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The American War for Independence as a Revolutionary War

Summary and Keywords

The American War for Independence lasted eight years. It was one of the longest and bloodiest wars in America’s history, and yet it was not such a protracted conflict merely because the might of the British armed forces was brought to bear on the hapless colonials. The many divisions among Americans themselves over whether to fight, what to fight for, and who would do the fighting often had tragic and violent consequences. The Revolutionary War was by any measure the first American civil war. Yet national narratives of the Revolution and even much of the scholarship on the era focus more on simple stories of a contest between the Patriots and the British. Loyalists and other opponents of the Patriots are routinely left out of these narratives, or given short shrift. So, too, are the tens of thousands of ordinary colonists—perhaps a majority of the population—who were disaffected or alienated from either side or who tried to tack between the two main antagonists to make the best of a bad situation. Historians now estimate that as many as three-fifths of the colonial population were neither active Loyalists nor Patriots.

When we take the war seriously and begin to think about narratives that capture the experience of the many, rather than the few, an illuminating picture emerges. The remarkably wide scope of the activities of the disaffected during the war—ranging from nonpayment of taxes to draft dodging and even to armed resistance to protect their neutrality—has to be integrated with older stories of militant Patriots and timid Loyalists. Only then can we understand the profound consequences of disaffection—particularly in creating divisions within the states, increasing levels of violence, prolonging the war, and changing the nature of the political settlements in each state. Indeed, the very divisions among diverse Americans that made the War for Independence so long, bitter, and bloody also explains much of the Revolutionary energy of the period. Though it is not as seamless as traditional narratives of the Revolution would suggest, a more complicated story also helps better explain the many problems the new states and eventually the new nation would face. In making this argument, we may finally suggest ways we can overcome what John Shy long ago noted as the tendency of scholars to separate the ‘destructive’ War for Independence from the ‘constructive’ political Revolution.

Keywords: American Revolution, War for Independence, civil war, Loyalists, Patriots, Native Americans, African Americans, neutrals, disaffection

When most Americans today think of the Revolution that brought their nation into being, they conjure images of the War for Independence: skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, the battle of Bunker Hill, George Washington crossing the Delaware River, cold and hungry troops at Valley Forge, or victories at Saratoga, Kings Mountain, and Yorktown. Many leading Patriots at the time, however, downplayed the role of the war in the Revolution. Years after the event, in 1816, John Adams wanted to make it clear that the War for Independence was “not a revolutionary war.” Instead, the real revolution “was complete, in the minds of the people, and the union of the colonies, before the war commenced.” Yet Benjamin Rush, another prominent Patriot, wrote from Philadelphia in 1787 that the real Revolution had not yet begun. He claimed it was a mistake to “confound the terms of the American Revolution with those of the late American war.” If anything, it was merely a “first act” in a “great drama” that was yet to unfold.1

Adams and Rush were not alone in wanting to define the American Revolution as something other than the War for Independence. After the conflict, many leading Patriots looked back with a shudder on the events of 1775–1783. Whereas at the outset of the war Patriots had time and again used words such as “glorious,” “sacred,” and “providential” to describe their cause, by the middle of the War for Independence, most described the situation as “calamitous,” “costly,” and “ruinous.”2 They had good cause to do so. In retrospect, the War for Independence was one of America’s longest and bloodiest conflicts, and yet it was not such a protracted conflict merely because hapless colonists struggled against the weight of trained British imperial forces. Colonists themselves were divided over whether to fight, the aims of the war, and who would actually do the fighting. Many colonists found themselves on opposing sides of the conflict. Families, neighborhoods, parishes, towns, and counties were often divided. These divisions often had violent and tragic consequences. Many historians now routinely note that the War for Independence was by any measure the first American civil war.

If we take into account the social history of the broader population during the conflict, we can begin to understand why men such as Adams and Rush wanted to forget the war. This would entail looking closely at the full range of Patriot supporters, not just Patriot leaders. It would also compel us to take seriously the experiences of Loyalists and other opponents of the Patriots. Yet we also need to account for the tens of thousands of ordinary colonists—perhaps a majority of the population—who were disaffected or alienated from either side or who tried to tack between the two main antagonists to make the best of a bad situation. Some historians now estimate as many as three-fifths of the colonial population were neither active and sustained Loyalists nor Patriots. This was not too different from other eighteenth-century conflicts in which many tried to stay out of the way, but because we have often assumed overwhelming support for the Patriot cause, we have missed the significance of such numbers. The consequences of these divisions among colonial Americans were profound, particularly in prolonging the war and making it a bloody and bitter experience—an experience many wanted to forget. Yet if they are looked at closely, these divisions and their consequences actually help explain much of the Revolutionary energy of the period. Indeed, though it is not as straightforward as popular narratives of the Revolution would suggest, a more complicated story helps us understand how a War for Independence became a Revolutionary War.


In December 1775, eight months after armed conflict had started in Massachusetts, the Louisa County Committee of Safety in the Piedmont region of Virginia proposed a vote of thanks to two of its most prominent members, the Anglican ministers Thomas Hall and John Todd. The committee wanted to acknowledge their efforts in “rousing those lethargic wretches, who would tamely submit to a deprivation of their rights and liberties.” Yet the committee was quick to point out that the ministers had also done a public service in “checking the wild irregular sallies of those who would aim at too much.”3 The committee’s declaration revealed not only divisions between Patriots and those who opposed the war against Britain but also divisions within Patriot ranks. The image immediately runs counter to popular ideas of a united people rallying behind prominent Patriot leaders. In encouraging challenges to constituted government, Patriot leaders opened the door to new objections to their own authority.

When war broke out in April 1775, for example, tens of thousands of men did join up in newly formed or reformed militia or minutemen companies, independent or volunteer companies, and eventually the Continental army, when it was created in June 1775. The rage militaire, as it has come to be known, buoyed the hopes of many Patriot leaders that resistance to Britain would work. Yet while some Patriot supporters were happy to help defend the colonies against the British, many quickly made it clear they would do so on their own terms. Volunteers in Virginia, for example, immediately insisted on electing their own officers (something they had never been allowed to do in the colonial militia) and went on the offensive against both the British and lukewarm Patriots, regardless of their wealth or standing in the community—and despite the protests of prominent Patriot leaders in the colony. At the same time, some volunteers pledged to help against the British in other colonies, but only if in doing so they did not leave “their own country [meaning their own colony/state] in a defenceless state.” Still others protested about leaving the colony under any circumstances. Likewise, militia in Philadelphia organized themselves into “committees,” elected their officers, and also drummed out anyone who hesitated.4

Militant and armed Patriots radicalized resistance in at least two important ways. First, in the early stages of conflict they often ignored civil authorities who appealed for calm and moderation and instead chose their own targets. In northeastern Massachusetts (in what would become the state of Maine), for example, a group led by Samuel Thompson kidnapped a British naval officer and demanded the departure of a British warship from Falmouth waters in return for his life. In reply to the frantic efforts of local residents (including many Patriots) to mediate, Thompson’s crew ended up looting the town and threatening to burn it to the ground. Then, in retaliation for the kidnapping, the British warship returned to Falmouth and bombed and burned the defenseless town. Thompson and his armed followers won the day. In Virginia, militant Patriots burned Norfolk in early January 1776 and blamed it on the British. The conflagrations shocked many in the colonies; blaming the British strengthened the Patriot cause.5 But armed Patriots also radicalized resistance by pushing people to take sides. In doing so, they often targeted the wealthy, or “conspicuous characters.” The slaveholder and planter William Byrd in Virginia, for example, complained that he had been threatened and insulted by his armed neighbors for failing to offer his services in the new forces that had been created in Virginia in July 1775.6 Armed Patriots had little respect for the distinctions that held between colonial Americans.

