Sunday, July 10, 2016
Book Review: Valiant Ambition - George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution - By Nathaniel Philbrick
While many believe they know the story of Benedict Arnold and his treasonous betrayal of his 'country', in Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick, the many nuances and details that led Arnold - considered by some at the time to be an even greater commander of men than George Washington - to do what he did are deeply explored. Philbrick, at the same time, uses Washington's story as a parallel to Arnold's, making the book not only a great read, but one that greatly contributes to American Revolution historiography.
Philbrick argues that - in the end - a Benedict Arnold was needed to save the American colonies from losing the Revolutionary War. The story many of us 'know' is not how it really was during the fighting between 1775-1781. As Philbrick writes, "The real Revolution was so troubling and strange that once the struggle was over, a generation did its best to remove all traces of the truth. No one wanted to remember how, after boldly declaring their independence, they had so quickly lost their way; how patriotic zeal had lapsed into cynicism and self-interest; and how, just when all seemed lost, a traitor had saved them from themselves."
There was one contemporary who had thought to buck the tide. Charles Thomson was the secretary of the Continental Congress from 1774-1789. After leaving government, Thomson wrote a 1,000-page history of what really transpired during the war, but destroyed it after the myths took hold. Philbrick writes, "Around 1816 [Thomson] finally decided that it was not for him 'to tear away the veil that hides our weaknesses', and he destroyed the manuscript. 'Let the world admire the supposed wisdom and valor of our great men,' he wrote. 'Perhaps they may adopt the qualities that have been ascribed to them, and thus good may be done. I shall not undeceive future generations'."
A main theme of the book is that the American Revolution was really two wars: one against Great Britain, yes; but another - also bloody - a civil war among Americans that left great sections of the country too risky to travel through. Philbrick points out that the civil war was, "so widespread and destructive that an entire continent was ceded with the dark inevitability of even more devastating cataclysms to come.....the middle of the country was [in addition to the better-known struggles in the south] also torn apart by internal conflict, much of it fought along the periphery of British-occupied New York. Here, in this war-ravaged 'Neutral Ground', where neither side held sway, neighbor preyed on neighbor in a swirling cat-and-dog fight that transformed large swaths of the Hudson River Valley, Long Island, and New Jersey into lawless wastelands."
Washington's generalship has been called into question over the past 240 years - particularly by some contemporaries during the conflict itself. His evacuation of New York [the Battle of Long Island] was an early indication of the problems to come. As Philbrick writes, "In the aftermath of the Battle of Long Island, Washington's army began to fall apart. The militiamen who composed the majority of his force started to desert in droves, and in his subsequent letters to Congress, Washington raged at the inadequacies of his army... What was needed to oppose the British was the steady expertise that only a well-trained professional army could provide."
And, yet, Philbrick writes that Washington needed a mirror if he was looking for culprits. Philbrick notes, "[Washington] might fume about the quality of his soldiers, but if anyone had failed to meet the test at the Battle of Long Island, it was their commander-in-chief.... He should have continued what he had so brilliantly begun with his retreat from Long Island and gotten his army off Manhattan as quickly as possible. Washington, however, was unwilling to abandon his original determination to fight for New York. Part of the problem was that Washington was not his own master. The delegates of the Continental Congress had made it clear that they did not want New York abandoned." In addition, Washington's generals and public opinion all argued against giving up New York without a fight. So, Washington certainly had his reasons for trying to fight.
The bad news continued through 1776. By the autumn, both Fort Washington and Fort Lee had fallen to the British [in New Jersey]. By the end of November, Washington and what Philbrick calls his "ever-dwindling army" were retreating to the Delaware River. The American army in New York and New Jersey had virtually collapsed.
Yet, if Washington was seen by some as a failure, Benedict Arnold became heroic. Back at the outbreak of the war, the British - caught by surprise by the conflagration - had not been able to reinforce their army based in Montreal and Quebec. An American war objective was to take both cities before the British could land reinforcements from Britain on Canadian soil. General Philip Schuyler was at the head of an army trying to take Montreal, while Arnold led his troops against Quebec. Although ultimately the effort was unsuccessful, Arnold's conduct and bravery were the talk of the nation.
