The Potowmack Institute

1794: America, Its Army,
and the Birth of a Nation

© 1994, Dave R. Palmer,
used with permission, by Presidio Press, Navato, CA.

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Table of Content

Part 1: Sentiments on a Peace Establishment
Chapter 1, Guide the Torrent
Chapter 2, A Dangerous Instrumen
Chapter 3, Vision
Chapter 4, Disintegration

Part 2: The Humiliation of Weakness
Chapter 5, Confederation and Perpetual Union
Chapter 6, The Bastard Child
Chapter 7, A Rope of Sand
Chapter 8, Captain Daniel Shays

Part 3: The Common Defense
Chapter 9, The British Legacy
Chatper 10, The Ghost of Cromwell
Chapter 11, A Jealouse Eye
Chapter 12, The Commander in Chief
Chapter 13, To Make War
Chapter 14, The Right to Bear Arms

Part 4: Preserve, Protect, and Defend
Chatper 15, Between Anarchy and Monarchy
Chapter 16, Toward War
Chapter 17, The Indian Way of War
Chapter 18, Little Turtle Triumph
Chapter 19, Washington Finds a Genral
Chatper 20, The Embrace of Adversity

Part 5: Enemies, Foreign and Domestic
Chapter 21, Fort Recovery
Chapter 22, Paranoia in Philadelphia
Chapter 23, The Peace Establishment
Chapter 24, Fallen Timbers
Chatper 25, The Army of the Constitution
Chapter 26, 1795 and Beyond


The ghost participating in the Constitutional Convention was Oliver Cromwell’s. The Great Protector, the man on horseback, the military dictator, the general who had turned his army first on the throne and then on Parliament. Cromwell. The very name was the personification of the evil potential in a soldier grown too powerful. Oliver Cromwell. Nothing more need be uttered to conjure up the danger inherent in a standing army. An English-speaking person could hardly have grown to adulthood in the eighteenth century and not have heard the haunting story of Oliver Cromwell.

So far as can be determined from all the notes made during the convention, the delegates in debate very carefully avoided referring to anyone by name. They wanted to shape a government that would rise above and last beyond individuals. But historic figures were fair game. Cromwell led the list of men whose names surfaced most often in those notes. His was a prominent presence the framers could hardly ignore.

Cromwell was the central figure— and the symbol— of the most intensely disturbing era in English history. Lasting for more than six decades, from around 1625 to about 1690, the period was marked by civil war, rebellion, insurrection, religious persecution, social upheaval, wars abroad, executions, massacres, economic distress, and political chaos. Not to be outdone by all of that manmade strife, Mother Nature chose that same period to scourge the people with two crushing disasters: the Black Plague that devastated London, and a raging fire that destroyed much of that same hapless city.



Americans, knowing the enduring scars left by our own Civil War, can quite well appreciate how searing to the English psyche would be their country’s much longer and more bitter time of troubles. It is not at all surprising that men of English heritage, steeped in history as were all educated individuals of their time, and assembling less than a century later to write a constitution for a new government, would have been molded both emotionally and mentally by that traumatic era.

Coming to the throne in 1625, Charles I began at once to clash with Parliament. When members refused to vote the combative new monarch enough money to conduct his wars with Spain and France, Charles resorted to bullying Parliament and to relying on forced loans. When his soldiers returned from war, the king decided not to disband them, but rather to billet them with citizens, with the greater numbers of armed men seemingly being placed in the homes of those who had most resisted the loans. The seeds of implacable resistance to a standing army were sown by that decision. Some time later, momentarily gaining the upper hand in the seesawing power struggle, Parliament forced Charles to accept a Petition of Right that included prohibitions on billeting soldiers in private houses and restrictions on the peacetime grant of military commissions. The ever-simmering dispute escalated until a crisis caused by a revolt in Scotland brought about a complete rupture. Civil war flamed in 1642. By 1644 the most outstanding battle leader on either side was Oliver Cromwell, who skillfully commanded a trained and effective force known as the "Ironsides." In another year he became the lieutenant general of all Parliamentary forces, which had been reorganized to resemble the "Ironsides" and were known as the New Model Army. Cromwell’s brilliant victories ended the war in 1646. The king was captured.

