Foreigners in the Highest Trust: American Perceptions of European Mercenary Officers in the Continental Army
- Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 12, Number 2, Spring 2014
- pp. 338-365
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Although the American Revolution began as a British civil war, it quickly ballooned into an international conflict that included Germany, France, and Spain. Britain initiated the internationalization of the Revolution by contracting with German auxiliary units. As one of the grievances in the Declaration of Independence shows, the rebels considered Britain’s employment of foreign mercenaries a heinous act, and Revolutionary propagandists used the presence of these mercenaries to differentiate between British tyranny and American liberty. Though most historians acknowledge the presence of European officers and troops in the Continental Army, few historians recognize these soldiers as mercenaries, despite the fact that they fit the pattern of eighteenth-century European mercenary practice. This essay will show that, although Revolutionary rhetoric declared mercenaries the tools of despots, the Continental Congress accepted many European mercenaries into the American service. Of course, the number of foreign offers, coupled with issues of language and experience, made it difficult for the Continental Army to gainfully employ these soldiers. Furthermore, American suspicions of these foreigners’ motivations and loyalties created potentially debilitating tensions within the army. Nonetheless, Congress and the army, portraying these foreigners as volunteers, worked to mitigate these problems and made use of European soldiers of fortune throughout the war.