Thus, by the time Washington's troops were fleeing through New Jersey, Arnold was preparing for what became the Battle of Valcour Island in October 1776. While some criticized his efforts in what was a bloody stalemate, he had achieved his goal. As Philbrick notes, "[Arnold] had prevented the British from taking Fort Ticonderoga and continuing to Albany and, eventually, to New York. And perhaps just as important, while Washington's army to the south continued to suffer setback after setback, Arnold had shown that it was possible to stand up and fight."
Still, if by the end of 1776 - before Washington's crossing of the Delaware - he was considered the lesser of the two men, Philbrick argues that Washington had his strengths over Arnold. He writes, "As had been demonstrated at Long Island and New York, Washington was not a great battlefield thinker. [British General Richard] Howe (with the help of Britain's Henry Clinton) consistently outgeneraled him. Washington's gifts were more physical and improvisational. When dire necessity forced him to ad-lib, when the scale of the fighting was contained enough that he was able to project his own extraordinary charisma upon those around him, there was no better leader of men."
After the successful crossing and subsequent organized retreat back over the Delaware River on Christmas 1776, there was a discussion among Washington's war council as to whether they should make a second crossing of the Delaware to join the forces of American General John Cadwalader's Pennsylvania militia [who had crossed the Delaware and were still in New Jersey]. There has been much historical debate over Washington's decision to make a second crossing. Philbrick writes, "Given the ultimate course of events, there has been a tendency to accept Washington's decision to re-cross the Delaware as a sound one. But take away the benefit of hindsight, and one can begin to appreciate the enormous risks Washington assumed by returning to New Jersey. If Howe responded to the attack on Trenton with a significant show of force, the Continentals would soon find themselves in what one of Washington's officers described as a 'cul-de-sac', with the ice-clogged Delaware at their backs and a far superior force at their front. The only alternative would be to fight, and if past experience had taught them anything, this was exactly the scenario to avoid. But Washington would have none of it. Goaded by Cadwalader's militia and inspired by his most recent success, he allowed his naturally aggressive inclinations to overrule his better judgment. Knowing full well that defeat would leave his country in an even worse position than it had been just a few weeks before, Washington elected to jeopardize everything he had so far accomplished in hopes of pushing the British back toward New York. Part of Washington's motivation was the upcoming expiration of the Continental Army's term of duty at the end of the year. If he had them all together on the opposite shore with the British ahead and the river behind, the soldiers might be more willing to reenlist, especially if offered a bonus. To a limited degree, this proved to be the case. Once they returned to New Jersey, he did succeed in getting at least a portion of the army to remain with him for the next six weeks." Philbrick concludes of the Battle of Trenton, "Even if it is largely unappreciated today, it was a make-or-break moment in the War of Independence."
Great problems remained. Not the least of which were the financial hardships that American soldiers - including many officers - were undergoing because of Congress' failure to fully fund the war.. While British army officers - because they had to buy their commissions - tended to be wealthy, American officers were not necessarily so. As Philbrick writes, "Although from the upper echelons of their communities, [American officers] rarely possessed the personal wealth of their British counterparts.… By the winter of 1777, these officers were finding themselves in increasingly strained financial circumstances. Short of printing money (which was already starting to plummet in value), the Continental Congress had not yet found an effective way to pay for the war effort."
And Benedict Arnold needed money. While it couldn't be made in the army, the navy was another story. And Arnold wanted to get into the navy. Philbrick writes, "As a successful naval officer, Arnold could fulfill all his ambitions while living like the lordly Philip Schuyler. This is a great what-if of Arnold's career. Had he been a commodore rather than a general, he might have outshined even John Paul Jones." But Arnold's request for a transfer to the navy was rejected by Congress. Worse, five others with nowhere near his battle record were promoted by Congress to Brigadier General ahead of Arnold. The snub would have serious consequences. While Arnold wanted to resign, Washington begged him to do nothing until he - Washington - could personally intervene with Congress.
Yet Washington had little power with Congress. Indeed, as Philbrick points out, "Congress had placed Washington in an impossible position. He was expected to prosecute the war to the best of his abilities, and yet Congress was unwilling to allow him to choose the officers on whom he depended the most. Washington could have refused to abide such seemingly arbitrary restraints. Indeed, it could be argued that he owed it to his officer corps to demand that they be treated with appropriate fairness and respect. But that would have, in all likelihood, forced a showdown with Congress at a time when he had much more pressing matters to attend to. Washington appears to have instinctively recognized that the limitations imposed by a seemingly petty and wrong-minded Congress were one of the necessary evils of being the commander-in-chief of an army fighting to create a new republic."
