Patterico's Pontifications


George Washington Quiets the Rebellion

Filed under: General — JVW @ 3:45 pm

[guest post by JVW]

It’s a mini-tradition (if mini-tradition can be defined as something done in two consecutive years) for me to post a reflection of George Washington on that great man’s birthday. For this 284th anniversary of his birth, I wanted to share with you one of the great stories of how Washington’s calm genius and understanding of human nature averted a mutiny among his officers and enlisted men.

In March of 1783, Washington became aware of a rebellion permeating throughout the army. The Newburgh Conspiracy likely began in Congress, when paymaster Robert Morris, a delegate from Pennsylvania, began to suspend regular payroll for the troops, promising that the back wages would be fully paid once a peace treaty had been signed. As with much of the early dealings of our country, this promise carried the heavy overtones of politics. Federalists like Morris, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton believed that withholding army pay would force the rest of Congress to address its precarious financial situation by passing an import tariff, an idea which had been rejected by the states a few months earlier. Congress also faced the daunting task of funding the promised lifetime half-pay pensions for veterans (proving that extravagant but foolhardy financial promises are embedded into our national character), while at the same time lacking the will to raise the necessary funds. Morris and his schemers began to secretly communicate with senior officers led by General Henry Knox, and they hatched a plan to threaten a march on Philadelphia by the army if pay did not resume. With word coming from Paris that British and American negotiators were finalizing a peace treaty, the disbanding of the army suddenly appeared imminent and soldiers understandably feared that Congress would simply stiff them on what they were owed. A more radical set of the schemers, led by General Horatio Gates, argued for an immediate march and military takeover of the government.

Washington at the time was camped with the army in Newburgh, New York. Throughout the war, he had written hundreds of letters to Congress pleading for better supplies and higher wages for his beleaguered troops, so he was naturally sympathetic to their plight. He also harbored serious doubts about the ability of Congress to effectively manage the affairs of the newly-born nation. That notwithstanding, Washington hated the idea that his army might engage in insurrection, and his republican instincts strongly inclined him to favor a military that was subservient to the elected representatives of the people. He had worked behind the scenes to help General Anthony Wayne quell a similar mutiny in a Pennsylvania regiment two years earlier. When talk of joining the march on Philadelphia began to spread in his camp, Washington called for a meeting of his officers on March 15, 1783 and prepared a statement to share with them:

In the moment of this Summons, another anonymous production was sent into circulation, addressed more to the feelings and passions, than to the reason and judgment of the Army. The author of the piece is entitled to much credit for the goodness of his Pen and I could wish he had as much credit for the rectitude of his Heart, for, as Men see thro’ different Optics, and are induced by the reflecting faculties of the Mind, to use different means, to attain the same end, the Author of the Address, should have had more charity, than to mark for Suspicion, the Man who should recommend moderation and longer forbearance, or, in other words, who should not think as he thinks, and act as he advises.

[. . .]

I cannot, in justice to my own belief, and what I have great reason to conceive is the intention of Congress, conclude this Address, without giving it as my decided opinion, that that Honorable Body, entertain exalted sentiments of the Services of the Army; and, from a full conviction of its merits and sufferings, will do it complete justice. That their endeavors, to discover and establish funds for this purpose, have been unwearied, and will not cease, till they have succeed, I have not a doubt. But, like all other large Bodies, where there is a variety of different Interests to reconcile, their deliberations are slow. Why then should we distrust them? and, in consequence of that distrust, adopt measures, which may cast a shade over that glory which, has been so justly acquired; and tarnish the reputation of an Army which is celebrated thro’ all Europe, for its fortitude and Patriotism? and for what is this done? to bring the object we seek nearer? No! most certainly, in my opinion, it will cast it at a greater distance.

[. . .]

While I give you these assurances, and pledge myself in the most unequivocal manner, to exert whatever ability I am possessed of, in your favor, 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; that, previous to your dissolution as an Army they will cause all your Acts. to be fairly liquidated, as directed in their resolutions, which were published to you two days ago, and that they will adopt the most effectual measures in their power, to render ample justice to you, for your faithful and meritorious Services. And let me conjure you, in the name of our common Country, as you value your own sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity, and as you regard the Military and National character of America, to express your utmost horror and detestation of the Man who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our Country, and who wickedly attempts to open the flood Gates of Civil discord, and deluge our rising Empire in Blood.

