Research Proposal: Respectable Army the Military Origins of the Republic 1763-1789

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¶ … Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic 1763-1789

James Kirby Martin and Mark Edward Lender. A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789. Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, 1982.

The myth of the American Revolution runs as follows -- America was made up of a rag-tag band of soldiers, ordinary yeoman farmers with little professional training. Through grit and a little bit of guile and guerrilla warfare, they won the independence of the new republic. Their spirit and devotion to liberty triumphed over British military professionalism. However, in a Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic 1763-1789 historians James Kirby Martin and Mark Edward Lender dissect this dearly-cherished American cultural myth and search for the real truth. They state that if the American colonists had not assembled what George Washington called a 'respectable' army, based upon professional servicemen for hire, America would never have won its independence. These two historians paint an often-unflattering picture of the early citizen soldiers. These land-owning men wanted independence without paying the price of 'getting their hands' dirty. They expressed disdain of the 'real' soldiers conscripted later on, the soldiers who were mainly responsible for America's victory. America underwent a notable shift in its philosophy of defense, even before the creation of the new American nation. Americans had to realize that a man with a musket was not enough to protect a modern nation, and an organized standing army was necessary for a nation-state to thrive and survive.

The authors are uniquely qualified as a duo to write this military and cultural history, given that one has a background primarily in Revolutionary and colonial studies, the other in military history. Both men have collaborated before on histories of the period. James Kirby Martin is a Distinguished University Professor of History at the University of Houston, Texas. According to the university's history department website, Martin is a specialist in Colonial and Revolutionary American studies, and has authored many works 18th century America, most of which focus on the intersection of social and political history, such as Drinking in America: A History, 1620-1980, which he also wrote in conjunction with Mark Edward Lender. According to the Kean University website, Lender is a specialist in military history at Kean University but he also has a background in colonial social history which infuses his work beyond studies of mere military tactics.

Martin and Lender's central thesis is that what exists of the historical evidence of the period does not support the idea that the noble, unprofessional soldiers known as minutemen led the American fight for liberty. A dislike of an organized, standing army may have been articulated by some patriotic zealots before the fighting actually began. But the idea that farmers and country gentlemen could single-handedly oppose Her Majesty's Army was quashed by a cruel reality. Early victories may have occurred at Lexington and Concord but as the winter grew colder and crops began to rot in the field, men began to desert in flocks. General George Washington, a professional soldier who had fought honorably during the French and Indian wars soon demanded the means from the Constitutional Congress to create a "respectable" army -- in other words, a paid army who would agree to enlist for three years or the duration of the war. The constant threat of desertion is a sad testimony to the fleeting enthusiasm of the early patriots, and severely hampered Washington's early efforts. Soon, men for hire stocked the colonial army and did so for most of the war's successful duration. Transients, mercenaries, slaves compelled to labor in the service of the colonial army, royalists forced to serve on condition of their life being spared for 'treason,' landless men seeking to make their fortune, and many deserters from the Hessian army that had been forced to fight in the colonies formed the ranks. This has been forgotten because an army made of Europeans and slaves does not fit with our romantic ideals of liberty. Furthermore, going against the grain of the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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