Frustrated, Arnold submitted his resignation to Congress on July 11, 1777. At that very moment, however, Congress received word from Washington that the British were about to march on Albany. Congress refused Arnold's resignation and ordered him to report to Washington's headquarters in Morristown. Before he could get to New York, Fort Ticonderoga fell to the British, shocking Washington and the new nation as a whole.
The British, led by John Burgoyne, now seemed to be unstoppable. They had surrounded an American force inside Fort Stanwix. It was there that Washington dispatched Arnold. The situation was dire: it seemed likely that the entire outfit was to be slaughtered by Britain's Native American allies. But Arnold had a plan. He tricked British commander Barry St. Leger into believing he [Arnold] had more troops then he did and that he was closer than he really was; and that he was about to launch an attack to retake the fort for the Americans. As Philbrick writes, "For Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger, it all came to an end in a baffling and ultimately maddening rush. Just as the fort was about to fall into his hands, his warriors...abandoned him. He had no idea whether Arnold was really about to attack (as it turned out, the American relief column was 40 miles away), but having lost the support of his Indian allies, he had no choice but to quit as well. By the next day, he and his men were on their way back to Lake Ontario. For the force commander, it was a miraculous turn of events that made him, especially among the citizens of northern New York, a hero for life.....as the more than 700 American soldiers who had endured the siege of Fort Stanwix would readily have admitted, in the end they owed their lives to Benedict Arnold."
Arnold also burnished his reputation at the Battle of Bemis Heights [part of what became known as the Battle of Saratoga] on October 7, 1777. And this despite the fact that he was raging drunk. Furious about one slight or another - including his being sidelined by Horatio Gates, who ordered Arnold to not take the field and instead to remain in his quarters - Arnold drank in his quarters early in the battle. Soon, however, he emerged and - disobeying Gates' orders - took to the field. Philbrick recalls,"It was later said that Arnold rode about" drunk during the Battle of Bemis Heights. "His seemingly erratic behavior did not prevent him, however, from recognizing a key vulnerability in the enemy line. Arnold might be vain, overly sensitive to a slight, and difficult to work with, but there were few officers in either the American or British army who possessed his talent for almost instantly assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy."
But within a short period of time, Arnold was grievously wounded in the same leg [his left] that had been wounded in Canada. The badly broken leg was set to be amputated but Arnold refused to allow it. Philbrick writes, "Arnold had a history of recovering from a serious injury with remarkable speed. Less than six months after being felled by a ricocheted bullet at Quebec, he was strong enough to oversee the American retreat from Canada...Three months after that he was bounding from cannon to cannon across the smoke-filled deck of the galley on Lake Champlain. For Arnold, the experience of war had always been profoundly physical, and he was not about to lose his left leg to the sword of an overly cautious Army surgeon."
On October 17, John Burgoyne's army finally laid down its arms. Gates - the commander-in-chief of the northern army - had never ventured onto the field of battle during two days of brutal fighting [unlike Arnold]....[this did not alter] the fact that the Battle of Saratoga changed the course of the war. An entire army of British and German professional soldiers had been overwhelmed by a swarming mass of American patriots. This was big, extraordinary news, and the sheer magnitude of the victory guaranteed that Gates - no matter how imperfect his performance may have been - was about to become a national hero."
Meanwhile, Washington continued to suffer. While Gates enjoyed national fame and glory, Philbrick writes that Washington, "had endured a string of disappointments that culminated in the loss of Philadelphia. Making matters even worse, Gates had not yet delivered official word of Burgoyne's surrender to either Washington or Congress. Apparently enjoying the fact that the powers that be were kept in suspense as to the specifics of the treaty... Gates was allowing the news of his victory to spread across the United States."
But Gates was hardly Washington's biggest problem. By the winter of 1777, Philbrick writes, "The famed 'spirit of 1776' had long since passed. Now that the revolution had become a long-term war, most American males decided to leave the job of fighting for their nation's liberty to others. While the vast majority of the country's citizens stayed at home, the War for Independence was being waged, in large part, by newly arrived immigrants. Those native-born Americans who, by mid-1777 were serving in the Army, tended to be either African-Americans, Native Americans, or 'free white men on the move'."
