For Liberty and the Republic: The American Citizen as Soldier, 1775–1861 by Ricardo A. Herrera (review)
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Keywords

U.S. military, Republicanism, Military history

For Liberty and the Republic: The American Citizen as Soldier, 1775–1861. By Ricardo A. Herrera. (New York: New York University Press, 2015. Pp. 272. Cloth, $55.00.)

In Liberty and the Republic, Ricardo A. Herrera provides a valuable synthesis exploring the ideological motivations of soldiers from the American Revolution through the start of the Civil War. Herrera proposes that there were continuities in what he terms “the military ethos of republicanism,” that defined American soldiers’ service during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (x). Herrera embarks on a bold and ambitious project, which he, himself, acknowledges, yet he falls somewhat short of his goal of fully proving that American soldiers were united across time through ideological impulses of republicanism that compelled them to service. In identifying republicanism as the central motivation for soldiers for almost 100 years, Herrera employs a definition of republicanism that does not adequately incorporate changing ideas of citizenship as well as personal factors for joining the army. Nevertheless, his book showcases the potential for new insights into military history by incorporating research and methods from social, gender, and cultural history that continue to improve our understanding of what soldiers thought and felt as they fought to create and experience the ideals that founded America.

Herrera explores this continuum of motivations among soldiers through five thematic categories, organized into chapters, which include “virtue; legitimacy; self-governance; God’s will and the national mission; and glory, honor, and fame” (x–xi). Within each theme, Herrera includes extensive evidence from a variety of perspectives including both soldiers and officers from the militia and the regular army who served during the Revolutionary War through those who enlisted at the outset of the Civil War. Herrera contends that there was a foundation of a “military ethos of republicanism” that continued to inform soldiers’ motivations; however, his definition of republicanism remains too broad. Nevertheless, [End Page 161] Herrera succeeds in highlighting how some men expressed similar sentiments about expectations because of their service, even if he is not as convincing about their motivations. In particular, his chapter on self-governance illuminates how individuals crafted military service to suit their own needs and desires by reviving the history of volunteer militias and providing a fresh interpretation to explain their emergence during this era.

Although Herrera may overstate the unity of ideologies among soldiers, one of the most important contributions he makes throughout his study is the rescuing of republicanism from abstract theoretical discussions. Instead, he reminds us that republicanism was defined on the ground by individuals who laid claim to and embraced citizenship through their actions, including military service. However, Herrera’s study also exposes the risk of allowing the definition of republicanism to become too elastic. In his effort to unite soldiers, Herrera inadvertently presents a somewhat simplistic view of republicanism that belies the evolution of ideas of citizenship that circulated throughout the early nineteenth century. As several historians have shown us, ideas about republicanism were not stagnant, and in fact, claims to republicanism, as well as nationalism, were fought over by various interest groups throughout the early national period.1 Herrera begins to expose these contradictions in his discussions of the different identities officers versus soldiers developed, but he needs to connect them to varying ideas and goals of republicanism held by individuals.

In considering military service and manhood, Herrera more successfully considers shifting definitions of masculinity. By connecting military service to not only economic independence but also manhood, Herrera’s study incorporates insights from recent trends within gender history, especially the focus on understanding American masculinity, as a whole.2 [End Page 162] While still acknowledging the variations of masculinity, Herrera argues for the importance of recognizing similarities behind men’s decisions. In highlighting these continuities among men’s motivations to fight and serve their country, Herrera demonstrates how some of the fundamental tenets that define manhood in America, including honor and economic independence, could be achieved through military service. Moreover, Herrera convincingly illustrates how a sense of duty, to both family and to country, compelled men to volunteer for military service even as causes shifted...