Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review: A Just and Generous Nation - Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity, By Harold Holzer & Norton Garfinkle

A Just and Generous Nation: Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity by Harold Holzer and Norton Garfinkle is truly a wonderful addition to Lincoln historiography.  The first two-thirds of the book deeply examines Lincoln's economic philosophies and how they effected his prosecution of the war and the evolution of his thoughts on abolition.  The last third is a look at how Lincoln's successors - through Barack Obama - have lived up to [or moved away from] Lincoln's credo of creating and maintaining a vibrant American middle-class.

At the outset, the authors argue that - while there were many reasons behind why the Civil War was fought - one of the least examined [with the exception of historians like Eric Foner, for instance] is Lincoln's economic faith in the middle-class.  As the authors write, "The prevailing arguments - that the war occurred to preserve the American Union for its own sake, to defend or destroy slavery, or to expand or restrict federal authority - fall short because they do not embrace the full vision for the future held by those engaged in the conflict." The largest such engaged figure, of course, was Lincoln.

Lincoln, himself, was a man of peace. The authors ask, "Why would a basically peaceful man who might as easily have allowed the United States to divide in two, with no resulting loss of life or treasure, choose instead to lead a devastating American-versus-American war to maintain a fragile, still experimental union?" The authors declare that their book has been written to answer that question. The answer? "Lincoln went to war in 1861 to ensure that the middle-class society of the North rather than the aristocratic society of the South would define the future of the nation."

While it's true that the Union was sacred to Lincoln, and that he wanted slavery eventually abolished, the authors write, "Lincoln focused his entire political career, in peace and war alike, in pursuit of economic opportunity for the widest possible circle of hard-working Americans. To achieve this ambition he was willing to fight a war to maintain the perpetual existence of the one nation in the world that held the highest promise for people dedicated to this cause."

And what was the threat? The authors answer, "The toxic combination of secession together with an unending commitment to unpaid human bondage [slavery] by a new and separate confederate nation, [Lincoln] calculated, would be fatal to the American dream. It posed a direct threat to a self-sustaining middle-class society and to the promise of America leading the way to spreading the idea of opportunity and upward mobility throughout the world."

Indeed, the authors claim that Lincoln, "was one of the first American leaders to fully grasp that economic opportunity to rise to the middle-class was, in truth, the defining feature of America. More than any other president, Lincoln is the father of the American Dream that all Americans should have the opportunity through hard work to build a comfortable middle-class life."

By the middle of the 1800s, the authors write, "America was increasingly dividing into two distinct sectional societies. The North was expanding its internal economy, while the South clung to it's highly profitable slave-based agricultural economy, heavily reliant on cotton exports to Great Britain. Two different economies, with different, and in many respects opposed, sets of interests now existed anxiously under one flag. And with the two economies came two different cultures and world views, North and South, one dependent, to be sure, on the output of slaves. The growing sectional divide - the growing crisis between North and South - initially played out as a struggle over economic policy. Only later did it also become an explicit conflict over the morality of slavery."

Lincoln was moved to re-enter politics after passage of Stephen Douglass's Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.  He did so, the authors maintain, to defend what he saw as the Act's threat to the economic system Lincoln saw as critical to the American "way of life". It is important to note that, at this time, Lincoln was no abolitionist. Indeed, it would be nearly ten years before he would become one.  Instead, the authors say, "Lincoln's emphasis on slavery's economic consequences was quite different from the argument of the abolitionists of the time, who insisted on immediate action to end slavery and begin the process of establishing racial equality. As Lincoln argued [in a speech on October 16, 1854] in Peoria [Illinois], slavery might remain illegal in the South, but that did not mean it should or could be introduced in the western territories. What set Lincoln apart from many of his northern contemporaries was his refusal to affix sole blame for slavery on white southerners. Had their climates been reversed, he often volunteered, northerners might well have embraced and defended slavery with equal vigor [as their southern brethren]."