At the end of the address, Washington told the assembled officers that he wished to read from a letter sent to him by Congressman Joseph Jones of Virginia which addressed the demands of the soldiers. The general, who was a lifelong fan of the theater and understood how to wring an emotional response from a rapt audience, played his part to perfection. After taking out Jones’s letter, Washington stared at it for a silent moment. He then reached into his coat pocket and fished out a brand-new pair of reading spectacles, recently ordered from a Philadelphia optometrist, and made a show of placing them on his eyes. Washington, who had taken command of the Continental Army at age forty-three, was now fifty-one. “Gentlemen,” he explained to the officers, “you will pardon me. I have grown grey in your service and now find myself growing blind.” Hardened military men shaped by years of toil and strife began to openly weep and talk of rebellion fizzled out. Congress eventually reached agreement on finances; the promised lifetime pensions were reduced to five years’ worth of full pay; the peace treaty was formalized; and the army disbanded.


16 Responses to “George Washington Quiets the Rebellion”

  1. This account of Washington’s words appeared in Douglas Southall Freeman’s seven-volume biography of Washington, published in 1948. Other contemporary accounts have Washington saying, “You will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown grey but almost blind in the service of my country.” The Mount Vernon Society recognizes Freeman’s version as the official one.

    JVW (9e3c77)

  2. Yes, I’ve read that account. Very moving.

    felipe (56556d)

  3. That story mists me up every time.

    Beldar (fa637a)

  4. It was also this time every year that my father — the owner of a small-town furniture & appliance store — always put washer-dryer combos on sale, with lots of advertisements in the local media. It was my father’s annual George Birthington’s Washday Sale.

    Beldar (fa637a)

  5. American Brass Balls

    One of the reasons George is 1A and Abe is 1B.

    John P. Squibob (4affc3)

  6. I haven’t heard or read that story for a decade. Thanks for bringing it back to mind especially on this day JVW. I, like Beldar got misty. George Washington is my personal hero and the man I consider the quintessential American. I have tried my entire life to emulate his Patriotism and encourage others to love Our Country not because it’s perfect, it isn’t, but because it’s as Good as man has made.

    Rev. Hoagie™® (f4eb27)

  7. Old George III wasn’t wrong about everything:

    “At the end of the Revolutionary War, many people in America and Europe thought Washington would retain the reins of power to become the leader of the new nation, or even king. When told by the American artist Benjamin West that Washington was going to resign, King George III of England said “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.””

    He did, and he was.

    (Text from here.)

    Eliot (cf4526)

  8. 5. Agreed.

    This, however, is all that remains:

    Here are some of the things Jed spent his backers’ [$130 Million] on:

    Positive Advertising: $84 Million

    When Mr. Bush finally did get in the race, he needed to reintroduce himself to the Republican electorate. After all, it had been eight years since the end of his final term as Florida’s governor, and he had spent the intervening period as a philanthropist, consultant and investment banker. His campaign and a super PAC supporting him spent heavily on sunny advertising spots in the hopes of announcing Mr. Bush to the post-Tea Party Republican Party as a credentialed conservative.

    Clubbing: $94,100

    Instead of spending last winter on the hustings of Iowa and New Hampshire, Mr. Bush held off, instead using the first half of 2015 to raise money in places like New York, Chicago, Texas and Florida. His goal: Raise enough money for a “super PAC” to scare other candidates — especially those with a similar political profile — out of the race. Over the entire campaign, Mr. Bush’s team racked up tens of thousands of dollars in dinner and event tabs at the Yale Club, the Union League Club of Chicago, Nantucket’s Westmore Club, and more than two dozen other haunts of the well heeled and racquetball-inclined.

    Valets: $15,800

    Donors’ cars don’t park themselves. With an aggressive fund-raising schedule and several major donor gatherings, Mr. Bush and the super PAC, Right to Rise, incurred a proportional parking tab.