That should have been the end of it, but Parliament then tried to disband its army without pay, leading to a split among the victors. Cromwell, several members of Parliament, and most of the army rebelled. A long period of confusion, including a second civil war, ended with the New Model Army dominant. Military leaders quickly consolidated power, purging Parliament of all but those supporting the army. They beheaded Charles I. 1



With real power residing in Cromwell and his army, but with a residue— the "Rump"— of Parliament theoretically having legislative authority, a republic was established. Called the Commonwealth, the new government operated under a council of state, the title and office of king having been abolished. The House of Lords had also been disestablished. Many Catholics remained in revolt, especially in Ireland and Scotland. Cromwell personally led an invading army across the sea to Ireland, where he brutally suppressed the rebellion, leaving a legacy of hatred enduring to this day. When Charles II landed in Scotland, raising a force of Royalist supporters, Cromwell rapidly attacked them, destroying the Scottish army and chasing Charles back to France. War broke out with the Dutch, but at home Cromwell was secure. His New Model Army, about seventy thousand strong, was by any measure a standing army. Composed of loyal veterans, it was disciplined and trained— and well paid. One of the ways Cromwell found sufficient money to meet his military payroll was to sell Royalist estates. Inevitably, his high-handed methods led to friction with the Rump Parliament. Cromwell turned it out in April 1653 and set up a new one. In December of that year, Cromwellian supporters in Parliament resigned, transferring their powers to the general. Four days later, Cromwell established the Protectorate, giving himself the title, "Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland." Having been ruler in all but name, he finally had corrected that omission. He would later reject a suggestion that he assume the title of king— "Lord Protector" entailed power enough. At least, it entailed enough for so long as he controlled the army. The written constitution setting up the Protectorate mandated a standing army of thirty thousand soldiers. Cromwell had come to power on the shoulders of a professional force; he had consolidated that power with a large and reliable body of regulars; he then perpetuated his power with a constitutionally established standing army. Actually, the issue of a large standing army in peacetime was moot, for England remained almost constantly at war during Cromwell’s decade



of dictatorship. Repeated cycles of conflict with the Dutch, the Spanish, and the French filled the years. Nevertheless, the English people got a thorough taste of government by a man on horseback. And they did not like it.

The depth of that dislike surfaced immediately after Cromwell’s death in 1658. His son, Richard Cromwell, succeeded him as lord protector, but soon became embroiled in an argument between the army and Parliament. An almost comic-opera scenario ensued. In April 1659, Richard dissolved Parliament. A rump session then convinced him to resign as lord protector. Next, the army threw out the Rump Parliament and installed a military committee to govern. Visceral resistance to that military coup returned Parliament to office. Finally, the commander in chief in Scotland, Gen. George Monk, marched his troops to London, where he took charge. Monk convened a new Parliament, which opened negotiations with Charles II, still in exile. Tired of experiments with other forms of government, the English were ready to return to monarchy. If it was an evil, it was at least one they understood. Charles and Parliament reached agreement quickly. Proclaimed king in May 1660, he returned to London that same month, a little over eleven years after the execution of his father, and just twenty months after Oliver Cromwell’s death. Royalists dug up Oliver Cromwell’s body, ripped it asunder, and scattered the pieces across the English countryside.

The Restoration did not mean the end of strife. Charles II, hardly a beloved favorite, had been by no means a universal choice. Old animosities and arguments lurked just beneath the surface, stilled for the moment only by a general relief over the end of dictatorship. Both sides reached immediate agreement to disband the New Model Army. A wiser Parliament this time found money to provide separation pay for the soldiers. Charles gained authority to retain about five thousand men under arms. Commanded by the trusted General Monk, they were ostensibly for the king’s personal protection and to garrison various fortresses. The unrelenting contest between Parliament and Crown for control of the army was only at the halfway point.

England soon found itself at war once again with Holland and France, even as violent uprisings rocked the kingdom. The king just could not leave well enough alone. Whether at war or in peace, Charles’s constant stirring of religious unrest at home kept his subjects in turmoil.



Nor did his Byzantine dealings with foreign courts diminish Parliament’s growing level of suspicion. Especially galling was the king’s warm relationship with Louis XIV, who surreptitiously gave Charles fiscal support to help pay his army, thereby providing him a measure of independence from Parliament. Domestic backing dwindled steadily in the face of the evident and increasing ties to France, England’s ancient enemy of choice. Political parties began coalescing, with the labels "Whig" and "Tory" appearing, initially as terms of disapproval. Tories generally came to be those who supported the Crown, whereas Whigs were those usually behind Parliament. Political disarray, domestic violence, religious intolerance, yet another war with Holland— all this and more continually heightened tensions between Charles II and his subjects, with issues concerning the military establishment often being at the center of controversy. The reign of Charles II, though a quarter of a century long, was a turbulent one.

