A REVOLUTIONARY PEOPLE AT WAR: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783 by Charles Royster
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A REVOLUTIONARY PEOPLE AT WAR: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Virtue and freedom were two of the central concepts in the ideological arsenal of the rebellious American colonies, but as historian Royster shows, these concepts came immediately into conflict with each other when the colonies faced the task of organizing an army to fight the British. At first, the reliance on militia solved the problem, but even Sam Adams came to realize that only a standing army could be effective. Inherently suspicious of standing armies, the Americans cast a narrow eye on them even in wartime. Royster follows the actions of the Continental Army through the war and records the instances where the ideal and the actual came into conflict, as in forced requisitions. Victory did not solve the problem. Only a small minority served in the Army; and with independence, those people who were unable to reconcile the libertarian principles of the Revolution with the rigidity of the military sought to cancel the public debt incurred by the Army and thereby their debt to the soldiers. In this way, the desire to attain fame in posterity that was part of the creed of rebellious Americans was stripped from the few who served in the Army and returned to the whole. The original claim of being a virtuous people was realized at the expense of those who served; but at the same time, the threat to freedom posed by a military elite was banished. The early Americans took their commitment to virtue and freedom seriously, which is what makes the political discourse of the period so engrossing. Royster's thoughtful study is another important contribution to the understanding of our roots.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina Press