United States War of Independence Veterans Deserve Gratitude and Remembrance

Detail from The March to Valley Forge by William Trego, 1883 (Wikimedia)

Many have not been paid and the new United States has taken them for granted.

Aanother Veterans Day has passed. I wonder if one day is really enough. Between the War of Independence and the First Gulf War, nearly 42 million Americans served in combat and nearly 700,000 lost their lives in combat. Each war was unique, as were the hardships soldiers faced.

As we often forget these days, the War of Independence was a very harsh conflict for the soldiers. And the brave souls who were the first to fight for our nation deserve a special memory.

There have only been three American Wars in which the primary battleground was on United States soil: the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Fortunately for the United States, most of the victories in the War of 1812 were defensive, so the loss and damage from that conflict was relatively small, with less than 1% of soldiers killed in action. We all know that the Civil War was a brutal conflict, in large part because military tactics had yet to catch up with military technology. As a result, more than 6 percent of Union soldiers (around 100,000) and almost as many Confederate soldiers were killed in action, and many more than that died of disease, starvation, dysentery, stroke. heat and other battles. related causes. Historians estimate the total deaths to be over 625,000.

Revolutionary war, while nowhere near as deadly as civil war, was still vicious. Two percent of American soldiers were killed in action, a higher percentage than in WWI, WWII, Korea or Vietnam.

There were other unique trials during the Revolutionary War. Because the conflict took place on the North American continent, the civilian population suffered tremendously, especially in the South. Charleston and Savannah were besieged, and some of the most brutal battles took place in North Carolina and Virginia. Renegade Benedict Arnold raided Richmond in January 1781, prompting then-governor Thomas Jefferson to flee (a decision that haunted his political career thereafter).

In addition, the country did not have the means to properly equip the soldiers, and it certainly lacked a central government capable of carrying out such a task. Supplies were always hard to come by and soldiers were often not paid for. It can be seen vividly in The walk to Valley Forge, by William Trego. At first glance, your eye will be drawn to George Washington – fearless and determined. But take a closer look at the soldiers. They limp, are injured and, even worse, are poorly dressed.

The government’s inability to take care of its soldiers is one of the main reasons Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison were all staunch nationalists after the war ended. They saw how incapable the government was and knew that for this experience of self-government to continue, a stronger central authority had to be established. The first victims of government incompetence were the soldiers.

The first victims of government incompetence were the soldiers.

But it was not the last indignity that veterans of the War of Independence had to endure. After the war, the national government did not have the money to pay the troops because it did not have the power to tax. It depended on requisitions from the States, which did not arrive. The soldiers were therefore paid in debt certificates, commonly known as Pierce Notes. The problem was, no one really believed that the government would ever reimburse Pierce hard currency notes. In the absence of taxing power, how could it be? So the veterans, in desperate need of money, began to sell their certificates in 1784. This created a glut of certificates, which drove the value down to less than 20 cents on the dollar, and the certificates took tendency to migrate into the hands of a relatively small number of eastern speculators.

Fast forward to 1790. The new Constitution was established, the government had put in place a national tax, and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was ready to arrange for the repayment of the national debt. Who was to benefit? Not the soldiers who had sold their certificates, at least not as part of Hamilton’s plan. Instead, most of the bounty went to the speculators who bought the certificates and were now poised to reap a windfall profit.

Madison, who had not served in combat, was outraged. It was the first time he and Hamilton really broke up on an important public policy issue. He offered to split the payback equally between speculators and veterans. Unfortunately, this was totally impractical – the government lacked the resources to determine who should be paid what. Moreover, imposing such a massive haircut on public creditors would have had extremely harmful effects on the economy.

Madison’s proposal ended in an unbalanced defeat, and rightly so. But the fact remains that the veterans of the War of Independence never got the support they deserved. Forget the Veterans Administration, which did not exist. Forget the kinds of pensions Civil War veterans got – they didn’t reap such a bonus. In reality, the veterans of the war of independence did not even receive the salary they were promised. Certainly some of them have been taken over by their states, including with generous options on land in the West. But compared to today’s veterans, War of Independence veterans were taken for granted.

While there are a lot of veterans to think about in Veterans Day commemorations, I like to have a thought for the War of Independence veterans, who, as Madison said, had suffered a “singular difficulty” which “can never be forgotten”.


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Jay Cost is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College.

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