The military establishment and democratic politics in the United States, 1783–1848
Between 1783 and 1848, citizens and political leaders of the United States recognized that the organization of the nation’s armed forces was one of the most crucial problems in building a democratic society. Throughout the early national period, citizens, political leaders, policy makers, and a few engaged citizens struggled to determine whether the nation’s military power and war-making capabilities should be situated within the people themselves – that is, in the great mass of its male citizens – or in a small army led by a professional military elite. Both options had profound political, social, and cultural implications. This dissertation reconstructs a discussion among a wide range of groups and interests about military institutions and democratic politics that extended across the early national period. It examines the growth of the regular army as well as the activities of veterans’ associations, military academies, peace societies, and militia companies. I conclude that the citizen-soldier represented a democratic ideal of an army of the people, by the people, and for the people. But this ideal, over time, appeared increasingly impractical and unattainable to political leaders and certain groups of citizens. Debates about the type and character of the American military establishment ultimately transcended military considerations and became central to the construction of the American political order. The processes by which the professionals trumped the people as the source of legitimate military power illuminate previously unrecognized aspects of early American political ideology as well as the contested and contingent construction of a democratic polity after the Revolution.
0615: Political science
0722: Military history
0750: Military studies