Liberty For Every Slave!

African American Military Service, 1641–1783

Authored by: Marcus S. Cox

The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History

Print publication date:  August  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415533805
eBook ISBN: 9781315817347
Adobe ISBN: 9781317813354


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Military service and wartime support have a long-standing association with the civil rights movement and the fight for first-class citizenship throughout American history. The origins of this relationship date back to ancient Greece and Rome where citizens were expected to provide military service in exchange for political rights. During the first century Augustan Rome soldiers were provided with a state sponsored gratuity for loyal service upon discharge. Although noncitizen soldiers were commonly paid less and served the state for longer periods, they were rewarded Roman citizenship upon leaving the military. 1 The tradition was maintained throughout medieval Europe and quickly became a recognized form of civic virtue and invitation to membership in communal society. According to Ronald R. Kerbs:

Veterans have exploited the rhetoric of sacrifice in advancing their claims for benefits throughout history. The Republic and every subsequent regime acknowledged the “sacred debt” owed to veterans of France’s Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, who were by far the state’s most favored wards. Across early nineteenth century America, property requirements for suffrage gave way before the onslaught of propertyless veterans demanding the vote. 2

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