When James II succeeded his brother in 1685, he found his throne to be resting on a keg filled with a highly volatile mixture, a black powder made up of religious bigotry, court intrigue, and factions at war’s edge with one another. He was not astute enough to avoid lighting the fuse. Within months, a pretender to the Crown launched a military campaign to unseat the new king. Loyal regiments quickly disposed of that threat and others, defeating rebel forces in the field and executing their leaders. Pressing his advantage, James attempted to punish some of the sources of rebellion and to change many of the existing rules regarding the expression of religious beliefs. Both Whigs and Tories united against him, for reasons founded in religious prejudice, but also claiming that he was illegally retaining under arms those regiments raised to combat the earlier effort to depose him. In June 1687, several prominent Englishmen wrote to William of Orange, the Dutch grandson of Charles I, asking him to come to England to save the country. William, who was married to Mary— his cousin and also a grandchild of Charles I— was interested. He saw it as a way to strengthen his hand against Louis XIV of France. Accepting the invitation, William landed with an invasion force in November. Several key leaders promptly joined him, leaving James no reasonable chance to resist successfully. He escaped to France. William entered London in nearbloodless triumph in December. Leaders of the successful overthrow



set up a provisional government— not overlooking to pay off the remnants of James’s army before it was disbanded.

The "Glorious Revolution," made possible by a foreigner at the head of an invading army, had finally put Parliament in control. England would need a new king, monarchy still being the preferred form of government, and an army, because war with France was all but inevitable. Louis XIV was sure to try to put James back in power. Nevertheless, after their recent bitter experiences with the last two kings, the members were absolutely set on making sure that the army could never again be used to coerce Parliament. With that imperative in mind, they opened negotiations with William and Mary, dual descendants in the royal line. The resulting contract, put on parchment, gave the Crown jointly to the two of them, while establishing written rules regarding armed forces that reach even to this day into most English-speaking countries.

In return for the throne, William and Mary had to agree to the Declaration of Rights. That document and other laws passed at about the same time formalized the raising and maintaining of military units. To begin with, "the raising or keeping of a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of Parliament, is against the law." The right of citizens to bear arms was assured. Soldiers were banned from polling places and from the House of Commons. Any army raised would automatically be disbanded unless Parliament renewed its authorization annually. Money to support the army would be Parliament’s responsibility. In such provisions was the answer to Parliament’s long-standing dilemma— how to raise an army necessary for security without at the same time creating a threat to security. 2

The concepts embedded in those measures also provided precedent for men sitting in Philadelphia a century later. Fear of a standing army. . . no similar concern over a navy. . . funding centered in the legislative body . . . command of forces entrusted to the executive • . . prohibitions against military involvement in internal affairs.. . shortterm authorizations for the use of force. It was not by coincidence that



the emerging Constitution would reflect many of the concepts developed at such terrible cost in the mother country, for that cost had not been paid only there. English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard had shared in the trauma of the era. Indeed, to a significant degree, they had been shaped by it.

Between the coronation of Charles I in 1625 and the advent of William and Mary sixty-five years later, English lodgments in the New World had gone from a few wilderness settlements struggling for survival to an unbroken stretch of thirteen thriving colonies. While many adventurers and not a few criminals were among the earlier arrivals, the major impetus prompting settlers to risk the hazardous ocean crossing was escape from the societal chaos so prevalent in Europe. Endemic warfare, religious persecution, incessant internal crises— these helped mightily to people colonial America. However, the wrenching experience of quitting familiar homes and lands for a new beginning on a new continent would leave colonists unalterably biased against the causes of the intolerable conditions in their former lives. Probably more often than not, the most prominent symbol of that upheaval was the sword— soldiers enforcing unpopular decrees, suppressing religious freedom, marauding in the countryside, impressing young men for one war or another. Unhappily, refugees from repression found that flight to America was not far enough; the wars of Europe spilled over into the colonies, obviously influencing their security needs, but also changing their very composition. Conflict with Holland eventually converted Dutch settlements along the Hudson River into the colony of New York, but lands to the north along the St. Lawrence River evolved into an ever-menacing threat from the French, while Spanish bases in Florida and along the Gulf Coast added a potentially vulnerable flank to the south. Moreover, soldiers were occasionally used against the colonists themselves— for instance, in stamping out Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia and suppressing Leisler’s Uprising in New York, both after the death of Cromwell. Many colonial governors were former army officers who ruled, it was noted, with a hand resting heavily on the hilt of a saber. All told, Americans of the late seventeenth century understood fully the philosophy behind the Declaration of Rights imposed upon William and Mary. Indeed, they probably approved of provisions limiting royal military power even more overwhelmingly than did their countrymen in England.



