Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This Day in History - The Newburgh Conspiracy

In addition to today being the Ides of March when Julius Caesar was set upon by by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus, and 60 other co-conspirators in 44 B.C in the Roman Senate and stabbed to death, it is the 228th anniversary of the Newburgh Conspiracy.

In 1783, there was considerable unrest among the officers of the Continental Army. These veterans of the Revolution had been promised a lifetime pension of half pay, but, instead, Congress was promising to give them five years full pay. When Washington met with the officers in Newburgh, New York, he immediately noted a lack of deference and respect and that an aura of distrust and anger permeated the room.

Washington then gave a short but impassioned speech, known to history as the Newburgh Address, in which he counseled patience. After instructing his men that they should oppose anyone “who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood,” he took a letter out of his pocket from a member of Congress, and after fumbling with his spectacles, he began: Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown old in the service of my country and now find that I am growing blind."  This bit of drama served as a reminder to his men that Washington had sacrificed a great deal in the service of his country. Most of those present were moved to tears, and with this act, the conspiracy collapsed, and the officers reaffirmed their loyalty.

The matter was finally resolved when, in addition to paying a sum equal to five years pay to each officer entitled to half-pay-for life, Congress gave the officers government bonds. Athough highly speculative at the time, they would be redeemed for 100 cents on the dollar by the new government in 1790.

For more information on the Newburgh Conspiracy, please visit American Creation.

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