The Murdering, Thieving, Enslaving, Unlibertarian Continental Army

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Murray Rothbard wrote that “There have been only two wars in American history that were, in my view, assuredly and unquestionably proper and just”: “the American Revolution, and the War for Southern Independence.” Now these wars may be just under “just war” theory, but in my view they were all unjust by libertarian standards. The use of conscription and taxation alone–by the US in the former, and the CSA in the latter–is enough to condemn the actions of these states as criminal.

Libertarians are not usually reluctant to condemn state crime and war, but for some reason if you make similar observations about the Revolutionary War, or the Civil War (either Lincoln’s, or the CSA’s, criminal actions), libertarians become apoplectic. Case in point: the reaction to my post Happy We-Should-Restore-The-Monarchy-And-Rejoin-Britain Day! “Proud Patriot” in the comments says that I “blame the freedom-loving patriots of the American Revolution for the mass murdering tyrants of the twentieth century”.

Well, some libertarians may want to overlook the typical crimes committed by states anytime there is war, but I don’t. The Declaration of Independence of course led to all the standard evils of war and raising an army-as Hummel noted, “unfunded government debt, paper money, skyrocketing inflation, price controls, legal tender laws, direct impressment of supplies and wide-spread conscription.”

Casual googling leads to all kinds of information on this. E.g.: as noted here:

The absence of a strong, central, colonial government resulted in a vast shortage of funding and human resources. Paper money and bills of credit financed the war, and while the paper money became almost valueless, inflation rocketed. Profiteers took advantage of these conditions to make money while workers held strikes for higher wages. Soldiers were also in short supply, with state militias sometimes competing against the Continental Army for them. Soldiers were generally ill fed, poorly clothed, and lacked weapons.

Around 5,000 blacks served in the colonial army. At first only free blacks were accepted, but the shortage in soldiers led to the conscription of slaves. Blacks fought with whites in unsegregated units. Americans Indians, threatened by colonial expansion, most often fought for the British, and after the revolt ended their claims to land and self-rule were largely ignored.

And here:

As the war dragged on, it became more difficult to find soldiers. States increased bounties, shortened terms, and reluctantly forced men to serve. But conscription was such a distasteful and dangerous exercise of state power that legislatures would use it only in extreme circumstances. More frequently, legislatures tried to reinforce the army with men drawn by incentive or compulsion from the militia for only a few months of summer service. The army’s composition thus reflected a bewildering variety of enlistment terms. After 1779, for example, a Connecticut company might have eight or ten privates serving for three years or the war, and twice or three times that number enlisted only for the summer. Washington’s complaints to Congress have obscured his genius in building an effective army out of the limited service most Americans were willing to undertake.


During the Revolutionary War, state governments assumed the colonies’ authority to raise their short‐term militias through drafts if necessary. They sometimes extended this to state units in the Continental Army, but they denied Gen. George Washington’s request that the central government be empowered to conscript. As the initial volunteering slackened, states boosted enlistment bounties and held occasional drafts, producing more hired substitutes than actual draftees.


Even with their powerful new ally, the Americans remained in dire straits. Enlistments were down and conscription, while utilized, was unpopular.

This book mentions the execution of soldiers during the Revolutionary War for desertion and other things — “For examples of soldiers executed without recourse to a trial by courts-martial, see Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States ..”

As my friend Manuel Lora wrote me: “In order to be free we shall establish a state, inflate the money supply, control trade and enslave people to work the fields and the killing fields. … Happy 4th of July.”

Update: One commentor on my cross-post noted:

Great article Stephan. I had read that quote from Rothbard before, and I never understood what would compel him to say such a thing. Your point of view here is the right one, in my opinion. How could Rothbard, after accepting that it is justifiable for the state to force an individual to kill or sacrifice his life – even if the supposed cause is just – oppose any of the myriad lesser forms of state compulsion?

And Manuel Lora on facebook wrote:

The spirit of 76 means that wealthy agrarian families told the king to f*ck off and established their own plutocratic nepotism so that they could own Africans.

Also: Some friends sent me some other useful links debunking the “libertarian” aspects of the American Revolution: First, regarding US independence, see A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations (part 2), by Mencius Moldbug (“So: let’s put it as bluntly as possible. At present you believe that, in the American Revolution, good triumphed over evil. This is the aforementioned aggregate. We’re going to just scoop that right out with the #6 brain spoon. As we operate, we’ll replace it with the actual story of the American Rebellion – in which evil triumphed over good”). According to Moldbug everything people know about the American Revolution is BS. He recommends this wonderful piece: Strictures upon the Declaration of the Congress at Philadelphia, a devastating attack on the Declaration of Independence and American Revolution written by one of its contemporaries, Thomas Hutchinson, the former Governor of Massachusetts.

And let’s not forget Mencken’s classic The Declaration of Independence in American — an excerpt:

That any goverment that don’t give a man these rights ain’t worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of goverment they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter. That whenever any goverment don’t do this, then the people have got a right to can it and put in one that will take care of their interests. Of course, that don’t mean having a revolution every day like them South American coons and yellow-bellies and Bolsheviki, or every time some job-holder does something he ain’t got no business to do. It is better to stand a little graft, etc., than to have revolutions all the time, like them coons and Bolsheviki, and any man that wasn’t a anarchist or one of them I. W. W.’s would say the same. But when things get so bad that a man ain’t hardly got no rights at all no more, but you might almost call him a slave, then everybody ought to get together and throw the grafters out, and put in new ones who won’t carry on so high and steal so much, and then watch them. This is the proposition the people of these Colonies is up against, and they have got tired of it, and won’t stand it no more. The administration of the present King, George III, has been rotten from the start, and when anybody kicked about it he always tried to get away with it by strong-arm work. Here is some of the rough stuff he has pulled: …

7:26 am on July 3, 2009