Another century of experience served only to solidify in American minds an enduring distrust of regular forces. For many in the thirteen colonies, it became an unyielding article of faith that a standing army was entirely incompatible with republican principles. Pamphleteers in England hammered Ofl the theme, providing a theoretical underpinning for their receptive cousins in the colonies. Actual encounters with regulars and a nearly continuous state of warfare added reality to theory. France and Great Britain 3 fought a series of wars beginning after the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 and lasting more than a century. Until the Treaty of Paris recognized the independence of the United States in 1783, an objective of all those conflicts was to gain dominance in North America. Evidence of how the colonists viewed those Old World dynastic struggles is seen in the names they gave them. They retitled the War of the League of Augsburg "King William’s War." Mary escaped being linked to the fighting, but not because of her gender, foi the War of the Spanish Succession became "Queen Anne’s War." Colonists used "King George’s War" as the label for the War of the Austrian Succession. The pattern broke with the Seven Years’ War, which on this side of the Atlantic was known as the French and Indian War. Fittingly enough, for that one began in America, having been started on the western frontier by a brash young Virginian named George Washington. Patriots called the final conflict of the series the Revolutionary War or the War of Independence, whereas Englishmen referred to it as the War for America. The first four of those conflicts brought large numbers of redcoats to North America, generally elevating the disdain colonists held for them, and at the same time increasing the chances for friction between civilians and soldiers. The fifth and final clash, of course, brought more regulars than all the others combined— and as enemies, not friends.

Troubles between British regulars and American citizens began right after the French and Indian War ended in 1763. Great Britain, having ejected France from Canada and Spain from Florida, was finally triumphant in virtually all of North America east of the Mississippi River. London decided to station some of its army in America to keep the



peace on its new frontiers. Colonists raised the point that the king had not seen fit to do so when French troops had been there to pose a real threat, and they questioned the need now. They also suspiciously thought the number of redcoats excessive for the task. The soldiers quickly proved their worth, however, in suppressing a bloody Indian uprising known as Pontiac’s War. They remained. To avoid another flare-up, English officials drew a boundary along the Appalachians beyond which white settlers could not go. That arrangement infuriated both settlers and land speculators. They refused to comply with the new arrangements, forcing the army to remove squatters and burn their farms. Whatever residual goodwill may have lingered for the king’s soldiers dissipated at that point.

The British treasury had been emptied by the expenses of the Seven Years’ War. Ministers, searching for every possible way to raise revenue, thought it only equitable for the colonies to help pay the costs of maintaining an active force in America to defend them. Colonists thought otherwise. They had not wanted the army in the first place, and they emphatically did not want to be taxed to support it. "Taxation without representation," they cried, and resisted all efforts to levy taxes. Civil unrest followed. London responded by reinforcing its fleet and army in America. In 1768, believing that colonists had become more of a danger to peace than Indians, king and cabinet evacuated posts in the interior and consolidated regiments along the Atlantic seaboard. With the arrival of troops came the Mutiny Act— a law requiring civilians to quarter soldiers and to provide certain support for them. Tensions grew. Resistance led to rioting, which led inexorably to bloodshed.

Hotheads like Samuel Adams in Massachusetts and Patrick Henry in Virginia fanned emotions into flame. Episodes of violence increased across the land. On 5 March 1770, a taunting mob confronted and cornered a squad of British soldiers in Boston. The soldiers, a part of the garrison of four regiments sent to the city to enforce taxation attempts, became frightened. They fired into the jeering crowd, killing five men— making them martyrs. Elbridge Gerry and leaders of his passionate persuasion commemorated the so-called Boston Massacre on its anniversary every year thereafter to remind the public of the threat to freedom entailed in a regular force. A standing army, they preached, was a standing invitation for a man on horseback to overthrow the constituted government.



Things did not get any better in Boston. After that port’s infamous "tea party" in December 1773, London placed the recalcitrant colonials under martial law and appointed Gen. Thomas Gage, the commander of all British units in America, to serve also as governor of Massachusetts. That was galling to the pride of the people of Massachusetts and an unendurable affront to the concept of civilian supremacy. Gage shifted his headquarters from New York City to Boston in May 1774. The Revolutionary War exploded less than a year later.

There can be no doubt that bitter experiences in the dozen years before the outbreak of the War of Independence elevated in American hearts the already high level of fear and loathing for a standing army in peacetime. Events of those years placed an indelible exclamation mark to existing antimilitary sentiments. The very words of the Declaration of Independence trumpet the depth of that feeling. About a third of the document is devoted to a denunciation of the militarism of George Ill. The Declaration fairly shouts out that the monarch "has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power."

It is all but sure that the citizens of the United States, as they headed into the final quarter of the eighteenth century, had come to dread a standing army every bit as fervently as did their British brethren. Probably more so. To men sitting in the Constitutional Convention, the ghost of Oliver Cromwell brought long shivers— and an abiding determination never to permit its reincarnation.


1. Killing the king was a chilling and unforgettable event. Englishmen would forever afterwards remember that the army had done it. While there would be a Royal Navy once more, and one day a Royal Air Force, there would never again be a Royal Army. An English army, or a British army, but not a royal one. text@note1

2. Time would prove the acts effective— not until twentieth century air attacks by Germans would the English homeland know battle again. text@note2

3. The kingdoms of England and Scotland were officially combined in 1707 under the name Great Britain. text@note3

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