Britain's decision to abandon Philadelphia in May 1778 brought home the volatile nature of life in America in the tension between Loyalist and Patriot. During the eight-month occupation by the British, Philadelphia Loyalists had lived quite well, entertained nightly, and earned the ire of those Philadelphia Patriots trapped in the city. Britain's decision to leave - made quite abruptly and with little notice to the Loyalist population - caused pure chaos. The dichotomy between Loyalist and Patriot, a running theme in the book, is one that Philbrick argues must be understood to truly understand the Revolution. Philbrick writes, "The passage of the Declaration of Independence had forced Americans to make a choice - either side with the newly created United States or declare their continued loyalty to the British King. Many, if not most, American citizens were politically apathetic - their highest priority was their own and their family's welfare. All they wanted was to be allowed to lead the contented and peaceful lives they had enjoyed prior to the Revolution. But now they had to declare which side they were on."
By mid-1778, Philbrick writes, Arnold had started down the path to treason but not consciously. As Philbrick notes, "By this point in his life, Arnold appears to have decided that after losing both his health and his fortune to his country, he must reclaim, as best he could, what was owed him. Arnold was not contemplating anything treasonous; he was simply attempting to recoup the considerable personal wealth he had devoted to a country that had not yet found a way to compensate him for his losses. In this Arnold was by no means alone. Virtually every officer in the Continental Army had reached the point where he had begun to wonder whether all the lost income and personal suffering had been worth it. Those who hadn't already resigned were often forced to pursue private economic opportunities, many of them ethically if not legally dubious, to make ends meet."
An important point to note from the paragraph above is that Arnold was not unique in having suffered financially during the war. There was a difference, however, as Philbrick notes, "Unlike many of his fellow officers, [Arnold] was going to do something about it. After Congress' repeated refusals to grant him his proper rank; after being treated with such diabolical cunning by Gates...at Saratoga; and after almost losing his left leg to an enemy musket ball, he felt justified in taking advantage of whatever economic opportunities came his way."
Unwittingly, it would be Washington who made these opportunities available. On June 18, he named Arnold Military Governor of Philadelphia. This was perfect. As Philbrick writes, "For someone of Arnold proclivities, it was the perfect opportunity to engineer a series of insider deals - all of them as secret as possible - that took advantage of his status as the most powerful military figure in Philadelphia."
Governing Philadelphia, however, was a nightmare for Arnold, even if it did provide him ample opportunity for graft. Once again, Arnold sought a position in the navy, where he could still have opportunities to make money without having to deal with the politics of colonial Philadelphia. Philbrick calls this yet another great 'what-if' of Arnold's career. He writes, "Had [Arnold], at this pivotal stage, been allowed to free himself from the hell that had become his life in Philadelphia, had he applied his talents to a pursuit [the navy] that, while fulfilling his desire to serve his country, also lined his pockets, he might have become one of the immortal heroes of the revolution." In the end, Washington was ambivalent about the request, which became moot once Congress rejected it.
Arnold had also made enemies among the radicals in Philadelphia. This group had been targeting loyalists in the city since the British evacuation. But Philbrick notes that, "American radicals like Joseph Reed were actually prolonging the war by prosecuting loyalists and forcing those loyalists into the arms of the British. William Howe's secretary, Ambrose Serle, wrote, 'The Congress, if they knew their business, had only one measure to take, which is to publish a general amnesty, and they [would thus] drive us from the Continent forever'."
Reed had targeted Arnold for destruction [Arnold had married into a loyalist family]. By January 1779, Arnold had determined to leave the army and relocate with his wife, Peggy, to New York, where he was much more popular. As Philbrick writes, "Exiting the army and becoming a land baron in New York might be the way for [Arnold] to acquire the wealth and prestige that he had always craved and that Peggy and her [loyalist] family expected. It would also have the benefit of removing him from the increasingly unpleasant turmoil in Philadelphia." By early February, Arnold had decided travel to see Washington at his headquarters in New Jersey. Fearing that Arnold would flee permanently from his grasp, Reed quickly threw together charges against Arnold. Philbrick notes that, "Arnold eventually became a traitor of the highest order, and ultimately he alone was responsible for what he did. However, one cannot help but wonder whether he would have betrayed his country without the merciless witchhunt conducted by Reed...."
