"Play the Man ... for Your Bleeding Country": Military Chaplains as Gender Brokers During the American Revolution

Title"Play the Man ... for Your Bleeding Country": Military Chaplains as Gender Brokers During the American Revolution
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsLindman, Janet Moore
EditorFoster, Thomas A.
Book TitleNew Men: Manliness in Early America
PublisherNew York University Press
CityNew York

In December 1783, the Presbyterian cleric George Duffield preached a sermon before Congress to celebrate the American triumph in war and the return of peace. His oration lauded the heroic action of American colonists against the tyranny of Britain. In 1775, American men reacted with a militant spirit against the tyranny of Britain. Anxious to serve, American men willingly left their livelihoods to take up arms. Though Duffield contends that American men were quick to respond to the threat of subjection with martial commitment, his conception of masculinity did not fit all white men. Though traditional manhood was based on property, mastery, and dominance, these were not the only ways for white men to enact male identity in eighteenth-century America. Beginning in the middle of the century, the emergence of evangelical revivalism led to a new form of manhood, one based on Christian concepts of humility, piety, and sobriety. This evangelical masculinity stood in stark contrast to a traditional one that valued economic autonomy, political power, physical strength, and military expertise. 

Two different modes of white masculinity came together in the role of the military chaplain during the American Revolutionary War. Clergy who served as chaplains with the American forces censored the customs of military life at the same time that they bolstered traditional manliness through religious leadership and rhetoric.They melded republican ideology with holy text to support the patriot cause. Drawing on biblical and contemporary concepts of manhood, the American chaplain acted as a conduit of white male aspirations for political freedom and military success, as well as a morally justified war against their British enemy. Chaplains functioned as gender brokers in this military context, fusing the seeming contradiction of traditional male traits, such as contention and combativeness, with the female characteristics of clerical service: nurturing the sick, consoling the dying, and tending to the dead. As moral guides and intimate counselors, chaplains personified the tensions between a traditional and evangelical model of manhood.

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