How the fear of a standing army hindered the Continental Army, and then later the American army, from being an effective force

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The development of the Continental Army marked an important step for the American colonies after the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress saw the need for establishing the army in 1775. Unfortunately, the Europeans had significantly influenced the American colonies. For a long time, the Europeans had exhibited a significant fear of a standing army. The American colonies embraced such fear, a factor that prevented them from developing a well-organized and strong army. Some of the issues that the army faced included the lack of sufficient supplies, inadequate military training, poor appointments by President Madison, as well as a high level of disorganization and unpreparedness (Byrne & Sweeney, 2006). The negative attitude and fear associated with the standing army were one of the root causes that explain the ineffectiveness of the American army during the war of 1812. The dual army tradition that brought together regulars and militiamen proved ineffective during the war. The army comprised of untrained individuals that lacked basic competencies of participating in military affairs (Byrne & Sweeney, 2006). There was a major level of confusion in the chain of command. Moreover, the general officers were unable to maintain unity in the army. All these factors explain why the army proved ineffective. Particularly, the American army lacked the capability to defeat the British. If the Congress had invested in establishing a professional army with expertise, then the war would have registered different outcomes. The fear of a standing army was a major setback for the Congress. In the years that followed, training led to higher levels of professionalism for the American army.


The Continental Army emerged after the American Revolutionary war staged by colonies that sought to resist the rule of Europeans. The Second Continental Congress was responsible for the formation of the Continental Army in 1775. Thirteen colonies expressed their willingness to resist the rule of Great Britain. The Continental Army did not have the required expertise to defeat Great Britain. However, the army worked closely with local militias to defeat the enemy. In 1812, the Continental Army waged war against the Great Britain. Historians have regarded the 1812 war as one that had significant effects on the American colonies. On June 18, 1812, President Madison declared war against Great Britain despite the division evident in the House and Senate. Some of the members of the Congress did not recognize the need for the war. However, others were in full support of the war believing that the Continental army had the capacity to defeat Great Britain. Several factors hindered the success of the Continental Army. Particularly, the fear of a standing army was a major drawback for the Continental Army. The War of 1812 ended with no victors. Both forces were spent to the point of exhaustion. The Treaty of Ghent was signed to end the war and restore everything back to pre-war conditions.

Issues Facing the Continental Army

The Congress created the Continental Army with the core objective of ensuring that the colonies had a strong military group that would take care of military affairs. The Congress was responsible for providing the Continental Army with finances, food supplies, clothing, all the necessary logistics, as well as transportation means. Moreover, the Continental Army relied on the Congress to access war materials such as gunpowder, ammunitions, and artillery. The 13 colonies believed that individuals who served in the army deserved privileges for the noble cause they had selected (Buel, 2005). It was not easy for individuals to volunteer themselves and fight the enemy. However, there were other sentiments among the Congress members with some of them believing that the military authority was not trustworthy. Evidently, the colonies had inherited such sentiments from the influence of the Europeans. Notably, the colonists’ always had a fear of a standing army, an aspect they passed down to the 13 colonies. For a long time, the colonies did not believe in the need for a well-organized army. On the contrary, Congress members believed that civilians would volunteer themselves to fight the enemy. The Congress eventually exhibited a change of mind after it constituted the Continental Army that would specialize in military affairs (Byrne & Sweeney, 2006). The continental army never had the opportunity to be in charge of all the military assignments. The soldiers faced the compulsion to settle for less and only became a complement to the state militias.