A closer look at Lincoln's remarks make clear that he had an unstated but shrewd plan.  The authors note, "If slavery was banned forever from the West, then every new state admitted to the Union in the future would be a free state, with each of them sending anti-slavery congressmen and senators to Washington. As often as Lincoln assured southern interests that he would never interfere with slavery where it existed, the slow but sure arrival of an ever-growing western antislavery bloc meant that at some point in the future, there might be sufficient votes on Capitol Hill for Congress to initiate the death knell of slavery with an achievable constitutional amendment to prohibit slavery everywhere. Lincoln understood this potential future tipping point. And it helps explain his seemingly restrained and limited public anti-slavery sentiments: time was on his side, as long as slavery did not spread."

From the beginning of his presidency, with a Republican Congress with strong majorities, the authors note that, "Lincoln signed into law measures decisively strengthening the role of the federal government in American economic life. Lincoln signed the National Banking Act, which not only revived the National Bank that President Jackson had killed in 1833 but also gave the country its first unified currency and created a national system of chartered national banks, replacing the system in which states and state banks created their own money. The 1862 Homestead Act provided 160 acres of inexpensive land to settlers willing to migrate West. Lincoln favored high protective tariffs to encourage the development of domestic manufacturing. He chartered the first transcontinental railroad, which would link the country from East to West coasts, the greatest 'internal improvement' up to that time. He signed the Morrill Act in 1862, which provided states with grants of land to establish colleges, designed to provide useful education to help 'clear the path' for ordinary people to achieve the American economic dream. And these colleges became the basis of the nation's state university system. All these programs were embodiments of what Lincoln believed to be government's legitimate and vital role in building and expanding America's middle-class economy and society."

Perhaps most noteworthy to the authors' thesis that Lincoln's economic policies were central to his legacy, the authors write, "The federal government's stimulus programs under Lincoln provided the basis for the great thrust forward of the new industrial revolution in the northern states both during and after the end of the Civil War. Lincoln's domestic policies provided the first clear example of the positive role that could be played by the federal government to encourage the economic growth of the nation." A precursor, the authors say, that would eventually lead to the policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

While no abolitionist in 1860, the new President did differ from most white northerners in the basic tenets of his opposition to slavery.  The authors write, "Lincoln's early opposition to slavery was based on his settled conviction that every person - black or white - was entitled to receive full payment for his labor." By 1860 the majority of the nation's white voters, the authors write, "clearly separated slavery, in their minds, into three separate issues: the political issue of preventing the extension of the southern economic system to the territories, the constitutional issue of abolishing slavery in the southern states, and the social issue of equality for African-Americans. Although many were prepared to address the political issue, they were not prepared to address the constitutional and social issues."

But - like any good leader - Lincoln adapted his thinking to changing realities.  The authors write that during his first years in the presidency, "Lincoln's change in political tactics was based on military realities that he could not ignore. At the beginning of the war, there had been little substantial support in the North for the immediate abolition of slavery. Moreover, Lincoln had worried that any action he might take on slavery might cause the border slave states still on the Union side to secede and support the southern pro-slavery cause. But by the end of 1862, that fear had amounted to nothing, and it also become clear to most Americans - North and South - that the war would not end quickly. It was also clear that southern slaves could become a substantial asset in support of the northern army. Then and only then did Lincoln decide to emancipate all the slaves 'owned' by southerners in the confederacy and, following the advice of his generals, encourage them to use the freed slaves to support the Union armies in the field. With one stroke of a pen [signing the Emancipation Proclamation], President Lincoln used his power as Commander-in-Chief of American forces to declare more than 80% of all the slaves in the United States, 'then, thenceforth, and forever free'."

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation is tackled by the authors. The document has been a source of historical debate, particularly since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. As the authors write, "Lincoln's leadership in securing emancipation has been viewed through sharply different lenses by different observers at different points in time.…The preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was regarded in its own time with so much trepidation and outright fear that it provoked a Wall Street panic, Union troop desertion, bellicose foreign condemnation, vast racial unease, and a severe political rebuke from the voters at the polls later in 1862.  [Yet] after the war Lincoln was so celebrated and closely identified with the achievement of emancipation that many Americans dubbed him 'The Great Emancipator'. But that term is now considered by some historians as politically incorrect, and Lincoln's reputation as an anti-slavery leader has been called repeatedly into question. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation is viewed by some scholars not as a revolutionary positive step but as delayed, insufficient, and insincere."