Militant Patriots, then, helped push a Revolutionary agenda even when moderate Patriots tried to hold them back. This was particularly true in the movement toward independence. Those who took up arms for the cause were the leading advocates of independence. They had the most to lose—already engaged in warfare with Britain, few saw any alternatives. As Charles Lee—at the head of Continental troops—put it, the “spirit of the people” cries out for independence, and the “military in particular, are outrageous on the subject.” While men like John Adams dithered as they tried to achieve a unanimous declaration, Lee advised his colleagues that it would be “dangerous” to “dally with the spirit, or disappoint the expectations of the bulk of the people,” warning that “dispair, anarchy, and finally submission, [may] be the bitter fruits.”7 Other Patriot leaders pointed to the recklessness of their militant neighbors and argued that they had to declare independence and set up new governments in the states in order to “put a stop to the rising disorders.” They wanted to reestablish order in the colonies, and restore their own authority.8

The armed forces continued to be a source of division between Patriots, because military service meant sacrifices. It was certainly dangerous, and families of dead or injured servicemen risked losing their farms or livelihoods. But every moment spent training, in camp, or fighting was also time away from farms or jobs as wage laborers. It cost money. In return for making sacrifices, recruits made their demands clear. Volunteers in Virginia, for example, called for shorter and fewer training days. Tenants declared they should not have to pay their rent to landlords while they were at war. Militia there also demanded that the gentry-led assembly end the exemption of overseers from military service. Too many wealthy slave owners had declared themselves overseers to avoid service. Later in the war, militia complained that local gentlemen had invalided themselves off the rolls, increasing the amount of service those still left on the militia lists would have to perform. A growing number of people protested against the lack of equity in the military, even in the midst of the war against Britain and even in the midst of a slave society.9

Those in the military forces also pushed for greater rights outside of the armed services. Militia in Philadelphia, for example, not only demanded that they elect their own officers but also went further and said that anyone who served in the militia should be entitled to vote in government elections. Military service, not the amount of property owned, they claimed, should be a sufficient requirement for enfranchisement. Ethan Allen and the “Green Mountain Boys” thought that fighting the British was the best way to validate their land claims in northern New York, while western militia in many new states made it clear they would throw their support behind the war against Britain if they were better represented in the assemblies that had been hitherto dominated by eastern interests. Indentured servants claimed their freedom, while apprentices and bound servants ran away from masters and took refuge in the army or on board privateers. Religious groups such as the Baptists also used their military service to argue for religious freedom. Such demands took on a new potency, given how much Patriot leaders needed their support in the crisis and the fact that many were now armed.

As the war ground on, would-be Patriot soldiers showed a reluctance to serve as long as Continental army officers wanted them to and also demanded more and more for their services. Within a year of the Declaration of Independence, almost every state had to start conscripting young men to fight the Revolutionary War. Those targeted fought back and protested against such measures. They rebelled and rioted or simply evaded the new laws. Through veiled or explicit threats, they often forced local officials to turn a blind eye as well. Eventually, many of the states were forced to give up trying to draft soldiers and to turn instead to generous bounties and promises of land in return for wartime service. In Virginia and South Carolina, legislators eventually promised not just land to new recruits but also an enslaved African. Bounty money rose throughout the war, sparking new tensions between upper-, middling-, and lower-class citizens over who should bear the brunt of the war. Middling Americans, in particular, lashed out at their social betters for not doing their fair share while simultaneously complaining about their lower-class neighbors’ demands for proper remuneration for their sacrifices. In the meantime, recruiting for the Continental army slowed to a halt. George Washington never came close to commanding an army as large as he hoped for at the outset of the war. The chronic shortage of soldiers prolonged the war.

Patriot supporters outside the military also did not always speak with a united voice. This is perhaps best illustrated in the famous exchange between Abigail Adams and her husband, John. Adams’s request to “remember the ladies” when reforming government touched a nerve with her already nervous husband. He wrote back from Congress in April 1776, noting “our struggle has loosened the bonds of government everywhere; that children and apprentices were disobedient; that schools and colleges were grown turbulent; that Indians slighted their guardians, and negroes grew insolent to their masters,” and now his wife’s letters revealed that “another tribe, more numerous and powerful than all the rest, were grown discontented.”10 Though dismissive of his wife’s demands, John Adams was well aware that the Revolutionary crisis had opened a door to the possibility of radical change. Adams warned against altering voter qualifications in the new state because there had been so many new demands that such a move could only lead to further “Controversy and Altercation.” Women would demand a vote, “Lads from 12 to 21 will think their Rights not enough attended to, and every Man who has not a Farthing, will demand an equal Voice with any other in all Acts of State.” Adams concluded that such demands would “confound and destroy all Distinctions, and prostrate all Ranks, to one common Levell.”11

African Americans were among those who were quick to recognize the potential for Revolutionary change. Even before fighting broke out, black petitioners pointed out the irony of colonists’ defending their rights even as they continued to own slaves. The Declaration of Independence emboldened more to seek the abolition of slavery and claim a “perfect equality with other men.” In doing so, they insisted on a “natural & unalienable right” to freedom.12 Many African Americans escaped their masters and found freedom in the ranks of the Continental army. Officers’ inability to recruit enough white men to fill the army forced Washington to accept free blacks as soldiers. Eventually, in 1778, Washington even approved a proposal to raise a regiment of slaves from Rhode Island by promising them freedom. Congress also allowed southern planters to send their slaves to the army as substitutes for themselves. While some masters tried to renege on wartime promises and reenslave these soldiers after the conflict, African Americans were quick to remind former owners that they had fought for their freedom. They now deserved liberty.

