Militia of the State of Oklahoma shall consist of all able bodied citizens of the United States and all other able bodied persons who shall be or shall have declared their intentions to become citizens of the United States, who shall be more than seventeen (17) years of age and not more than seventy (70) years of age, and said militia shall be divided into three (3) classes: The National Guard, the Oklahoma State Guard, and the Unorganized Militia.
Laws 1951, p. 115, art. 3, § 1, eff. May 16, 1951; Laws 1957, p. 422, § 1, eff. May 24, 1957; Laws 1968, c. 299, § 1, emerg. eff. May 3, 1968; Laws 1981, c. 136, § 1; Laws 1985, c. 96, § 1, eff. Nov. 1, 1985.