In my opinion, to chide Lincoln for being too slow on abolition is to completely misunderstand the political constraints under which he was forced to work. Still, as the authors point out, part of the blame for today's debate over emancipation belongs to Lincoln himself, and the somewhat convoluted way he rolled out the decree.  As the authors note, "Modern historians who apply 21st-century mores to a 19th-century man are not the only ones who have made it difficult to see Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation within the context of his own time. Lincoln himself is responsible for much of the confusion. He so complicated the announcement of his proclamation with continuing public arguments for compensation and colonization that it is little wonder the public had trouble then - and has continued to have problems ever since - in discerning his true motivations."

Still, the aforementioned restraints under which Lincoln led the nation are paramount to understanding what happened and appreciating why - and when - Lincoln did what he did. The authors write, "Modern critics - indeed, many abolitionists in his own time - condemned Lincoln for waiting as long as he did to act on emancipation. But direct and immediate action [in 1861] was not likely to produce the desired result. Lincoln had good reason to doubt, [as late as] the summer of 1862, that he possessed either the public or official support, the military power, or the political opportunity to embark on a new, broad anti-slavery policy without risking political ruin and, with it, the fall of the Union. Obfuscation became not only a tactic but a life preserver."

Although when he showed his Cabinet his plans for the Emancipation Proclamation on July 22, 1862, he did so not seeking their approval [for he had already made up his mind], Lincoln still received pushback from Attorney General Edward Bates, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase, and Secretary of State William Seward. All were afraid of the political fallout [from emancipation] and the fact that, with military losses piling up, the move would appear to be an admission of panic - confirming fears that the Union was at the end of its rope.  Here, Lincoln was surprised.  As the authors write, "It [the appearance of panic] was 'an aspect of the case', Lincoln later admitted, that he had 'entirely overlooked'. In response, as he later [said], 'I put the draft of the proclamation aside..., waiting for a victory'. Lincoln, in other words, would issue a proclamation only on the heels of a Union victory, when no one could attribute the move to weakness or desperation."

There was another issue: northern whites. For good reason, Lincoln feared a backlash from the North once the proclamation was announced.  As the authors write, "Lincoln may have drafted an actual Emancipation Proclamation and read it to his Cabinet, but he sincerely believed that, unless he avoided any appearance of advocating equal rights for the soon-to-be-freed blacks, he would lose so much white support by his action in favor of emancipation that his administration, and with it the Union, would fall....Lincoln understood that the great majority of his northern constituency were not willing to live side-by-side with former slaves, and definitely unwilling to grant them equal rights. The free states of the North were not only free of slaves but almost completely free of African-Americans."

To address white concerns, Lincoln invited a "Deputation of Free Negroes" to the White House on August 14, 1862 to discuss the question of black rights. Or, at least, that's what the attendees [which included Frederick Douglass] thought Lincoln wanted - a discussion.  Instead, Lincoln put on a ferocious performance, lambasting his guests for expecting too much and not appreciating what had already been done. It was a tongue-lashing of the highest order. But the audience wasn't the group of men at the White House. As the authors write, "Lincoln made sure his harsh speech against equal rights for Negroes in the United States (delivered during the meeting with black leaders at the White House) did not just leak [to the press] but poured. There's no question that he wanted this message publicized: he had invited journalists to the White House to record his every word (to the leaders) in order to guarantee it's wide circulation. He was not disappointed then, even if the episode may disappoint us now."

Meanwhile, he waited for a Union victory. Then came Antietam on September 17, 1862. The time had come to issue the proclamation. The authors write, "For months, Lincoln had waited. By means of a sometimes baffling web of public relations feints he had made it seem like freedom had finally fallen into the nation's lap thanks to military victory (Antietam). After a summer-long onslaught of statements that variously confused, dismayed, or heartened Americans of all political persuasions, official silence and selected revelations had emerged as Abraham Lincoln's chief weapons in presenting his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863."

