Turner on Martin and Lender, '"A Respectable Army": The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789'

James Kirby Martin, Mark Edward Lender. "A Respectable Army": The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789. Third edition. The American History Series. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015. 264 pp. $26.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-118-92388-7.

Reviewed by Jobie Turner (Air University, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies)
Published on H-War (July, 2016)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

If there is one book about the American Revolutionary War to have on the shelf to reflect on, study, or “break in case of emergency,” “A Respectable Army”: The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789 is it. James Kirby Martin and Mark Edward Lender’s thesis is simple. The Continental army was not a band of land-owning militia Patriots; it was a standing army “fighting for a populace rather than representing the social compositions of that population in war” (p. 216). In supporting their assertion, the authors comb the entire historiography of the war from the late nineteenth century to 2015. What is so impressive about their analysis is how that one simple question—was the Continental army composed of the famed citizen-soldier or not?—leads to other avenues of discovery about the war writ large: civil-military relations, causes of war, questions of whether or not the British were that onerous (the authors think not), etc. Martin and Lender flesh out many issues and support them with the latest research to paint the picture of the current state of the historiography. 

The book is so well researched and paced that if the reader disagrees with a premise, the authors usually answer the rebuttal in subsequent paragraphs. For example, in my case, the authors seem to give the British a pass for how they treated their colonial subjects during the Seven Years’ War and after. There were clear instances of disdain, abuse, and threatening of the populace. In one such instance, Sir John St. Clair, General Edward Braddock’s quartermaster, threatened to quarter British soldiers in colonial houses if his demands for war supplies were not met, cementing the idea that the British came to rule with an iron fist rather than a velvet glove. However, Martin and Linder through careful analysis place the British treatment of colonials in proper context and then go on to describe how the movement of troops to North America in the 1760s kept the peace between colonials and Native American tribes. In this case and many others, it becomes hard to disagree with the authors. 

Their main avenue of discussion, the composition of the Continental army and its relationship to society, is important not just for the eighteenth century but also for civil-military relations since. In one poignant anecdote, Martin and Linder record the thoughts of a soldier in the Continental army: “We ... [vented] out spleen at our country and government, then at our officers, and then at ourselves for our imbecility in staying there and starving in detail for an ungrateful people who did not care what became of us, so they could enjoy themselves while we were keeping a cruel enemy from them” (p. 152). A US marine, 225 years later, wrote on a whiteboard in Iraq, “America is not at war. The Marines are at war. America is at the mall.”[1] These conflicted emotions between American soldiers and the citizenry have a long thread and illustrate how incisive “A Respectable Army” is as a work of civil-military relations.

In comparison to their first two editions, this third edition of the book continues the steady updating of the field, from the role of women in the Revolution to perspectives from the British army as well. At a mere 230 pages, this book is a quick read and covers the Revolutionary War with breadth and depth. This book should be required reading for all Revolutionary War scholars.


[1]. http://www.murdoconline.net/2007/americaisatthemall-thumb.jpg.

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=45759

Citation: Jobie Turner. Review of Martin, James Kirby; Lender, Mark Edward, "A Respectable Army": The Military Origins of the Republic, 1763-1789. H-War, H-Net Reviews. July, 2016.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=45759

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.