But there was more at play here than just 'persecution' of Arnold. As Philbrick writes, "What made all of this particularly galling to Arnold was the hostility that Reed and apparently most of the American people held toward the Continental Army. Since no one wanted to pay for anything beyond their own state borders, a standing national army was viewed with ever-increasing apathy and suspicion. Now that France had entered the conflict, the prevailing belief was that the war had already been won. Let the foreigners take care of it, and perhaps with the help of some state militiamen, everything would work out fine. Indeed, Arnold's problems in Philadelphia were symptomatic of a national trend as more and more Americans regarded Continental Army officers like Arnold as dangerous hirelings on the order of the Hessian mercenaries and British regulars, while local militiamen were looked to as the embodiment of the true patriotic ideal. In reality, rather than fighting for freedom against the British, many of these militiamen were employed by community officials as thuggish enforcers to terrorize local citizens whose loyalties were suspect... In this increasingly toxic and potentially explosive environment, issues of class threatened to transform a revolution that once inspired a collective quest for national independence into a sordid and ultimately self-defeating civil war."
It seems that, by late-April 1779, Arnold had made the firm decision to defect to Britain, although the exact act was still formulating in his mind. While Arnold is often credited with coming up with the idea himself, Philbrick argues that it was wife, Peggy, who first put such plans into his head. Whoever authored the idea, Arnold was vulnerable to it. As Philbrick writes, "What Arnold wanted more than anything at this pivotal juncture was clarity. With the [pending] court-martial and his [expected] exoneration behind him, he might be able to fend off Peggy's tantalizing appeals [to turn traitor]. Joseph Reed, however, was bent on delaying the court-martial for as long as possible. In limbo like this, Arnold was dangerously susceptible to seeing treason not as the betrayal of all he had once held sacred but as a way to save his country from the revolutionary government that was threatening to destroy it." Yet this was really not about ideals. If it was, Philbrick argues, Arnold could have done what Robert E. Lee would do 80 years later and, "just declared his change of heart and simply shift sides. But, as [Arnold] was about to make clear, he was doing this first and foremost for the money."
The process began with a meeting Arnold had with a Briton named Joseph Stansbury. The latter soon met with Captain John Andre to inform the British officer that Arnold wanted to meet. Arnold began to provide information to the British while at the same time preparing for his court-martial. As part of that preparation, Arnold provided Nathanael Greene with a letter of support from Silas Deane. Philbrick writes, "Arnold undoubtedly knew the contents of Deane's letter (which was supremely complementary of Arnold's character). That he was willing to place that letter into the hands of Nathanael Greene within a few weeks of having disclosed precious military secrets to the British reveals the extent of Arnold's treachery. Not only had he betrayed his country; he had betrayed in that single act the trust of two of his closest friends [Greene and Deane]. Arnold, of course, did not see it that way. The same narcissistic arrogance that enabled him to face the greatest danger on the battlefield without a trace of fear had equipped him to be a first-rate traitor. Arnold had never worried about the consequences of his actions. Guilt was simply not a part of his make-up since everything he did was, to his own mind, at least, justifiable. Where others might have shown, if not remorse, at least hesitation or ambivalence, Arnold projected unwavering certitude. Whatever was best for him was, by definition, best for everyone else."
Exoneration at the court-martial was vital to Arnold's future as a spy. If he were to be convicted and drummed out of the army, he'd be of little use to the British. Arnold's defense at his court-martial began on January 21, 1780. In the end, Philbrick writes, the court-martial board, "did not completely vindicate [Arnold], but it came close. Although his use of government wagons was not technically illegal, the Board judged it 'imprudent and improper', and he was sentenced to a reprimand. Arnold was predictably outraged by the fact that he had not been simply cleared of all the charges."
The reprimand would be the responsibility of Washington. And, as Philbrick writes, "Washington had a blind spot when it came to (Arnold). Some of it may have been wishful thinking. More than ever, he needed as many dynamic and capable generals as he could get. But he also seems to have liked and may even have and envied Arnold, a general who was regularly performing the kinds of heroics that might've been Washington's destiny had he been a few years younger and not saddled with the crushing responsibility of commander-in-chief."
In the meantime, Washington helped to seal the final form of Arnold's treason. Washington promised Arnold whatever position it was in his power to give, and Arnold immediately requested the command at West Point. Once in that position, Arnold would turn it over to the British. The irony was strong. Philbrick writes, "By turning West Point into the largest, most important fortress in the United States, Washington had created, ironically, a vulnerability that the country had not previously possessed: a military stronghold so vital that should it fall into the hands of the enemy it might mean the end of the war. The major general who presided at West Point had under his command not only the complex of fortifications that served as the strategic 'key' to both the Hudson River and Lake Champlain to the north but also the many smaller American posts between West Point and British-occupied New York to the south.... Yes, West Point was the perfect posting for a traitor."