From that point forward, Lincoln began his tilt dramatically toward abolishment of slavery throughout the country.  A series of Union military victories in the last months of 1864 led Lincoln to secure passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.  The authors write, "For all his early reluctance, Lincoln was now in the forefront of the struggle to secure the permanent abolition of slavery in the United States. Largely through Lincoln's efforts, public opinion now tilted in favor of the abolition of slavery. But it was clearly not in favor of equal rights for African-Americans in the North as well as the South. And Lincoln chose not to add his voice to support abolitionist efforts to provide equal rights to the newly freed slaves. Ever the believer that public opinion was the ultimate driver of political progress, Lincoln did not challenge directly the supremacist views of the majority of white Americans. Rather, he emphasized that 'in giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free - honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve'. African-Americans were to escape bondage and enter the promised land; their liberation would ensure that a free America would long endure."

Still, most important to Lincoln was the preservation and growth of the American middle-class.  His most famous address, at Gettysburg, is examined and cited by the authors as clear evidence of his true driving principles. While some historians have taken Lincoln's comment in the Gettysburg Address regarding "unfinished work" to mean securing equal rights for African-Americans, the authors disagree.  They write, "A closer look at Lincoln's words and deeds indicates that Lincoln viewed his 'unfinished work' from a different perspective. Lincoln's deeply held political view was that slavery was immoral because it violated the just position that one person should not own the fruits of the labor of another person - black or white. He was determined to sustain the unique democratic political and economic society of the free northern states as the future of America. Lincoln was equally determined to prevent the extension of slavery to the western territories of the United States - to ensure that the slave system would be put 'in the course of ultimate extinction'. Lincoln believed the western territories had to be free of slavery to fulfill the promise of the exceptional American democratic economic society defined by the Founding Fathers and implemented in the northern states. He believed this American system was unique in the world - that it was the last best hope of mankind." The Gettysburg Address, the authors write, "was also the most complete statement of his commitment to a just and generous nation dedicated to government action to help all its citizens to improve their economic lives. It was the first time he used the phrase 'a new birth of freedom' and the words 'government... for the people, shall not perish from the earth'. Looking to the aftermath of the Civil War, he was defining his and the nation's 'unfinished work' as the new task of providing all citizens a government committed to helping all its citizens build a middle-class life."

Lincoln's assassination - an event certainly recognized as one of the great tragedies in American history - is perhaps still not properly appreciated in how profoundly it altered American history. There is no doubt that a second full Lincoln term would have meant a very different-looking America. After his death, three factions emerged, and each had a different plan for reuniting the country. The authors write first there were the, "Democratic members of Congress [who] believed that white citizens of the former Confederate states should simply re-pledge allegiance to the Union, without committing to economic opportunities such as 'forty-acres and a mule for free blacks'. [Second], within the Republican Party, 'moderates' once led by President Lincoln believed that the central issue in the war was 'restoring' the Union as quickly as possible. The moderates also wanted the former Confederate states to extend the electoral franchise to African-American male citizens. But Lincoln and the moderates did not insist that the southern states take immediate steps to provide equal rights for the now free African-American slaves. Like the Democrats in Congress, Lincoln and the moderate Republicans believed the southern rebel states should be returned to the union after renewed pledges of allegiance to the union by 10% of the voters of each of the rebellious states. The third faction, the radical Republicans, led by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase, Senator Charles Sumner, and congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens, believed Lincoln did not go far enough in his plan for reconstruction of rebellious southern states. The radicals believed that the southern states should be restored to the Union only after they had provided equal rights to the former slaves."