Loyalists and Other Opponents

Whereas divisions in Patriot ranks complicated the War for Independence, those between Patriots and Loyalists almost proved the undoing of it. Historians have challenged John Adams’s oft-cited calculation that one-third of the colonists were Patriot supporters, one-third were Loyalists, and the final third were neutral, but it has long been clear that there were substantial numbers of Americans who opposed the Patriot movement. Wherever historians have looked closely at local circumstances, they have found surprising numbers of people who were either pro-British or disaffected from either side. Though the numbers varied enormously from town to town and colony to colony, it is probably safe to estimate that some 20 percent of the people actively and consistently supported the British. This is a conservative estimate based on the number of Americans who openly declared their loyalty to the Crown by joining British auxiliary military units, signing loyalty oaths, leaving the colonies, or making claims after the war. Thousands more, of course, simply kept their opinions to themselves in order to avoid the wrath of their patriotic neighbors. Individuals facing a barrel of boiling tar and feathers at the hands of hotheaded Patriots knew enough to stay quiet.13

Of course, among the first Americans to throw their lot in with the British were thousands of black slaves. Historians are divided about whether to call enslaved Americans who sought freedom during the conflict “Loyalists,” but most can agree that they numbered in the tens of thousands. Even before April 1775, some slaves watched the growing rift between Parliament and Patriot leaders in the colonies with considerable interest. As resistance heated up in 1774, many plotted insurrection, convinced that the British would soon become liberators. In Boston a “Conspiracy of the Negroes” rocked the town in late September 1774. Abigail Adams believed they wanted to petition General Thomas Gage, “telling him they would fight for him provided he would arm them and engage to liberate them if he conquered.”14 Less than two months later, enslaved Virginians met to choose a leader “who was to conduct them when the English troops should arrive.” James Madison believed they “thought … that by revolting to them [the British] they should be rewarded with their freedom.”15 As the firing began, African Americans were among the first to make a bid for independence. Some ran away with the express purpose of joining British military forces. Others took advantage of the crisis and sought shelter behind British lines. Thousands more would probably have done so if they could have escaped with their immediate and extended families. The War for Independence meant many black families and communities were torn apart, too.

Indentured and convict servants also took advantage of the start of hostilities to make their own bids for liberty. In northern Virginia and Maryland, where indentured and convict servants often worked alongside enslaved black workers, resentments ran high. On George Washington’s own plantation, Mount Vernon, at least one servant, named Joseph Wilson, took advantage of the start of hostilities to slip away and make for British lines. The general was troubled enough by this rebellion in his house to take time out from his duties at the head of the Continental army to ask if there was any news of his whereabouts. Washington’s cousin, Lund, who was minding Mount Vernon, believed that Wilson had joined Lord Dunmore. Now he was worried that Wilson would bring the British up the Potomac to Mount Vernon with the goal of “Raising the rest.” With some relief, Lund reported a month later that Wilson had been wounded and captured at the Battle of Hampton, fighting for his liberty. At the same time, though, Lund noted Dunmore’s “much dreaded proclamation”—which offered freedom to slaves and indentured servants belonging to rebel masters who could reach his lines. Lund worried about the effect of the proclamation on the rest of the slaves and servants at Mount Vernon. One of the servants had told him that there “is not a man of them, but would leave us, if they believe’d they could make there Escape.” Lund felt betrayed. He thought they had “no fault to find.” Only the heady political climate could account for it: “Liberty is sweet,” he concluded.16

Many slaves and servants found themselves fighting alongside free whites who had cast their lot with the British. Perhaps as many as thirty thousand to fifty thousand or more Americans served in at least forty-two different provincial regiments and militias specifically formed to support the British military effort or in the British army or navy. Some may have been temporarily impressed into service, and others were pressured to join by family, friends, or neighbors. The fact remains, however, that neither the British nor the Loyalist leaders resorted to formal conscription to raise colonists to fight for them.17 In some places, such as along the shores of Long Island Sound or New York, New Jersey, Georgia, and the Carolinas, the numbers of Americans willing to fight against the Patriots turned the War for Independence into a bloody civil war, with sons fighting against fathers, brothers against brothers, and neighbors against neighbors. Elizabeth Lichtenstein recalled that her father’s former childhood friend turned on him and led a gang that came looking for him. Her own teachers were among those who joined those persecuting her family. In turn, many of her male relatives joined British-organized military units. They felt they had no choice. Major battles involving large numbers of Loyalist forces were fought at Camden and Kings Mountain in South Carolina in 1780, but skirmishes between Patriot and Loyalist forces were endemic during the War for Independence, particularly in the southern colonies.

Those who joined pro-British auxiliary military units were only the tip of the iceberg. Thousands more did not formally join Loyalist units but instead waged a type of guerrilla warfare against Patriot forces. Loyalist-leaning Americans incited insurrections, kidnappings, attacks on stores and supplies, and attacks on Patriot authorities or officers. This kind of resistance was wide ranging and affected most of the new states in varying degrees and at different times of the war. Some areas, like the Georgia backcountry, Carolina Piedmont, Long Island, and the Eastern Shore of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, were plagued by chronic and persistent internal strife. Many other places experienced periodic but no less intense conflict between Patriots and Loyalist supporters, depending on the proximity of the British army or the demands made on the inhabitants by Patriot governments. Loyalist-leaning supporters often led resistance to the imposition of heavy taxes, loyalty oaths, or calls for new drafts of men for the Patriot army or militia. Less overt but as damaging to the Patriot cause were those who traded with the British or assisted them when they were near. Everywhere the British went, they were aided and abetted by local residents. When William Howe made his move on Philadelphia, for example, Marylanders along the way offered aid and supplies. Hundreds of British prisoners of war in Pennsylvania were able to escape safely back to British lines thanks to an underground railroad between Pennsylvania and New York along which Loyalists guided and succored escapees.18

The extent of Loyalist activity across the new states helps us understand that Loyalists could be found across the geographic, economic, ethnic, religious, and racial spectrum. Historians have often focused their attention on prominent wealthy and influential Loyalist defectors, in part because they left the best records and were often singled out as villains by Patriots. Some historians have traced what seems to be an alternative, more conservative ideology among Loyalists than Patriots, but in reality there was often very little difference between many prominent Loyalists and prominent Patriots. Some simply found themselves out of step with their more militant neighbors. Others found themselves targeted because of their wealth and influence. Beyond elites, there was a wide range of Loyalists who supported the British for as many different reasons. Some of these reasons originated in pre-Revolutionary tensions and divisions in the community. Some tenants became Loyalists, for example, because their landlords were Patriots. Regulators in North Carolina opposed eastern Patriot elites because of long-standing grievances. Others became Loyalists because they saw opportunities during the war or were desperate to avoid further conflict or persecution by Patriot neighbors. Some religious and ethnic minorities who had already suffered intolerance and ill treatment from their neighbors saw little to gain in a more democratic polity.

Among those who looked with suspicion on the newly independent American states were Native Americans. In 1775, the colonies were still ringed by powerful and diverse Native groups. Previous conflicts with land-hungry British settlers, including Dunmore’s War in 1774, were proof that Native Americans had to tread carefully in the civil war between Britain and its colonies; most thought they could trust neither side. Some groups and individuals ended up joining with Patriots because their lives or livelihoods depended on good relations with the neighboring colonists. Others tried to stay out of the conflict altogether or attempted to prolong the war to weaken both sides. The war split a few communities, including the Iroquois, some of whom fought on opposite sides of the battlefield. Many Native Americans ended up joining with the British by the end of the war, though they usually fought for different reasons than their Loyalist counterparts. This was especially true after the war moved west in 1778 with the invasion of the Ohio valley by George Rogers Clark. As it became clearer that Clark was there to clear a path for new settlers on Indian lands, the fighting became bloodier, just as the war in the east wound down. The vicious fighting helped give rise to indiscriminate racial hatred on both sides and ensured the War for Independence in Indian country would continue for many years more.

