results of a war that could not have been won without a unified military effort were equated with the word "American", meaning the United States. But the duration and character of the war also disconnected American nationalism from the specific institutions of central government. Central government had con- spicuously failed by 1778 to sustain and control the armed struggle for inde- pendence; the latter years of the war had seen a devolution of effective govern- ment back to the provincial or state level, and respect for the Continental Con- gress steadily sank.35 Even the Continental Army lost prestige when it failed to defend the Southern colonies against British invasion in 1779-80, and only local guerrilla bands kept resistance alive. Had the United States split into two or three smaller republics -- an outcome frequently predicted -- the revolution would have been reckoned a failure; in that sense, it was an "American" Revolution. But the actual experience of revolutionary war fostered skepticism toward higher levels of government, and from this wartime experience emerged that strange bundle of compromises and contradictions known as American federalism.
For a moment, in 1782-83, it looked as if the American Revolution might end as so many revolutionary wars end, in a military coup. The Continental Army had gradually become less an army of citizen soldiers, and more a feeble imitation of an army of European regulars -- arrogant young officers clamoring for lifetime pensions and damning the elected officials who resisted their de- mands, soldiers drawn by high enlistment bounties from the poorest, most ob- scure corners of Anglo-american society. Starved by the timidity and ineffi- ciency-of Congress, and by the parochialism of the States, the Continental Army had learned to take what it needed. But Washington was no Caesar or Cromwell, and he simply refused to play the part assigned to him; instead, he used his own prestige to quash whatever plot existed to seize political power, and the British decision to end the war made it possible simply to dissolve the mutinous Conti- nentals. 36
The military problems faced in 1783 by British North America and the new United States were not unlike those of the British empire in 1763: vast spaces, thinly settled but a growing and a moving white population, and on the frontier Indians often caught between rival groups of Europeans. The chief mili- tary threat, however, recalling the century before 1763, came from the proximity of Canada and the United States to one another. British policy, like French pol- icy before it, emphasized the strategic value of Canada in curbing the growth of power to the southward, and British expenditures kept a regular force in Canada that matched the small U.S. Army. The eventual clash, in 1812-14, was indeci- sive; both sides learned that they were too large and populous to be conquered by the other. Military stalemate, European powers preoccupied after 1815 with European affairs, and British naval forces in the North Atlantic left Canada and the United States to drift militarily, until internal rebellions and new technology began to change the situation, later in the century. 37