The state of unpreparedness was a major issue exhibited by the Continental Army in the war of 1812. Particularly, the declaration of war against the Great Britain, translated to a significant conflict. The continental army needed to handle the well-organized attacks from the British Forces (Chickering & Förster, 2010). Unfortunately, the Continental Army did not exhibit the required level of preparedness. For many years, the Continental Army had relied on the support of the militias without giving attention to the significance of the war. During the war, the army comprised of militia, regulars, as well as volunteers. About 700,000 militiamen were available during the war of 1812. Particularly, the militiamen did not have the expected level of expertise. They were often called on a short notice explained why they lacked the required skills. Volunteers lacked training as well. The regular army had not developed professionalism. A critical consideration of all these groups demonstrates that none of them lacked the experience or the unity required to face the British forces (Byrne & Sweeney, 2006). The lack of preparedness for the war explains why the American army did not register the expected success. Many of the militiamen and the regulars had been inactive since the Revolutionary war. The period of inactivity explains why many of them lost their experience and expertise. It was extremely difficult for them to adjust the conditions of the war after a long period of rest. As a result, critics believed that the inactivity led to unpreparedness.

Some of the decisions made by President Madison affected the army. Particularly, he settled for Revolutionary General Officers to lead the army during the war of 1812. Notably, many of these general officers were in their 50s or their 60s. They did not have the aggressiveness needed for the war (Stagg, 2012). Moreover, they had been inactive for some time, and they did not have the capacity to demonstrate reliable military experience to lead the armies. Without proper leadership, the army was unable to defeat the Great Britain. The leadership of an army is an important aspect in determining the level of success of the military strategy. The Revolutionary general officers were unable to develop an effective strategy that would lead to victory (Chickering & Förster, 2010). The selected leaders of the armies did not work together as a team with the core objective of defeating the British. They were unable to develop a strategic approach that would constitute of the Navy and the Army to ensure that the forces were effective. Undoubtedly, the lack of effective leadership in the army was a major issue that the forces had to deal with during the war of 1812. The other officers were political appointees who did not have the specialization to work in the military. Their focus was on political interests, a factor that weakened the army. The Madison administration received criticism for the unrealistic appointments of the Army leaders.

Root Causes of the Issues

One of the root causes of the issues described above was the fear of a standing army. Notably, the Europeans exhibited a remarkable fear for a well-established army, an aspect that the Americans imitated. The 13 colonies did not recognize the need for a well-funded, trained, and organized army. As a result, there was no investment in the advancement of the army. The Congress was not competent in establishing a remarkable army that could fight their enemies. The fear contributed to the reluctant attention of the Congress of setting up a professional army (Stagg, 2012). Members of the Congress felt that it was okay for the militiamen to work alongside the regulars. The tradition of fear inherited from the Europeans prevented the Congress from developing an effective strategy that could lead to the advancement of the army. Such fear proved to be a major hindrance to the success of the army. The fear had prevented the Congress from investing in the army for more than a century. Throughout the 17th and 18th century, there had been no efforts to establish a well-organized army. The states were confident that the militiamen were easily available and would play an important role in supporting the regulars (Buel, 2005). The Congress failed to supply the army with the relevant materials and resources that would empower the soldiers to become a unified and organized team. Many scholars have discussed the adverse effects of the fear of a standing army and its restraining of the states from establishing a well-functioning army. During the war of 1812, the army could not handle the challenges it faced.

The lack of professional training was an additional cause for the issues that the army faced. While the fear of a standing army was an ideological setback, the lack of training for the army translated to the lack of skills in war. Throughout the 18th century, the army had only received limited training without any specific standards or general regulations governing the training (Buel, 2005). As a result, it was impossible for the army to develop the right skills, attitudes, and competencies. Without such training, it was impossible for the men serving in the army to make effective decisions on how to attack the British. Some of the decisions made during the war of 1812 demonstrated the high level of inadequate training. Notably, the British army had undertaken a rigorous training before the war. It was explicit that the American army comprised of armatures that lacked the capability to plan effective attacks and to execute the established strategies (Byrne & Sweeney, 2006). The lack of training also explains why the army lacked unity. Only through training, could the army learn the importance of unity and respect the chain of command. Unfortunately, the army demonstrated a disregard for the chain of command during the 1812 war. The Congress had never invested in the professional training of the men who signed up for the army. As a result, the armature army did not have the confidence required for the war.