Even leaving aside Native American resistance to the Patriot war effort, historians estimate that some five hundred thousand people (or 20 percent) of the roughly 2.5 million colonists at the time of the Revolution could be considered Loyalists. Perhaps as many as seventy-five thousand of them (including some fifteen thousand slaves, who left with Loyalist masters) fled the colonies and new states during the Revolution and tried to find refuge elsewhere in the British Empire. The exodus resulted in a diaspora of former colonists that stretched from Canada to the Caribbean and from London to Sydney via West Africa.19 This was a much higher percentage of people than the numbers who fled France during the French Revolution. It is also the per capita equivalent of some 7.5 million people, when taken as a percentage of the population of the United States in 2015. Such a figure gives us some indication of the extent of the upheaval and divisiveness of America’s first civil war. Still, the majority of Loyalists chose to remain in the United States and ride out the storm. Many could not afford to leave or did not want to leave their farms, families, and connections behind. Historians still have much work to do to understand loyalism and especially the reintegration of Loyalists into local communities of the newly independent states.

Neutrals and the Disaffected

If historians have had a hard time integrating Loyalists into their analyses of the Revolutionary period, the great many people who found themselves somewhere between Loyalists and Patriots have not been given their due either. They are sometimes called neutrals or at other times the “disaffected.” Neither term does justice to the often complex histories of those in this group, despite the fact they may have made up a majority of the population at the time. They are sometimes hard to find in the historical record, but the run-up to independence first made clear the numbers of people who were unconvinced by the arguments of either Patriots, or Loyalists. For example, both Patriots and Loyalists called meetings in Westchester County, New York, in early April 1775 to discuss economic sanctions against Britain. About one hundred people attended the Patriot meeting, and four hundred people attended a simultaneous rally denouncing the boycotts. Yet in a county of some twenty-four thousand whites, neither side could claim they represented the majority view—even if we assume that only one-fifth of the white population were adult males. Similarly, in Loudoun County, Virginia, fifty-one Patriots signed a resolve supporting the Continental Association of 1774 and published it in the public papers to show the “sense” of the county. Yet the signers represented less than 3 percent of the county’s male population. The son of one of the coauthors later hinted that even a “large portion” of those who signed were among his father’s “neighbors and personal friends.” While this speaks to the organization of more active Patriots, it calls into question the democratic origins of the Revolution.20

Tracking the number of those who tried to stay out of the conflict is made more difficult by the fact that many people in the middle tacked between the two sides when necessary. Farmers might offer free supplies and forage to troops one year and illegally hide it from desperate soldiers the next. Militia could turn out in force against the British earlier in the war but later seek out the British to gain “paroles” that effectively absolved them from further fighting. So many militia let themselves be “captured” by the invading British in 1781 that Governor Thomas Jefferson outlawed the practice and sent a protest to British officers who gave out the paroles. Similarly, many recruits who served in the Continental army early in the war were involved in anticonscription protests and riots later in the conflict. Certainly, as the war progressed, more and more people withdrew from the conflict. One way to measure this is by looking at the extent of resistance to the collection of taxes to support the war and to military service itself. In Connecticut in 1781, for example, officials were able to collect only 14 percent of a new tax laid to pay for recruits and supplies. In Virginia in 1781, most counties were able to deliver fewer than 40 percent of the Continental army recruits requested of them, even after they drafted militia. Tax resistance and evasion of military service was endemic throughout the new states and crippled the war effort, significantly prolonging the conflict.21

Why did so many colonists choose to opt out of war? Certainly many were wary of yet more conflict. In Queens County, New York, for example, Presbyterians had long been at loggerheads with their Anglican neighbors and used the Patriot movement to advance their cause. Still, the majority of people in the county had had enough of the local infighting. Then, too, imperial issues were “too remote—economically, politically, and psychologically.” So they could interpret the so-called quest for liberty only in local terms and saw it as merely “another painful episode in the history of community discord” that now raised the spectre of a much-dreaded war.22 Others recalled more recent colonial conflicts, such as the Seven Years’ War, and the demands made on common people. One Virginian in the lower northern neck noted as early as 1774 that his neighbors shuddered at the thought of a new conflagration: “The lower Class of People here are in a tumult on the account of Reports from Boston, many of them expect to be press’d & compell’d to go and fight the Britains!”23 Certainly, as the War for Independence ground on, many others grew wearier still. Within a few years of the start of the conflict, observers described the inhabitants of war-torn Westchester County as “exhausted,” “debilitated,” and “almost desolate.” According to one report, even those who were previously “good Whigs” were soon “determined” to do nothing more for the cause.24

It would nonetheless be a mistake to see all neutrals as war-weary victims. Some actively declared their neutrality. A Brookhaven, New York, man was charged with raising a Loyalist volunteer military unit by his Patriot neighbors, but he told his accusers that on the contrary, “all the Combinations & Inlistments were for the purpose of Neutrality.” He said they had formed a “Club of Sivility that intended to fight on nither side.”25 John Heavin from Virginia was hauled before the local courts because he had participated in armed protests against further drafts for men in his County for the militia and Continental army in 1780–1781. He said he just wanted to be left alone. He had “never meddled with war from the first moment and Cant think of Intangling myselfe with it now.”26 Of course, there were also many religious pacifists who wanted to remain aloof from the struggle. German Pietists in Pennsylvania (including Mennonites, Moravian Brethren, Dunkers, and Schwenkfelders) were often persecuted for their refusal to fully support the war effort. Methodists and Quakers across the colonies struggled to maintain neutrality in the face of political and religious enemies who were quick to paint them as Loyalists.

Many other colonists tried to stay out of the conflict for economic reasons. Time served in the militia or Continental army was time away from farms, especially for those who could not afford to hire laborers or buy slaves. For landless laborers, wages outside the military were often too good to pass up. When labor was scarce, “wages in the country were so high.” In some places, farmers were offering “five pounds per month for common ploughmen and men will not be so foolish [as to join the army] … when they earn double and stay at home.”27 Even during shorter-term emergencies, men were reluctant to leave home and sacrifice everything. William Holland, a militia captain in the northern neck of Virginia, told his neighbors he would not oppose the British when they invaded because “the people in Boston, New York & Phil: that stayed by their property rescued it, & those that flew into the Country & took up arms lost it totally.” He would stay at home and “make the best terms he could.” Holland need not have looked too far afield for examples. When the British invaded Virginia, many prominent and wealthy gentlemen spent most of their time not fighting the British but rather securing their property—including slaves—and moving them out of the path of the British.28

