John Resch and Walter Sargent are in the forefront of historians re-interpreting the American Revolution as more than just a series of military moves and counter-moves, but instead as a convulsive event encompassing all of 18th Century American Society, including women, African-Americans both slave and free, and Native Americans of many tribes. In the first paragraph they state: “In this volume, historians view the Revolution from a different perspective. They view the Revolution as a total war that at some point during the eight-year conflict touched the lives of virtually all American families, slaves and free blacks, and Indian tribes.” (Resch and Sargent, Preface, page vii) That is to say, the new direction of historical research does not forsake the seminal events of the Revolution, Washington still crosses the Delaware and the British still lose at Yorktown, but the emphasis now is on the social context in which these events transpired.
A critical question, therefore, might be how a historian should go about seeking to understand the influence of one force upon the other. How, exactly, does an all-encompassing war affect and influence an entrenched society? The essays selected all follow one of three main lines of investigation. As John Shy says in the Introduction, “These lines, or issues, may be described as concerning motivation, mobilization, and impact.” Each topic is a big one, not easily understood or encapsulated, and the purpose of the book is to find the links between them.