Anthony Wayne, Soldier of the Early Republic

Anthony Wayne, Soldier of the Early Republic

Anthony Wayne, Soldier of the Early Republic

Anthony Wayne, Soldier of the Early Republic


Paul David Nelson has written an exciting biography of an exciting figure -- the military hero of the American Revolution and the Indian Wars in the Northwest Territory -- "Mad" Anthony Wayne. Some of his contemporaries called him rash and impetuous, a braggart and a dandy. "More active and enterprising than judicious and cautious" was George Washington's verdict. True, Wayne had a flair for the dramatic and consciously acted the role of swashbuckler, but he proved himself one of the best and most successful military leaders of the early American republic.

Despite his reputation for madness, Wayne, as Nelson points out, was a prudent and careful officer whose military record belies the myth. When he ran out of wars to fight, Wayne turned to the political arena. Nelson shows that the qualities which made Wayne a great military leader served him well in politics. He proved himself articulate and shrewd in statecraft in a critical time for the young republic, the years just after ratification of the Constitution.


The most interesting thing about Anthony Wayne's life, I think, is that it presents us with an important case study in the development of a "military mind." To use this phrase, however, is not to accept the way it is sometimes defined today, as embracing militaristic values, pomp, and ceremony and rejecting all things liberal. It is true, of course, that Wayne had a romantic, almost childlike, attachment to the trappings and glory of service as an army officer during the Revolution and later as commander of the United States Legion. It is also true that his views on the role of the military, both as an officer and as a quondam politician, were products of a fundamentally conservative cast of mind. Nevertheless, to describe the "military mind" of Anthony Wayne is to show the complex interplay between a set of conditions--political, social, economic, cultural, ideological--that motivated him to choose a military career as the most eligible way of defending his convictions about what ought to be a man's relationship to government.

In this context, Wayne's service in the military and in the legislative processes of Pennsylvania and the United States government can be seen as attempts to preserve the best of Whig political doctrine, as it had manifested itself in American republicanism during the Colonial era, while at the same time giving outlet to his deep-seated romanticism. What saves his efforts from being merely reactionary or facile is that the Whiggism and republicanism for which he contended were not conservative in the context of eighteenth-century European politics. On the contrary, they were a profoundly new, and essentially untested, assertion--embodied in the American political experiment--that the individual must be guaranteed by government his personal and economic liberty from government. Proponents of this viewpoint, Wayne included, were radical indeed, and all the soldiers and politicians of the early American republic who accepted this ideology were considerably more complicated than they have often been delineated.

Without the assistance that I received from many institutions and individuals, this book could not have been written. I am particularly indebted to Berea College for generous financial grants in support of my research and writing. I also owe an incalculable debt of gratitude to the staffs of many libraries and manuscript repositories, including the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the American Philosophical Society, the New-York Historical Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society . . .

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