Friday, February 22, 2002
On the Occasion Today of His Birthday
In March of 1783, as the peace negotiations dragged on, a leaflet circulated throughout the camp. The soldiers had not been paid for a very long time; Congress had, throughout the War, been begrudging in its allocation of money. The leaflet's anonymous author, joining in the mutinous spirit of the army, said: "If this, then, be your treatment while the swords you wear are necessary for the defense of America, what have you to expect from peace, when your voice shall shrink and your strength dissipate by division?" If Congress continued to disrespect them, the soldiers had no choice but to "invite the direction of your illustrious leader" and "retire to some unsettled country."
Another leaflet called for a meeting; which the General forbade. But he allowed an official meeting of the officers, to have the grievances aired.
At this meeting, the General agreed with the complaints of the soldiers. He said, however, that the author of the leaflet was "taking advantage of the passions." Then he said:
"As I was among the first who embarked in the cause of our common Country; as I have never left your side one moment, but when called from you on public duty; as I have been the constant companion and witness of your distresses, and not among the last to feel and acknowledge your merits; as I have ever considered my own military reputation as inseparably connected with that of the Army; as my heart has ever expanded with joy, when I have heard its praises, and my indignation has arisen, when the mouth of detraction has opened against it, it can scarcely be supposed, at this late stage of the War, that I am indifferent to its interests."
He said further that the plan to retire to the wilderness was unrealistic; and Congress was not the enemy. "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, [do not] open the flood gates of civil discord, and deluge our rising Empire in blood."
Do nothing, he said, “that would tarnish the reputation of an Army which is celebrated throughout Europe for its fortitude and patriotism.”
Before he finished his speech, he said that "in the attainment of complete justice for all your toils and dangers... you may freely command my services to the utmost of my abilities." And after his speech, to convey the good intentions of Congress, he brought out a letter. He fussed with the letter as he tried to read it aloud. At last, he had to put on a pair of glasses. Forty-three when the War had started, he was now fifty-one; and he said: "Gentleman, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my Country."
His speech; his manner; his appeals; and, finally, his admission of having been made old... The effect upon the officers was profound. They could no longer rebel. After the General had left the hall, his officers voted unanimously to do their duty by their Commander, and not rise in mutiny against their Country.