Meanwhile, the war was becoming a disaster for the Americans. Indeed, by late-May the situation was dire. Charleston had fallen to the British and 5,500 American soldiers had been captured. Philbrick writes, "A country that had begun the revolution with surprising resolve and determination had lost its appetite for war. As the Continental Army was left to wither and die, what had briefly been a country would soon be reduced to a quarreling collection of sovereign states...In the end it had all come down to money. Unwilling to pay the taxes demanded by Great Britain, the American people had fomented a revolution; unwilling to pay for an army, they were about to default on the promise they had made to themselves in the Declaration of Independence."
Washington named Arnold commander of West Point on August 3, 1780. Then, on August 24, Arnold received a package from Peggy which included correspondence from Andre with instructions from the British. The British had agreed to Arnold's terms, Philbrick writes, "Especially if [Arnold] could guarantee the capture of 3,000 American soldiers during the fall of West Point. Instead of stripping the fortress of personnel, which had been his original objective, Arnold embarked on a twofold project: do as little as possible to complete the much needed repairs and improvements to the fort's outer works while making sure the required number of soldiers were either in or near the fortress on the day of the British attack."
Then, in mid-September, Washington informed Arnold of his intention to inspect the fortifications at West Point. This was too good to be true. As Philbrick recounts, Arnold wrote to the British, "'I expect his Excellency General Washington to lodge here on Saturday night next, and will lay before him any matter you may wish to communicate'. Arnold's meaning was unmistakable. If Clinton wanted to attack West Point when Washington was away (and unable to interfere with Arnold's surrender of the fortress), they needed to do it in the next few days. However, if they wanted a chance at capturing not only America's most important fortress but the Continental Army's commander-in-chief, they should attack on the night of Saturday, September 23."
What tripped up the plan in the end was Andre's capture with incriminating documents in his possession before Arnold could surrender West Point. But word of Andre's capture did not reach Arnold or Washington for two days. Indeed, both men would find out on the same day Monday, September 25. It was the order in which they found out that spared Arnold's life [and cost Andre his].
Word of Andre's capture and the revelation of the plot literally arrived at Arnold's headquarters minutes before Washington was due to arrive at Arnold's house for breakfast [before his inspection of the fort]. Washington actually arrived downstairs and Arnold told his servant to tell Washington that Arnold was going to go ahead to West Point to make preparations for the visit and that Arnold would return in an hour.
When Arnold did not return to the house, Washington simply conducted the West Point inspection without him. Upon returning to Arnold's headquarters about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, Washington found the packages containing information about the plot awaiting him. Philbrick writes, "Within minutes [Washington] knew the full extent of Arnold's treachery - that he had conspired to surrender West Point to the British, and that he had fled approximately six hours earlier down the river. Arnold was obviously on his way to New York, and Washington must at least try to apprehend him before he escaped to British territory."
While Andre was executed October 2, 1780, Arnold escaped and lived out his life as a British subject. Philbrick argues that, in becoming a traitor, Arnold may have committed his greatest service to America. He writes, "As a warrior at Valcour Island and Saratoga, Benedict Arnold had been an inspiration. But it was as a traitor that he succeeded in galvanizing a nation. Just as the American people appeared to be sliding into apathy and despair, Arnold's treason awakened them to the realization that the war of independence was theirs to lose."
Philbrick concludes: "The United States had been created through an act of disloyalty. No matter how eloquently the Declaration of Independence had attempted to justify the American rebellion, a residual guilt hovered over the circumstances of the country's founding. Arnold changed all that. By threatening to destroy the newly created republic through, ironically, his own betrayal, Arnold gave this nation of traitors the greatest of gifts: a myth of creation. The American people had come to revere George Washington, but a hero alone was not sufficient to bring them together. Now they had the despised villain Benedict Arnold. They knew both what they were fighting for - and against. The story of America's genesis could finally move beyond the break with the mother country and start to focus on the process by which thirteen former colonies could become a nation... By turning traitor, Arnold had alerted the American people to how close they had all come to betraying the revolution by putting their own interests against their newborn countries."