As the demands of war increased dramatically, many more people protested against Patriot legislation or opted out of the conflict altogether because they were unhappy about the terms upon which it was fought. Salt rioters seized stores “and paid what price they thought proper.” A group of women from Poughkeepsie, New York, broke into the store of a local merchant who they felt was charging too much for tea, vandalized it, and tried to stone him and his servants. Militia and Continental soldiers refused to serve until they got the bounty money or pay that was due to them. Many potential recruits would not join up because they were not allowed to elect their own officers or serve only for local defense. Others demanded equal sacrifices by all involved before they would serve. A group of militia from Orange County, Virginia, for example, refused to comply with mobilization laws in 1779 because they targeted the “poor militia” of the county who had already been “so liberal in their contributions,” while allowing “many that possess great estates” to contribute “one farthing.” They believed the “obligation is equal on all men, to defend their liberty and property.” Another group put it more bluntly: they refused to fight because “the Rich wanted the Poor to fight for them, to defend their property, whilst they refused to fight for themselves.”29

These kinds of complaints also pointed to another factor behind the rampant disaffection that blighted Patriot efforts to win the war: a disillusionment with both the means by which the conflict was fought and the ultimate aims of the Patriots. Many new citizens had had enough after several years of high taxes, drafts for soldiers, and onerous requisitions of supplies that were seen to be unfairly apportioned to those who had the least to spare. A massive riot against new laws broke out in southwestern Virginia in 1780, for example, even as the British began to invade the state. One man who was brought to trial for treason for his part in the insurrection complained that he and his neighbors were frustrated with the laws. He had joined the protest, he said, because “he thought We had been fighting for Liberty but slavery was a consequence.”30 In neighboring Maryland, many had come to the same conclusion much earlier in the war. When it became clear that the Maryland Patriot elite would offer few concessions in the new constitution to those they expected to enlist in their defense, angry lower-class whites declared that “it was better for the poor people to lay down their arms and pay the duties and taxes laid upon them by King and Parliament than to be brought into slavery and to be commanded and ordered about as they were.”31

While it is difficult to track the numbers of people who tried to stay neutral or who were actively disaffected (while falling short of outright loyalism), historians who have looked closely in different places have come up with some surprising results. Sung Bok Kim, for example, estimated that even after intense efforts to mobilize people in Cortlandt Manor, no more than about 20 percent of the adult male population of the manor ever committed themselves to one side or the other, even by the mid-1776.32 That left up to 80 percent of the population in the middle, trying to steer a neutral course. Though that figure is on the high side of estimates of the number of neutrals elsewhere, it is not exceptional; in nearby Queens County, over 60 percent of the population preferred neutrality, while only 12 percent became active Patriots, and 27 percent supported the Crown.33 Estimate of neutrals in the conflict more generally run between 40 percent and 60 percent of the population. The percentage varied according to locality and the intensity and nature of preexisting conflicts; it also varied at different times during the run-up to independence and later in the war. Historians have yet to unravel the extent, motivation, and full implications of the presence of this large and important group.34

The War for Independence as a Revolutionary War

When we look at the experiences of a broad spectrum of colonists and citizens of the new states, we can begin to understand why Patriots—and especially Patriot leaders such as John Adams, Benjamin Rush, and many others—were slow to equate the War for Independence with the American Revolution. Indeed, the war begins to look like other imperial conflicts that were endemic through the eighteenth century and which enmeshed thousands of colonists who suffered through them. Yet because of the many divisions between colonists, the War for Independence also became a particularly brutal and ugly civil war. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that the Patriot movement failed to capture the imagination of many colonists—if not the majority. And if there had been an outpouring of support for the Patriot resistance movement in the first heady days after April 19, 1775, it quickly vanished amid the demands of the war and the divisions that wracked even the ranks of Patriots. In the end, Patriots did manage to create a loose and broad enough coalition to support independence, but it was not enough to prevent a long and ultimately destructive war. In turn, while some historians have described the Patriot victory in that war as “almost a miracle,” it was perhaps only due to luck and the intervention of the French—who gave vital support to the Patriot forces at crucial moments such as Yorktown and who also distracted the British by sparking a new global war.35

Still, the divisive and bloody War for American Independence may have given energy to what we now call the American Revolution. This is particularly true if we more closely link together what John Shy once called the destructive War for Independence with the constructive political revolution that occurred across the same era. To drum up support for the war among their reluctant neighbors, for example, some political leaders across the states listened to their concerns and demands and made sure there were concessions in the new state constitutions that were hammered out in the midst of the turbulent war—concessions that included lower property qualifications for voting and office holding and greater representation for western inhabitants. Other political leaders reacted differently. Reeling from the chaos and yearning for greater control over their neighbors, they blocked efforts to make some state governments more democratic. Ordinary Americans, too, often used the sacrifices they had made during the war—willingly or unwillingly—to justify increased resistance to taxes after the war or to justify continued warfare against Native Americans. Many maintained a wary guard against more intrusive governments and laws. Ultimately, the bitter legacy of the American War for Independence would not only lead directly to the movement to create a stronger federal government at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, but it would also ensure that the new nation was riven by tensions and divisions that would take several generations—or more—to resolve.

Discussion of the Literature

Much has been written about the American War for Independence and the American Revolution more generally. Yet scholars of the latter by and large have divided along the same lines suggested by John Adams and Benjamin Rush. They either have focused on changes in colonial politics and society and examined the causes of the American Revolution, or they have focused on the political settlements in the newly created states, the drive toward the creation of the Federal Constitution in 1787, and the political Revolution that seemed to take place during this period. At the same time, historians of the War for Independence have produced a voluminous and ongoing stream of books on the military history of the war, which has often focused on strategy, campaigns, battles, and leadership. Much of this literature has emphasized the divided loyalties at play, the difficulties recruiting, and the precarious nature of the conflict, but only to emphasize the challenges that Patriots overcame to win the war. Few historians on either side of this divide have tried to answer John Shy’s call to examine seriously the links between war and nation building and, in particular, to tie together the “destructive” War for Independence with the “constructive” political revolution that created a nation.36

Even some of the best works on the military conflict have rarely considered the wider and longer-term consequences of the war. Charles Royster’s illuminating study of the Continental army, for example, focuses solely on a ragged and core group of Continental soldiers and officers for the duration of the war only and deals mainly with character—rather than nation—building. Likewise, of the many excellent studies of political developments in the new states, few have taken into consideration the experience and impact of the war on the lives of ordinary Americans and thus the development of democracy or a truly national culture. Landmark studies such as Gordon Wood’s The Creation of the American Republic and Jack Rakove’s The Beginnings of National Politics have ignored the war itself almost entirely and focused instead on the narrowly defined political problems Patriot leaders encountered in creating new governments. The war, if mentioned at all, is usually examined only in passing—most often to highlight the flaws of the Articles of Confederation.37