Impact on the Force

During the war of 1812, the American army exhibited a high level of confusion in the chain of command. The Army lacked proper communication channels, a factor that resulted from the lack of training. The comprehensive hierarchy that defined the army was also a major factor that led to the ineffectiveness of the army. The army exhibited different facets of semi-professionalism (Stagg, 2012). Particularly, the army was unable to tackle all the attacks from the British. It was impossible to strategize the best approach to dealing with the different attacks. The confusion in the chain of command only served to worsen the situation. The army officers were unable to control their units successfully. Many of the soldiers were not willing to work together since they do not recognize the need for an organized army (Byrne & Sweeney, 2006). There were varying levels of competence in military affairs a factor that hindered proper collaboration between the militiamen and the soldiers. The lack of uniform instructions and standards affected the ability of the soldiers to execute any orders they received. These factors affected the performance of the army adversely. The army could be described as weak and semi-professional based on all the aspects described above. For this reason, it was unable to accomplish its purpose in the war. Even after the war, the conditions were similar to those that the states experienced before the war. If the army had been organized, it would have been able to defeat the British and accomplish its purpose.

The dual tradition of the American army, regulars, as well as militiamen, had adverse effects on the force. Apparently, there was a persistent fear of military dictatorship. As a result, the army and the militiamen had different expectations. A conflict of interest between the militiamen and the soldiers belonging to the army affected the effectiveness of the force during the war. The dual army tradition brought together partially experienced militiamen and trained regulars (Chickering & Förster, 2010). Although these two groups were expected to work together, it was difficult for them to demonstrate full collaboration during the war of 1812. There were times when the militiamen needed firearms instead of bringing their own to the war. Although the militia had been effective in the past, it did not prove effective during the 1812 war, a factor that demonstrated the adverse effects of the dual army tradition. The dual army tradition had hindered the United States from having a powerful army that could take up challenging assignments.

Recommendation to Correct the Cause

Evidently, the United States needed to get rid of the fear of a standing army and to focus on establishing a reliable army. The Congress needed to invest in providing the army with all the resources needed so that it could register the expected level of functionality. The introduction of training institutions was also a major need that could pave the way for a professional army. Training institutions would ensure that all soldiers would have the required basic competencies of participating in the war. Moreover, a distinction between the regular army and militiamen was necessary. The Congress needed to empower the regular army and establish a set of uniform standards and regulations as well as a recognized chain of command (Stagg, 2012). Such a move would ensure that the army was well prepared and trained to face the British in 1812. However, the war of 1812 represented a significant time when the United States recognized the need for a well-organized army. It signified the last time that the regulars worked with militiamen in war. In the years that followed, The American army underwent training and became professional.


Evidently, American colonies inherited the fear of a standing army from the European colonists. For this reason, the colonies failed to give attention to the need for a well-established army. During the war of 1812, it became clear that the United States was not ready for the war because the army lacked basic competencies of dealing with the attacks from the British. The adverse effects of the dual army tradition became evident during the war. As mentioned above, the negative ideology attached to a standing army and the lack of training was some of the root causes of the army’s inefficiency. The Treaty of Ghent served as the only remedy for the war, restoring the pre-war conditions. However, the American army learned significant lessons concerning the need for proper training and organization of the army.

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  1. Buel, R. (2005). America on the brink: How the political struggle over the war of 1812 almost destroyed the young republic. New York, N.Y: Palgrave Macmillan.
  2. Byrne, K. B., & Sweeney, J. K. (2006). A handbook of American military history: From the Revolutionary War to the present. Lincoln [u.a.: Univ. of Nebraska Press.
  3. Chickering, R., & Förster, S. (2010). War in an age of revolution, 1775-1815. Washington, D.C: German Historical Institute.
  4. Stagg, J. C. A. (2012). The War of 1812: Conflict for a continent. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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