The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789

By Merrill Jensen | Go to book overview
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13
The Aftermath of War: The Veterans, the Loyalists, and the Pre-war Debts

AMERICANS, PARTLY as a result of their English heritage, and partly as a result of their experience with British troops after 1763, had a healthy dislike of anything smacking of the professional military man. Revolutionary constitutions one after another forbade standing armies in peace time. The effort to create a permanent military force at the end of the Revolution was turned down. But many Americans who served during the Revolution as officers developed a keen desire to continue a military career. From almost the beginning of the war they demanded half pay for life, as was the custom in European armies. Eventually they "struck" and forced an unwilling promise of half pay from Congress. At the end of the war the promise of half pay for life was "commuted" to full pay for five years. There was violent opposition, especially in New England. Pamphlets were written denouncing the officers. In Connecticut a state-wide convention was held to protest commutation. The lower house of the legislature likewise protested. It was said that the officers were "mercenary," that the scheme was the beginning of a dangerous aristocracy, and that Congress had attacked state sovereignty.

The founding of the Society of Cincinnati as the war ended was only further proof to many Americans that military men must be feared and controlled by civil power. The Society of Cincinnati was a stench in the nostrils of good democrats because its membership was hereditary. The scheme was worked out by General Henry Knox and his friends at the same time that they were dabbling with the idea of a military revolution at Newburgh in the

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