Douglas Edward Leach,
Roots of Conflict:
British Armed Forces
& Colonial Americans,

(University of North Carolina Press, 1986)

Roots of Conflict is an eye-opening study of the relations between colonial Americans and British regular troops and Royal Navy seamen in the century preceding the flashpoint of the American Revolution.

Relying heavily on diary entries, court records, newspaper accounts and other primary source material, Douglas Leach describes a tumultuous relationship between provincials and redcoats that started badly and continued to grow worse throughout the 18th century. Even in war-time, the relationship often broke down. Colonists viewed a standing army as a potentially repressive threat to liberty, even when such troops were sent ostensibly to protect them. Redcoats usually made unfavorable first impressions among the populace, demanding privileges the colonists were unwilling to grant, while the impressment of provincial residents caused great consternation up and down the American seaboard. Colonial resistance was met with hostile words, outright threats and arrogant behavior by many British regulars.

Forced to pay inflated prices for supplies or confiscate what they needed, the British saw the colonists as greedy, lazy and unpatriotic. For their part, colonists saw the British soldiers as arrogant, demanding and unconcerned with colonial interests and prosperity. When the two sides did join forces in battle, such as at the siege of Louisburg, the entire campaign revolved around recriminatory charges on both sides. The redcoats in particular looked down on their American allies as sloppy, unprofessional and noncooperative, while the colonists seethed over the fact that British rank superceded their own.

All of this was complicated by the fact that controversies between royal governors and general assemblies, as well as intercolonial rivalries, also led to problems that the British troops failed to understand. The king and parliament in Britain did little to help matters, and their failure to specify jurisdiction and chains of command in the American setting led to further confusion and controversy.

By 1763, it is easy to see a deeply ingrained resentment between redcoats and colonists. While this certainly contributed to the eventual declaration of independence and the British response, this would still seem to be a secondary influence compared to matters of natural rights, taxation fairness and larger political/economic factors. The disdain expressed by professional British soldiers and sailors for their disorganized, unpolished, amateur American counterparts may well have led them to underestimate the fighting prowess of the Americans; militiamen, for their part, had to be encouraged by the fact that their wilderness fighting skills gave them a distinct advantage over the redcoats' European formation style of fighting.

More importantly, a shared and pervasive resentment of British regulars was an important unifying factor among all of the colonies by the eve of the revolution. Given the history of joint cooperation and continual conflict between the British and Americans, it is a wonder that British colonial control lasted as long as it did and that English control of the colonies was never lost to the French. While Leach may overestimate the importance of this matter of military relations in explaining the origins of the Revolutionary War, the relatively unknown history revealed in these pages is both fascinating and disturbing.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 23 July 2005

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