Politics, Ethics and Change

Politics, Ethics and Change

The Legacy of James MacGregor Burns

New Horizons in Leadership Studies series

Edited by George R. Goethals and Douglas Bradburn

The impact of James MacGregor Burns’ writings on our understanding of moral and lasting change is explored through essays focussing on transforming leadership in contexts such as the founding of the American nation and presidential leadership throughout US history. Burns’s most influential concepts are explained, critiqued and expanded and then applied in political, business and institutional domains. The volume demonstrates how Burns’s analyses illuminate the nature of social change and transformation, the subtleties of the relationship between leaders and followers, and how together both can realize enduring human values using power resources that arouse and satisfy deep human motives.

Chapter 6: “A people unused to restraint must be led, they will not be drove”: the rebels and their leaders in the American Revolution

Douglas Bradburn

Subjects: business and management, business ethics and trust, business leadership, politics and public policy, leadership


In January 1777, a week after the Continentals shocked the world with the series of daring raids at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, a newly raised body of approximately 600 Pennsylvania militia refused to join the victorious army. They had, rumors told, “gone home in disgust—turn’d others back” and “spread universal uneasiness and dissatisfaction as they travel’d.” The problem seemed to stem from a “precipitate order” from Major General Lord Stirling, who implied that militia troops would not receive promised supplies. Once General Stirling’s orders became known, “the Officers who commanded the Men could not with all their influence & exertions prevail [them] to stay.” After some effort to clarify the situation—which involved the Commander-in-Chief of the army; the Council of Safety of Pennsylvania, a committee of the legislature of Pennsylvania, and a committee of the Continental Congress—the men were reassured that they would have everything they needed. Lecturing Major General Stirling, George Washington noted that although it was often disagreeable to work with the militia, it was necessary—and Stirling needed to remember that “a people unused to restraint must be led, they will not be drove,” and “even those” who had agreed to serve for the duration of the war needed to be “disciplined by degrees.” This was an example of a successful mobilization—as the eventual successful prosecution of the war would be—of institutional flexibility and popular, that is to say, responsive leadership.

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