Still, a few suggestive lines of enquiry have helped bridge the gap between military and political historians over the past few decades. The first, looking at the social dimensions of the war and particularly focused on local studies of communities at war, has slightly older roots but continues to produce illuminating insights and suggestive hypotheses that point toward critical links between society and politics during wartime that shaped the Revolutionary outcome in profound ways. Scholars such as Jonathan Clark, Joseph S. Tiedemann, Sung Bok Kim, Robert Gross, Ronald Hoffman, Edward Countryman, and Steven Rosswurm and, more recently, Judith L. Van Buskirk, Caroline Cox, Charles Neimeyer, Keith Mason, Aaron Sullivan, Thomas J. Humphrey, Marjoleine Kars, Gregory Knouff, Albert H. Tillson, Holly A. Mayer, Ray Raphael, John Resch, John Ruddiman, Joan R. Gundersen, Walter Sargent, Francis Fox, and Kenneth Miller, to name just a few, have shown that a local focus yields a much more complicated picture of loyalties, mobilization, and the ways in which preexisting tensions and new wartime pressures created a combustible and unpredictable mix that boiled over during the conflict. These studies suggest—while not always making explicit—the fact that we cannot possibly understand state and national politics without taking into account the intensely local ways in which most people experienced the war.38

At the same time that scholars have dug deeper into the local archives of the colonies that would become the thirteen original states, other scholars have looked further afield and helped put the American War for Independence into perspective by emphasizing its international context. A new wave of Atlantic historians have reminded us of the imperial roots of the colonial crisis but also the turbulent currents that shaped both British and American responses to the war and transformed a colonial squabble into a global conflict. In this context, we see more clearly the challenges facing British officers and imperial officials in waging a war across the sea, and we can also view the War for American Independence as one in a series of major imperial conflicts that rocked the second half of the eighteenth century and undergirded a broader Age of Revolutions. New studies of the colonies that did not join the original thirteen colonies in rebellion, including those in the Caribbean, those in what would become Canada, and those in the Gulf Coast region have helped scholars of Revolutionary America see what was distinctive—and not so distinctive—about the mainland colonial response to the imperial crisis. In this broader wartime context, the political responses of the newly independent states take on a much more pragmatic hue as initial ideals and aims gave way to expedient goals, including mere survival in a rapidly changing international world. Pressures from within and without shaped the Revolutionary settlement.39

Historians of Native America have also enriched this picture by emphasizing the power of the Indian confederacies that hemmed in the colonies on the eve of independence and the Janus-faced nature of the War for American Independence. Of course, taking into account these neo-imperial and Native American studies, the American War for Independence looks less like a war for liberty and more like an anticolonial war and—perhaps paradoxically—a war of colonial conquest. Yet as scholars of the African American experience in the Revolutionary period have long affirmed, set against the stated ideals contained within the Declaration of Independence, in particular, the Revolution can only be seen as something of a paradox. As Edmund Morgan noted long ago, American freedom was predicated on American slavery. For African Americans, in particular, the Revolution fell far short of its loftiest goals and arguably set the stage for a protracted, explosive, and still ongoing battle over the meaning of freedom and equality.40

Acknowledging the role of the Revolution in entrenching slavery and as a war of conquest in the west only gives urgency to more recent calls of scholars to take seriously the divisions within the new states as well as the violence and even trauma of the American War for Independence. As Michael Kammen, Sung Bok Kim, and Allan Kulikoff have reminded us, American historical literature lacks “a sense of the tragic.” The scholarship on the war has overwhelmingly focused on the more positive outcomes of the movement for independence and the Revolutionary War. Both these events are often portrayed as a contest of ideas—loyalism versus patriotism—or as vehicles for the development of republican, democratic, and individualistic ideologies or even of social radicalism. Yet historians on the Left and the Right have generally ignored the destructive, the divisive, and the tragic effects and consequences of the war. In part, this is no doubt due to the need to view the War for Independence as an important part of a more positive story of the founding of a nation. Until we acknowledge fully the violence, divisions, and contradictions at the heart of the Revolution, however, the story of the nation will remain incomplete.41

Primary Sources

Primary sources for the study of the American Revolution can be found almost anywhere and everywhere. State libraries and archives, state historical societies, national and state parks, along with thousands of local historical societies often feature the Revolutionary War as part of their important collections. As a result, it is not easy to pinpoint particular archives or collections of material. Perhaps surprisingly, there is no central museum or library devoted to the study of the American Revolution, though there is one in the planning at Philadelphia, scheduled to open in early 2017. While there is no one place to go to study the Revolution, some historic places, such as Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Richmond, have important collections housed in various repositories across the cities.

Of course, the Library of Congress is also an important library and archive for the study of the Revolution, and many of their documents are now digitized and accessible via its American Memory portal, as is the British Library and National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office, or PRO) in London. Another important center with an extraordinarily rich and wide-ranging array of sources is the David Library of the American Revolution at Washington Crossing. The library has thousands of books and original manuscripts, along with ten thousand reels of microfilm containing an estimated eight million pages of documentation gathered from repositories around the world.

The study of the American Revolution has also been transformed of late by the digitization of records. The popularity of the Revolutionary Era has meant there are tens of thousands of documents now available via searchable and accessible databases, and there are hundreds more digital projects ongoing. While some of these digital databases and collections are expensive commercial ventures that have in some ways arguably circumscribed widespread access to these sources, many others are freely available, such as Internet Archive, which has made available at no cost a massive range of printed primary source as well as older secondary source material.

The papers of many of the well-known so-called Founding Fathers have also been among the first sources to be digitized, some of which require paid subscriptions, but many others that do not (see, for example, Founders Online). While the digitization of the papers of such prominent early Americans has perhaps further skewed the emphasis placed on a few recognizable “leaders” of the Revolution, the increasing availability of other digital sources, such as diaries, letters, memoirs, and pension applications of less elite colonists, including many who were disaffected or joined with the British, should help give us a more rounded view of the dramatic events and upheaval of the era.

Further Reading

Bannister, Jerry, and Liam Riordan, eds. The Loyal Atlantic: Remaking the British Atlantic in the Revolutionary Era. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.Find this resource:

    Bouton, Terry. Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

      Breen, Timothy H. American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.Find this resource:

        Calloway, Colin G. The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

          Carp, Benjamin L. Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

            Conway, Stephen. The War of American Independence, 1775–1783. London: Edward Arnold, 1995.Find this resource:

              DuVal, Kathleen. Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution. New York: Random House, 2015.Find this resource:

                Griffin, Patrick. American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.Find this resource:

                  Gross, Robert A. The Minutemen and Their World. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976.Find this resource:

                    Gundersen, Joan R. To Be Useful to the World: Women in Revolutionary America, 1740–1790. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                      Irvin, Benjamin H. Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People out of Doors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

                        Jasanoff, Maya. Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.Find this resource:

                          Kars, Marjoleine. Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.Find this resource:

                            Knouff, Gregory T. The Soldiers’ Revolution: Pennsylvanians in Arms and the Forging of Early American Identity. Philadelphia: Penn State University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                              McDonnell, Michael A. Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2015.Find this resource:

                                McDonnell, Michael A. The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                                  Nash, Gary B. The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.Find this resource:

                                    Nash, Gary B. The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

                                      O’Shaughnessy, Andrew. The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the Revolutionary War, and the Fate of Empire. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

                                        Raphael, Ray. A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence. New York: New Press, 2001.Find this resource:

                                          Resch, John, and Walter Sargent, eds. War and Society in the American Revolution: Mobilization and Home Fronts. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                                            Rosswurm, Steven. Arms, Country, and Class: The Philadelphia Militia and the “Lower Sort” during the American Revolution. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987.Find this resource:

                                              Royster, Charles. A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775–1783. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.Find this resource:

                                                Ruddiman, John A. Becoming Men of Some Consequence: Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014.Find this resource:

                                                  Saunt, Claudio L. West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014.Find this resource:

                                                    Shy, John. A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990.Find this resource:

                                                      Taylor, Alan. The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.Find this resource:

                                                        Taylor, Alan. The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013.Find this resource:

                                                          Van Buskirk, Judith L. Generous Enemies: Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.Find this resource:

                                                            Waldstreicher, David. Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification. New York: Hill and Wang, 2009.Find this resource:

                                                              Young, Alfred F. The American Revolution. Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976.Find this resource:


                                                                (1.) John Adams to Dr. J. Morse, 1 January 1816, in The Works of John Adams, ed. Charles Francis Adams, vol. 10, Letters (1811–1825) (Boston: Little, Brown, 1856), 197–198; Benjamin Rush, “Address to the People of the United States,” American Museum, January 1787, in Friends of the Constitution: Writings of the “Other” Federalists, 1787–1788, ed. Colleen A. Sheehan and Gary L. McDowell (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1998), 3.

                                                                (2.) Sung Bok Kim, “The Limits of Politicization in the American Revolution: The Experience of Westchester County, New York,” Journal of American History 80.3 (December 1993): 888.

                                                                (3.) Louisa County Committee Proceedings, December 4, 1775, Virginia Gazette (Dixon and Hunter), December 23, 1775.

                                                                (4.) Botetourt County Committee Proceedings, June 26, 1775, in Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence, ed. William J. Van Schreeven, and Robert L. Scribner, vol. 3 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1973–1983), 230; and Steven Rosswurm, Arms, Country, and Class: The Philadelphia Militia and the “Lower Sort” during the American Revolution (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987).

                                                                (5.) Timothy H. Breen, “Samuel Thompson’s War: The Career of an American Insurgent,” in Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation, ed. Alfred F. Young, Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 63; and Michael A. McDonnell, The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 169–174.

                                                                (6.) Proceedings of the Independent Company of Volunteers, April 29, 1775, and Albemarle County Committee Resolutions, April 1775, Gilmer Papers, Virginia Historical Society; McDonnell, The Politics of War, 83; and Michael A. McDonnell, “A World Turned ‘Topsy Turvy’: Robert Munford, The Patriots, and the Crisis of the Revolution in Virginia,” in William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 61.2 (April 2004): 235–270.

                                                                (7.) Charles Lee to Patrick Henry, May 7, 1776, The Lee Papers, vol. 2, 1–3, Collections of the New-York Historical Society (1871–1874).

                                                                (8.) Francis Lightfoot Lee to Landon Carter, May 21, 1776, in Letters of Delegates to Congress, ed. Paul H. Smith, vol. 4, May 16, 1776–August 15, 1776 (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1979), 57.

                                                                (9.) McDonnell, The Politics of War, passim; and John A. Ruddiman, Becoming Men of Some Consequence: Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014).

                                                                (10.) Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 31, 1776, and John Adams to Abigail Adams, April 14, 1776, Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society.

                                                                (11.) John Adams to James Sullivan, May 26, 1776, in The Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and Celeste Walker, vol. 4 (Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1977), 208–221.

                                                                (12.) Daniel R. Mandell, “‘A Natural & Unalienable Right’: New England Revolutionary Petitions and African American Identity,” in Remembering the Revolution: Memory, History, and Nation-Making from Independence to the Civil War, ed. Michael A. McDonnell, Clare Corbould, Frances M. Clarke, and W. Fitzhugh Brundage (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), 41.

                                                                (13.) See, for example, Edward Larkin, “Loyalism,” in The Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution, ed. Edward G. Gray and Jane Kamensky (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 291–292.

                                                                (14.) Abigail Adams to John Adams, September 22, 1774, in Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press: 1963), 161–162.

                                                                (15.) James Madison to William Bradford, November 26, 1774, in The Papers of James Madison, ed. William T Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), 129–130.

                                                                (16.) George Washington to Lund Washington, August 20, 1775, and Lund Washington to George Washington, September 29, 1775, November 5, 1775, December 3, 1775, and January 17, 1776, in The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, ed. Dorothy Twohig and William Wright Abbot (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993–), I: 337, II: 64, 66n, 306, 372, 479–480, 481n., III: 128–129.

                                                                (17.) For an overview and definition of active Loyalists, see especially Robert M. Calhoon, “Loyalism and Neutrality,” in A Companion to the American Revolution, ed. Jack P. Greene and J. R. Pole (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 235–247. The number of Loyalist combatants comes from Paul H. Smith, “The American Loyalists: Notes on Their Organization and Numerical Strength,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 25.2 (April 1968): 259–277, esp. 266–267. Cf. Stephen Conway, The War of American Independence, 1775–1783 (London: Edward Arnold, 1995), 46; and Maya Jasanoff, “The Other Side of Revolution: Loyalists in the British Empire,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 65 (2008): 205–232.

                                                                (18.) Aaron Sullivan, “In but Not of the Revolution: Loyalty, Liberty, and the British Occupation of Philadelphia” (PhD Diss., Temple University, 2014); and Kenneth Miller, Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives and Revolutionary Communities during the War for Independence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014).

                                                                (19.) Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011).

                                                                (20.) Loudoun County Resolves, June 14, 1774, in Revolutionary Virginia, ed. Van Schreeven, vol. 7, 734; Burr Powell to R. H. Lee, January 11, 1826, William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., 12 (1903–1904): 234; and Richard Beeman, Patrick Henry: A Biography (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974), 55–56.

                                                                (21.) Richard Buel, Dear Liberty: Connecticut’s Mobilization for the Revolutionary War (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1980), 256–257; and McDonnell, The Politics of War, 418.

                                                                (22.) Joseph S. Tiedemann, “A Revolution Foiled: Queens County, New York, 1775–1776,” Journal of American History 75.2 (1988): 422–424.

                                                                (23.) Hunter Dickinson Farish, ed., Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian: A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion, 1773–1774 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1957), 111.

                                                                (24.) Kim, “The Limits of Politicization in the American Revolution,” 887.

                                                                (25.) Michael Kammen, “The American Revolution as a Crise de Conscience,” in Society, Freedom, and Conscience: The American Revolution in Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York, ed. Jack P. Greene, Richard L. Bushman, and Michael Kammen (New York: W. W. Norton, 1976), 152–153.

                                                                (26.) McDonnell, The Politics of War, 378, 379.

                                                                (27.) Gregory T. Knouff, “‘‘An Arduous Service’: The Pennsylvania Backcountry Soldiers’ Revolution,” Pennsylvania History 61.1 (1994): 52.

                                                                (28.) McDonnell, The Politics of War, 439–440, 445.

