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Newburgh conspiracy

From Academic Kids

The Newburgh Conspiracy was a plot hatched in 1783 near the end of the American Revolutionary War led by officers Robert Morris and Alexander Hamilton of the Continental Army to oust Congress in a coup and set up a military dictatorship. The two men wanted a tax instituted to help pay their wages. The plan showed that the Articles of Confederation were unstable and that American citizens were unhappy with it. Morris and Hamilton may have only created the plan as a threat, not as an actual revolt.

The winter of 1783 had seen the end of hostilities between the young nation and Britain, but a formal peace treaty had not yet been signed. The Continental Army was camped at Newburgh, New York. The British still occupied New York City, some 60 miles to the south, and any hint that there was turmoil in the Continental Army might have caused the British to use the opportunity to attack and re-establish control over their former colonies.

When General George Washington found out about the conspiracy, he called a meeting of his officers on March 15 1783 that Major General Horatio Gates was supposed to chair. This meeting was held in the "New Building", a 40 by 70 foot building at the camp. After Gates opened the meeting, Washington entered the building to everyone's surprise. He asked to speak to the officers, and the stunned Gates relinquished the floor. Washington could tell by the faces of his officers, who hadn't been paid for quite some time, were quite angry and did not show the respect or deference that they had in the past toward Washington.

Washington then gave a short speech to his officers about the precarious finances of the nation, and looked up and saw he had made very little impact on their attitude. He then took a letter from his pocket from a member of Congress to read to the officers. Instead of reading it immediately, he gazed upon it and fumbled with it without speaking. The men wondered, what was wrong? Why the delay? He then took a pair of reading glasses from his pocket, which few of the men had seen him wear. He then said: "Gentlemen, 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." This caused most of the men to realize that Washington, too, had sacrificed a great deal, more than most of them, for the cause. These, of course, were his fellow officers, most having worked closely with him for several years. Many of those present were moved to tears, and with this (some say theatrical) act, the conspiracy collapsed as he read the letter. He then left the room and General Henry Knox and others offered resolutions reaffirming their loyalty, which were accepted by the group.

Many believe that this is one of the most telling moments of Washington's character and the loyalty of his men. This is one example of why Washington has been called the "Indispensable Man".

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