the quartet orchestrating the second american revolution 1783 1789.pdf

39 hindsight allows us to see that yorktown was the

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39 Hindsight allows us to see that Yorktown was the culminating battle of the war, but few if any political or military leaders at the time recognized that reality. Washington was especially outspoken on the need to maintain the Continental Army at full strength in order to meet a new British offensive. “The king will push the War as long as the Nation would find men or Money,” he warned, because all members of the British ministry believed that “the Sun of Great Britain will set the moment American Independence is acknowledged.” As a result, a full year after Yorktown the soldiers of the Continental Army—about ten thousand officers and men—were drilling every day at the main cantonment on the Hudson outside Newburgh, New York, waiting for the climactic battle that had, in fact, already happened. 40 Long-standing grievances had been festering in the army for many months, and in January 1783 a delegation of officers headed by Alexander McDougall delivered a petition to Congress demanding their back pay, which was over a year in arrears; assurance that their promised pensions of half pay for life would be honored; and more generous rations and clothing allocations. McDougall’s petition, which was signed by thirteen generals, painted a pathetic picture of the Continental Army—half-starved, poorly clothed, and apprehensive that, when the war ended, they would be disbanded and sent home as beggars. Then McDougall ended on an ominous note: “The uneasiness of the soldiers, for want of pay, is great and dangerous; any further experiments on their patience must have fatal effects.” Congress needed to know that unless these grievances were addressed, the army might decide to mutiny. 41 What happened next, called the Newburgh Conspiracy, has all the elements of a classic mystery novel, rendered more intriguing because of the multiple behind-the-scenes conversations that, for obvious reasons, never found their way into the historical record. The essence of the story, as best we can recover it, goes like this: the army was prepared to threaten mutiny in order to pressure Congress for its promised pay and pensions; Hamilton and Morris decided to use the crisis to generate support for reform of the Articles to permit passage of the impost and more vigorous tax collection; meanwhile, a faction in the army, led by Horatio Gates, Washington’s chief bête noire, was prepared not just to threaten mutiny but to act on the threat. For our purposes, however, the significance of the Newburgh Conspiracy goes beyond the layered plotting and clandestine scheming that gives the story its seductive allure. The episode is also an airburst in the night that exposed the fault lines running through any projections of American nationhood as the war ended.
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  • Fall '16
  • Chemistry, pH, American Revolution, Second Continental Congress, American Revolution, Continental Army

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