                                                                (29.) Orange County Petition, May 13, 1779, Virginia Legislative Petitions, Library of Virginia; Testimony of Vincent Redman, Proceedings of a General Court Martial, June 18, 1781, Executive Papers, Library of Virginia.

                                                                (30.) McDonnell, The Politics of War, 379.

                                                                (31.) Ronald Hoffman, “The ‘Disaffected’ in the Revolutionary South,” in The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism, ed. Alfred F. Young (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976), 285.

                                                                (32.) Kim, “The Limits of Politicization in the American Revolution,” 875.

                                                                (33.) Tiedemann, “A Revolution Foiled,” 419.

                                                                (34.) Robert M. Calhoun, “Loyalism and Neutrality,” in A Companion to the American Revolution, ed. Jack P. Greene and J. R. Pole (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 235 and passim.

                                                                (35.) John Ferling, Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

                                                                (36.) Shy outlined this formulation in his essay “American Society and Its War for Independence,” first presented in 1976 and published when he gathered together his essays in a popular and influential book that remains in print today, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990).

                                                                (37.) Charles Royster, A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775–1783 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979); Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969); and Jack N. Rakove, The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1979). For a review of some of this literature and its failure to address the link between war and nation building, see Don Higginbotham, “War and State Formation in Revolutionary America,” in Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World, ed. Eliga H. Gould and Peter S. Onuf (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005). For notable and promising exceptions, see Gary B. Nash, The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America (New York: Penguin Books, 2005); Terry Bouton, Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); and Benjamin H. Irvin, Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

                                                                (38.) The full corpus of works from these and other authors are too numerous to mention here, but for representative examples, see Robert A. Gross, The Minutemen and Their World (New York: Hill and Wang, 1976); Ronald Hoffman, A Spirit of Dissension: Economics, Politics, and the Revolution in Maryland (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973); Hoffman, “The ‘Disaffected’ in the Revolutionary South,” 273–318; Edward Countryman, A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760–1790 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981); Steven Rosswurm, Arms, Country, and Class; Joseph S. Tiedemann, Reluctant Revolutionaries: New York City and the Road to Independence, 1763–1776 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997); Joseph S. Tiedemann, Eugene R. Fingerhut, and Robert W. Vanables, eds., The Other Loyalists: Ordinary People, Royalism, and the Revolution in the Middle Colonies, 1763–1787 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009); Kim, “The Limits of Politicization in the American Revolution”; Jonathan Clark, “The Problem of Allegiance in Revolutionary Poughkeepsie,” in Saints and Revolutionaries: Essays in Early American History, ed. David D. Hall, John M. Murrin, and Thad W. Tate (New York: W. W. Norton, 1984), 292–294; Michael A. McDonnell, The Politics of War; John Resch, Suffering Soldiers: Revolutionary War Veterans, Moral Sentiment, and Political Culture in the Early Republic (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999); John Resch and Walter Sargent, eds., War and Society in the American Revolution: Mobilization and Home Fronts (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2007); Holly A. Mayer, Belonging to the Army: Camp Followers and Community during the American Revolution (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996); Judith L. Van Buskirk, Generous Enemies: Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002); Caroline Cox, A Proper Sense of Honor: Service and Sacrifice in George Washington’s Army (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Charles P. Neimeyer, America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army (New York: New York University Press, 1997); Albert H. Tillson Jr., Accommodating Revolutions: Virginia’s Northern Neck in an Era of Transformations, 1760–1810 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010); Thomas J. Humphrey, Land and Liberty: Hudson Valley Riots in the Age of Revolution (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2004); Marjoleine Kars, Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Francis S. Fox, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Ordeal of the American Revolution in Northampton County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Penn State University Press, 2000); Joan R. Gundersen, To Be Useful to the World: Women in Revolutionary America, 1740–1790 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Gregory T. Knouff, The Soldiers’ Revolution: Pennsylvanians in Arms and the Forging of Early American Identity (Philadelphia: Penn State University Press, 2004); Ray Raphael, A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence (New York: New Press, 2001); Aaron Sullivan, “In but Not of the Revolution; and Kenneth Miller, Dangerous Guests.

                                                                (39.) See, for example, Leonard J. Sadosky, Revolutionary Negotiations: Indians, Empires, and Diplomats in the Founding of America (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009); Paul W. Mapp, “The Revolutionary War and Europe’s Great Powers,” in Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 311–326; Max M. Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the US Constitution and the Making of the American State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Eliga H. Gould, Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); Trevor Burnard, Planters, Merchants, and Slaves: Plantation Societies in British America, 1650–1820 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Simon P. Newman, A New World of Labor: The Development of Plantation Slavery in the British Atlantic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013); Eliga H. Gould and Peter S. Onuf, eds., Empire and Nation: The American Revolution in the Atlantic World; Eliga H. Gould, Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); H. V. Bowen, Elizabeth Mancke, and John G. Reid, eds., Britain’s Oceanic Empire: Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds, c. 1550–1850 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Stephen Conway, The War of American Independence, 1775–1783 (London: Edward Arnold, 1995); Andrew O’Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the Revolutionary War, and the Fate of Empire (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013); Kathleen DuVal, Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution (New York: Random House, 2015); and Andrew Shankman, ed., The World of the Revolutionary American Republic: Land, Labor, and the Conflict for a Continent (London: Routledge, 2014).

                                                                (40.) See Claudio L. Saunt, West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014); Sadosky, Revolutionary Negotiations; Patrick Griffin, American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007); Eric Hinderaker, Elusive Empires: Constructing Colonialism in the Ohio Valley, 1673–1800 (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Alan Taylor, The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006); Colin G. Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: W. W. Norton, 1975); and David Waldstreicher, Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009). The literature on African Americans is extensive. For a recent overview, see especially Gary B. Nash, “The African Americans’ Revolution,” in Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution, 250–272; Gary B. Nash, The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006); and Christopher Leslie Brown, “The Problems of Slavery,” in Oxford Handbook of the Revolution, 427–446.

                                                                (41.) Kim, “The Limits of Politicization in the American Revolution,” 868; Kammen, “The American Revolution as a Crise de Conscience,” 188. Allan Kulikoff has been looking at the question of violence from a number of different angles; see Kulikoff, “The War in the Countryside,” in Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution, 216–233; and Kulikoff, “Revolutionary Violence and the Origins of American Democracy,” Journal of the Historical Society 2.2 (2002): 229–260. See also Michael A. McDonnell, “War Stories: Remembering and Forgetting the American Revolution,” in The American Revolution Reborn, ed. Patrick Spero and Michael Zuckerman (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016); Patrick Griffin, Robert G. Ingram, Peter S. Onuf, and Brian Schoen, eds., Between Sovereignty and Anarchy: The Politics of Violence in the American Revolutionary Era (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015); Timothy H. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010); John Smolenski and Thomas J. Humphreys, eds., Violence, Sanction, and Authority in the Colonial Americas (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); and Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners during the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2010). For two important works that show that violence and race were at the heart of the making of that story of a nation, see Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); and Robert G. Parkinson, The Common Cause: The Foundations of Race and Nation in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).