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Review of for Liberty and the Republic

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Ricardo Herrera analyzes the republican ideology in times of war and peace through the citizen-soldier viewpoint in For Liberty and the Republic: The American Citizen as Soldier, 1775-1861. As a work of historical non-fiction and a historiography, Herrera uses a wide range of primary sources including journals and letters to examine different viewpoints from soldiers in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, and first year of the Civil War. During this period, there was a profound change that contributed to the expansion and ethos of the American military system. The author analyzes the military’s role in the expansion and nation-building of the United States, rise to the nationwide military establishment, and decline of the militia tradition. He also studies how the soldiers’ view of service and citizenship influenced their understanding of republicanism through military ethos. 

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The author, Ricardo Herrera, is currently an associate professor of Military History at the School of Advanced Military Studies at the United States Army Command and General Staff College. He graduated from Marquette University and the University of California, Los Angeles. As a professor of military studies, Herrera is qualified to explore historical questions surrounding United States’ military history. 

Herrera also analyzes his thesis through two questions: how the republican ideology remained in American society for so long and how republican ideology reflected in soldiers throughout early American history. Herrera argues the republican ethos through five chapters. He first demonstrates the commitment citizen soldiers had to republican virtues. He also explores how progressive agendas meandered through the commitment of preserving the conservative legacy of the Revolution. Although the conservative legacy of the Revolution remained, soldiers were committed to advancing the country through progressive means. Finally, he analyzes the soldiers’ fixation on receiving individual distinction. 

Herrera does not include the Civil War in his study of military ethos. This decision was made on sound judgement because the citizen-soldier ideology or military ethos ended in first year of the Civil War or before as the nation shift toward nationalism. As this model studies republican ethos in different forms or scenarios, he is able to create a broad explanation of how the citizen-solider relied on the republican ideology. This ideology “provided a vibrant, durable, and long-lived set of interrelated concepts that gave order to and made sense of Americans’ military service for nearly a century” (Herrera 2015, 24). 

Herrera’s best argument regards national mythmaking. English military myths during the eighteenth-century illustrated the citizen-soldier as men volunteered to save their country in times of need. This drew upon ideals of military and political duty and individualism and disinterested patriot. Herrera argues that officers in the militia and standing army were led as political agents or patriots because of their sacrifice for the betterment of the nation. This also led to the continuation of “faith in tenets of the military ethos of republicanism [which] confirm the widespread acceptance and validity of this belief system and their conviction that there was a profound relevance to being an American citizen” (Herrera 2015, 26).

Unlike other extensive research models, Herrera examines a wide-range of primary source documents including unpublished diaries, journals, memoirs, and other military or personal documents to create his argument. He argues his “underlying approach is the belief that the letters and other documents written at the moment, or shortly thereafter, contain a greater degree of spontaneity and, consequently, great authenticity and truthfulness because the authors created them in the heat of the moment and were thus unrehearsed or unembellished” (Herrera 2015, xii). 

Although Herrera utilizes a broad spectrum of primary sources and is very confident on his research model and methods, he does not consider how representative his primary sources are. For example, the literary rate during the Revolutionary War generally consisted of wealthy white men. This excludes slaves or free African Americans or lower-class men in militias for the standing army. The lack of representation in his research model weakens his argument. The primary sources are also often taken spontaneously in large arguments. Although this strategy could be useful in some specific primary sources, his overall argument is flawed because he did not create enough in-depth analysis of each source to credit his thesis.

He also does not make a chronological argument. Although Herrera separates his argument through different aspects of republican ethos, he could have created a more cohesive argument through a chronological ordered model. He writes “except for stylistic differences and discrete historical particularities, most soldiers’ letters are unified through their shared thoughts …. Because of this, chronology figures little into each chapter” (Herrera 2015, xi). Without consideration of the representation of the primary sources, it is difficult to accept that most soldiers followed the same thought process. 

In conclusion, For Liberty and the Republic attempts to answer how citizens valued their military service in early American history. The author analyzes the military’s role in the expansion and nation-building of the United States, rise to the national military establishment, and decline of the militia tradition. He also studies how the soldiers’ views of service and citizenship influenced their understanding of republicanism through military ethos. Although Herrera did not thoroughly consider the representation or face-value of the primary sources, he is able to create an effective argument about the republican military ethos between 1775 and 1861. For Liberty and the Republic was published by New York University Press, an accredited scholarly press. Herrera uses an assortment of primary sources, such as letters, journals, unpublished diaries, memoirs, enlistment contracts, military tribunal transcripts, and more to create a cohesive and scholarly argument.

Works Cited:

1.Herrera, Ricardo A. For Liberty and the Republic: The American Citizen as Soldier, 1775-1861. New York: New York University Press, 2015.   

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