Justifying Revolution: Law, Virtue, and Violence in the American War for Independence

The American imagination still exalts the “Founding Fathers” as the prime movers of the Revolution, and the War of Independence has become the stuff of legend. But America is not simply the invention of great men or the outcome of an inevitable political or social movement. The nation was the product of a hard, bloody, and destructive war. Justifying Revolutionexplores how the American Revolution’s opposing sides wrestled with thorny moral and legal questions. How could revolutionaries justify provoking a civil war, how should their opponents subdue the uprising, and how did military commanders restrain the ensuing violence?

Drawing from a variety of disciplines and specialties, the authors assembled here examine the Revolutionary War in terms of just war theory: jus ad bellum, jus in bello, and jus post bellum—right or justice in going to, conducting, and concluding war. The chapters situate the Revolution in the context of early modern international relations, moral philosophy, military ethics, jurisprudence, and theology. The authors invite readers to reconsider the war with an eye to the justice and legality of entering armed conflict; the choices made by officers and soldiers in combat; and attempts to arrive at defensible terms of peace. Together, the contributions form the first sustained exploration of Americans’ and Britons’ use of just war theory as they battled over American independence.

Justifying Revolution raises important questions about the political, legal, military, religious, philosophical, and diplomatic ramifications of eighteenth-century warfare—questions essential for understanding America’s origins.