Lincoln's assassination shifted the balance of power on Reconstruction from the president to the radical Republicans in Congress, who largely ignored his successor, Andrew Johnson. The authors write, "Without Lincoln's strong executive leadership, the moderate Republicans could not prevail in their efforts to bring the southern states back into the Union quickly, with a few conditions other than an affirmation of loyalty to the Union by 10% of the voters of each state. The radical Republicans were determined to reconstruct southern states so that former slaves would enjoy equal rights as citizens - including the right to vote. Not incidentally, radical Republicans realized that granting the vote  to former slaves, most of whom would probably vote for the party that had liberated them, would help to establish a new Republican presence in the southern states that would maintain Republican Party dominance of the federal government."

Without a strong executive, too, Republicans - both moderate and radical - were faced with what the authors call, "an extraordinarily resistant white south." Indeed, without presidential leadership - either by Johnson or his successors - the post-war years saw few changes in many respects.  The authors write, "In spite of Lincoln's hopes for extending the middle-class economy to the South [after the war], the southern economy did not change radically in the decades immediately following the Civil War. The former slaves remained tethered to the land with little opportunity to break away from their subjugated position as sharecroppers. It was only once factory job opportunities opened up in the North during World War One and [World War] Two that substantial black migration from the South occurred. But even then, segregation continued in the North as well as the South until the Supreme Court ruled against segregation in it's landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954 and the civil rights crusade took hold in the 1960s."

The latter half of the 19th century also did not see a growth in America's middle-class, one of Lincoln's great dreams. The authors cite "Social Darwinism" as a major cause in that it led to what is now known as "The Gilded Age".  According to the authors, "Social Darwinism integrated the idea of evolution and laissez-faire economics into a new doctrine that not only forbade government intervention in the economy, but also provided a moral justification for harsh working conditions and growing economic inequality....The supposedly scientific concept of Social Darwinism provided the basis for supporting segregation in the North as well as the South as the new dominant  pattern of separating white Americans from 'unfit' African-Americans."

The Gilded Age itself, the authors write, saw, "Industrial magnates and the business community enthusiastically [take] up the slogans of laissez-faire - an irony, since at the same time big business lobbied the federal government increasingly energetically for what amounted to millions of dollars in preferential treatment. Lincoln's program of government action to 'clear the path' for the poor and disadvantaged was translated into government action to support wealthy Americans. Federal land grants and loans for the railroad magnates in the tens of millions, high tariffs to protect selected industries, and banking and financial regulations that enabled investors to line their pockets at the expense of the unwitting - such were the policies of the federal government in The Gilded Age. Far from maintaining a scrupulous laissez-faire or 'hands off' attitude, the government had its thumb on the scale on behalf of its richest citizens. Railroad magnates received federal lands at minimal cost. State government troops were provided by local and state governments to prevent strikes and reduce labor unrest. Still, despite its contradictions - even its hypocrisy - laissez-faire came to reign as a kind of official ideology of the era."

A key figure, the authors argue, was Andrew Carnegie,  His Gospel of Wealth, they write, "turned Lincoln's dream on its head. In Lincoln's America, the underlying principle of economic life was widely shared 'equality' of opportunity, based on the ideal set forth in the Declaration of Independence. In Carnegie's America, the watchword was inequality and the concentration of wealth and resources in the hands of the few. Whereas in Lincoln's America government was to take an active role in 'clearing the path' for ordinary people to get ahead, in Carnegie's America the government was to step aside and let the 'laws of economics' run their course. Whereas in Lincoln's America the laborer had a right to the fruits of his labor, in Carnegie's America fruits went disproportionally to the business owner and investor as the 'fittest'. Whereas in Lincoln's America the desire was to help all Americans fulfill the dream of the 'self-made man', in Carnegie's America it was the rare exception, the man of unusual talent, that was to be supported. Whereas in Lincoln's America the engine of progress was the laboring of all Americans, in Carnegie's America the true engine of progress was the industrial magnate. Whereas in Lincoln's America government was to be on the side of the laborer, in Carnegie's America government was to be on the side of corporate America. … For decades to come, the struggle over government economic policy would essentially boil down to the question: which was the true vision of America, Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth or Lincoln's dream of a middle-class society?"

