Title: A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence
Author: John Shy
Year: 1990 revised (original 1976)

Categories: Military History, Revolutionary War
Place: Colonial America
Time Period: 1770s

Argument Synopsis
John Shy writes a series of essays treating different topics in the historiography of the American Revolution. Shy is a strong believer in the importance of perceptions and beliefs and believes that the war was in major part a struggle over winning the hearts and minds of neutral Americans. Britain's eventual policy reflected this. First, in the decade before the war and through 1774 the British viewed their effort in terms of a police action or one of law enforcement - once a few bad apples were punished everythind would be fine. This shifted towards seeing it as a conventional war during the first years (1775-1777) of the war, but after Saratoga they increasingly arrived at a new conclusion: that the war was a struggle for hearts and minds. As part of this realization, they increasingly believed in the power to "Americanize" the war effort: that once the British army liberated an area, loyal Americans could be put in charge of defense and policing. However, Shy argues that one of the major obstructions to this strategy were colonial militias. Although they were tangential in terms of actual fighting (poorly organized and small in number) they served as important catalysts on the home front. Militias would politicize communities, forcing otherwise apathetic people to take sides and often serve in the draft. Doing so also served as "sand in the gears" of British efforts at civilian pacification. 

Key Themes and Concepts
- Transition from police action (1765-1775), to conventional war (1775-1777), to counter-insurgency (1777-1783)
- Belief in ability "Americanize" the war - liberating loyal Americans and putting them in charge of defense/policing
- Importance of colonial militias
- Importance of perceptions and beliefs (hearts and minds)

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U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries by Cameron Blevins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.