    People: $8.3 Million

    As Mr. Bush’s campaign matured, he and the group supporting him built one of the largest organizations of any candidate in either party, banking that his superior fund-raising would sustain his high overhead costs, which in turn would yield him wins or near-wins in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where organizing is critical. But Mr. Bush’s message — experience, civility and technocratic competence — did little to win over voters mesmerized by the billionaire provocateur Donald J. Trump, who outshone his rivals with a bare-bones organization and millions in free media exposure.

    Branding: $88,387

    Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting Mr. Bush, and then his campaign directly, retained 30 Point Strategies, a public relations company in Bethesda, Md., specializing in “thought leadership” and “brand journalism,” according to the firm’s website. But in the end, the most lasting label of Mr. Bush was supplied by Mr. Trump: “low energy.”

    Vegas, Baby: $48,544

    Mr. Bush and his staff racked up sizable travel bills, including $3.3 million in airfare and hundreds of thousands of dollars at hotels, ranging from a Best Western in Phoenix to the Biltmore in Coral Gables, Fla. But what stands out is the Bush team’s taste for the Vegas Strip, where aides and allies patronized the Bellagio, the Wynn and the Venetian, owned by Sheldon Adelson, the Republican megadonor.

    The Consultants: $10 Million

    A well-funded candidate tends to attract hordes of consultants, and Mr. Bush had plenty. All told, his team paid consulting fees to around 140 different companies or individuals, including senior campaign staff members, opposition research firms, and get-out-the-vote operatives in Iowa and South Carolina.

    Pizza: $4,837

    As his fortunes declined this winter, Mr. Bush sharply pared back employees’ salaries and consulting fees, even laying off some campaign staff members to bring down costs. But let it never be said that Mr. Bush allowed his team to go hungry. His campaign and super PAC were particularly fond of the pizza, whether from Domino’s or from Pizza Ranch, the Iowa chain.

    Is a generic Republican victory really good for the country or just you and yours?

    DNF (755a85)

  9. All I know DNF, is any type of victory for the democrats/socialists is bad for America. Sure, it would be good for the lay-abouts who want other people’s money, the “victim” class, the oppressed minorities, the crony capitalists, lobbyists and Madoff/Corzine types and the poor college snowflakes but not for the country.

    Rev. Hoagie™® (f4eb27)

  10. 9. So Donks more bad. Choose dying more slowly.

    DNF (755a85)

  11. And this:

    Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

    “If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

    Beldar (fa637a)

  12. While he could use an editor, Zman:

    We do not have a Washington, nor a Congress disposed to solve anything.

    DNF (755a85)

  13. Washington was a great man, back in the day.
    We suck as much as leftover hot dish.

    mg (31009b)

  14. 10.9. So Donks more bad. Choose dying more slowly.

    You’re a glass half empty kind of guy. You say dying more slowly, I say living longer.

    Rev. Hoagie™® (f4eb27)

  15. 14. A little dose of reality:

    Trump is the only critter enlarging the tent. He gleans the lions share of any candidate’s support with suspension of their campaign.

    The conservatives, trailer trash of the Right, this time have drawn a line in the sand because they’re trying something totally new, sticking to a wizened subset of their principles.

    Liberty Valance their mascot.

    DNF (755a85)

  16. It’s rather hilarious to see the Putin voters clamoring that Mr. Trump is “enlarging the tent”. It’s well known that 2/3rds of Republican primary voters do not want Trump to win. A recent poll* took this one step further, asking voters if Trump was the nominee, would they vote for him in November? Answer:
    ” Only 50 percent of Republican primary voters who backed other candidates said they would vote for Trump if he became the Republican presidential nominee. The bulk of the remainder pledged they would vote for the Democratic nominee (13 percent); write in another candidate (13 percent); or skip voting altogether (5 percent)…”

    So, let’s see the Republican math: 35% Trump voters + 1/2 of 65% anti-Trump voters = 67.5% of Republicans voting for Trump on election day.

    True Trumpists will proclaim that he can more than make up for this by bringing in droves of new voters. Let’s (briefly) give them full credibility on that; suppose he does? If Trump wins the presidency, who will he really represent- whose mandate will he be advancing? It certainly won’t be conservative Americans.

    Mr. Trump and Mr. DNF make it very clear that they don’t want my vote (the “conservatives, trailer trash of the Right”). I’ll be happy to reassure them that they won’t be getting it, neither in August nor November.


    Luke Stywalker (a31c17)

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