The Enemy in Our Hands: America's Treatment of Enemy Prisoners of War, from the Revolution to the War on Terror

By Robert C. Doyle | Go to book overview

TWO
Habeas Corpus
War against Loyalists and Quakers

Should one of them [Loyalists] be captured by the rebels, however,
he is hanged without mercy, and they neither give nor take quarter.

—Johann Conrad Döhla

The treatment of Loyalists and some Quakers was much harsher than that accorded to the British and Hessians who became EPWs of the Continental Army or state militias, in part because both groups were Americans. In terms of precedents, the Revolution set the stage for what would take place repeatedly in American military history: the United States treats foreign enemy prisoners of war humanely and in accordance with the rules of war that exist at the time; however, internal prisoners, especially Americans perceived as disloyal to cause and country, face a host of troubles. To understand the level of hatred between Loyalists and Patriots, it is useful to examine its roots.

Prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, Americans were universally unhappy with England, the mother country. Starting in 1763, the year that marked the successful end of the French and Indian War, the British complained that it was too expensive to keep an army in the colonies and demanded that the American colonists, wealthy and untaxed as they were, help pay for their own defense. Additionally, to keep the eastern tribal allies content, the British attempted to block westward movement by the American colonists past an arbitrary Indian demarcation line that ran northeast to southwest from western New York through Pennsylvania and south through the Allegheny Mountains. From time to time the British actually attempted to enforce this prohibition, but they failed to do so effectively. To the colonists, the Indians represented a distinct impediment to progress and were untrustworthy allies in war. Thus, the British commitment to the Indians meant very little and actually lowered the esteem for England held by many American colonists.

In England, as in America, two political groups took shape in the middle of the eighteenth century: Tories or conservatives, and Whigs

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