Saturday, March 15, 2008

Washington and the Newburgh Conspiracy


After roughly eight years of bloddy warfare, the United States looked as though their dream of independence might come true after all. The American victory at Yorktown in 1781 had severely damaged England's desire for any further war, and the Fench involvement signified that the American cause for independence had propelled Britain into a virtual world war. Faced with such a predicament, the British were forced to consider a peace with their former colonies.

Before that peace could be negotiated, another two years would pass before both Britain and America sat down at the bargaining table. During this time, the Continental Congress faced a severe financial crisis, in which they were unable (or possibly not fully willing) to supply the army under Washington. Though the fighing had all but stopped, Washington was still forced to maintain the Continental Army until the final peace treaty was signed. As a result, the Continental Army suffered greatly in terms of hunger, lack of equiptment, fatigue and cold.

In response to these justifiable grievances, several officers withing the Continental Army formed an anonymous pact to overthrow the Continental Congress and extablish a new government. This coup was backed by several of Washington's most trusted men, who felt that the cause of liberty was being threatened by the politicians at home.

In the end, Washington was able to put down the rebellion, but it was far from easy. Here is an excellent article from the History Channel Website on how Washington handled the Newburgh Conspiracy, which was, in my opinion, Washington's finest hour:

When word of the letter and its call for an unsanctioned meeting of officers reached him, Washington issued a general order forbidding any unsanctioned meetings and called for a general assembly of officers for March 15. At the meeting, Washington began his speech to the officers by saying, “Gentlemen: By an anonymous summons, an attempt has been made to convene you together; how inconsistent with the rules of propriety! How unmilitary! And how subversive of all order and discipline...”

Washington continued by pledging, “to exert whatever ability I am possessed of, in your favor.” He added, “Let me entreat you, gentlemen, on your part, not to take any measures, which viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity, and sully the glory you have hitherto maintained; let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your country, and place a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress.”

When he finished, Washington removed a letter from his breast pocket that he had received from a member of the Continental Congress. He hesitated for a moment as he looked down at the letter before fumbling to retrieve a pair of spectacles from his pocket. Before reading the letter, Washington, in an almost apologetic tone said, “Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown old in the service of my country and now find that I am growing blind.” The eyes of most of his audience filled with tears. The content of the letter became irrelevant as the assembled officers realized that Washington had given as much or more in the service of the new nation as any of them. Within minutes, the officers voted unanimously to express confidence in Congress and their country.

In a letter to the Continental Congress dated March 18, 1783, Washington wrote to assure the body that the unrest of officers was over, writing, “The result of the proceedings of the grand convention of the officers, which I have the honor of enclosing to your Excellency for the inspection of Congress, will, I flatter myself, be considered as the last glorious proof of patriotism which could have been given by men who aspired to the distinction of a Patriot army; and will not only confirm their claim to the justice, but will increase their title to the gratitude of their country.”

7 comments:

Sherry said...

A fine post. Thanks so much for enlightening me on this subject. I check your blog often, and link to it often for my readers. Keep up the good work!

Brian Tubbs said...

Great article, Lindsey. Like you, I believe this was GW's finest hour.

What's particularly interesting is that this was the context in which he was tempted with the offer of becoming king or dictator. Many people don't know that. A lesser person WOULD have used the hardship of the army and the chaos and instability of the time to justify a seizure of power. Washington did not. He went the other way - not only denying that power for himself but dissuading others from taking it upon themselves as well.

Brad Hart said...

Thank you for the kind comment, Sherry. We're delighted that you enjoy the blog. It has truly been a wonderful experience to hear the opinions and insights of so many different people on what is, in my opinion, the most important era in all of American history.

We hope to hear more from you in the future!

David Mabry said...

Wshington advocates, unite!!! To drive the point home for my students, I put words in the general's mouth where he takes his officers to task by attempting to replace one King George...with another. They get it. Washington is the ultimate example of civic virtue.

victor said...

great story with great post

thanks ,,


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victor
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victor said...

great story with great post

thanks ,,


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victor
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Anonymous said...

Alright.. good post, but a little greater attention to spelling, etc. would be great. The credibility factor comes more into question with misspelled words, as it indicates negligence. Overall, very informative.