The authors then review the presidencies that followed Lincoln's. Not until Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, they argue, would America have a president with Lincoln's outlook. They would resurrect Lincoln's vision and overturn the Gospel of Wealth. The triumvirate of Harding/Coolidge/Hoover, however, then returned the government to the Gospel of Wealth philosophy.

Franklin Roosevelt would then become one of the greatest practitioners of Lincoln's philosophy - taking it to levels Lincoln could have never imagined.  Indeed, the authors write, "Through each of his initiatives, Roosevelt had taken Lincoln's vision of a government 'for the people' a major step forward. Lincoln had fought to preserve Americas middle-class economy before industrialization took hold. That vision had foundered in the post-Civil War industrial boom. But now, the Roosevelt administration was creating a modern version of America's middle-class economy, one in which the federal government would protect and support ordinary Americans in an increasingly complex and risky industrial and postindustrial economy."

That model held - with significant additions from Lyndon Johnson - until Ronald Reagan.  In returning to the Gospel of Wealth philosophy, the authors write, Reagan, "turned his back on Lincoln's belief in government action to help 'clear the path' for the 'prudent, penniless beginner' to rise to the middle-class. In its place, Reagan promoted a new vision, proposing to curb the size and influence of the federal government and to sharply reduce government regulation of businessmen and corporations engaged in the pursuit of 'wealth'. Reagan paid lip service to Lincoln when he said in his first Inaugural Address that, 'Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln'. But Reagan immediately proceeded to dismantle the underpinnings of the middle-class economy and society that were the heart and soul of Lincoln's 'unfinished work'."

But Reagan did more. The authors note, "More than reshaping fiscal policy, Reagan changed the terms of the economic debate. The social contract advocated by Lincoln and revised by Roosevelt - in which government played a constructive role in building a middle-class economy and society - was transformed into the belief that the government had no such responsibility to ordinary Americans."

After a brief shift back toward Lincoln by Bill Clinton was reversed by George W. Bush, Barack Obama has returned to Lincoln. The overall impact of Reagan's shift, however, has - the authors claim - greatly hampered even a Clinton or an Obama in their efforts to return to Lincoln's vision.

The authors conclude, "More than any other president, Lincoln is the father of the dream that all Americans should have the opportunity through hard work to build a comfortable middle-class life. To Lincoln, the economic, moral, and political elements were inextricably intertwined. Together, they represented what is distinctively American about our economy and democracy."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Book Revew: Most Blessed of the Patriarchs - Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination, by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf

Be warned that Most Blessed of the Patriarchs - Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf is not for the faint of heart.  Or for those with a history of fainting while plowing through books that are too intellectual for their own good. And, if you are looking for even a rudimentary biographical sketch of Thomas Jefferson, keep moving people - there's nothing to see here.

Before I go on, full disclosure: I don't like Thomas Jefferson. I find him to be one of the great hypocrites of his millennium and America's answer to Hamlet. Of his many faults, the one that I've always come back to is his hypocrisy on slavery and the fact that, in my opinion, for too long - over 150 years of Jeffersonian scholarship since the end of the Civil War - Jefferson has escaped virtually unharmed from his [and his fellow Founders'] responsibility for the carnage of that war due to his unwillingness [and not just his inability; you have to be willing before you can find out that you're unable to do something] to end slavery at the outset of the Republic.

That's my preface to the review. Certainly Gordon-Reed and Onuf do not condone or even forgive Jefferson for this greatest flaw.  But, in my opinion, they end up doing exactly what they say at the outset that they won't do: become apologists for Jefferson's hypocrisy.

An interesting point the authors make is to imagine if Jefferson - like many other southern leaders who had been moderately antislavery in the 1780s only to become staunch defenders of the institution after it had become further entrenched in the southern economy - had made a similar switch.  As the authors write, though, "Jefferson… never made the pivot to the nascent proslavery ideology that would have rationalized his life in an instant; he would be deemed understandable and consistent had he been a slaveholder who proclaimed that slavery was a moral institution. Instead, he lived a paradox, pushing the resolution of the [slavery] problem off into a future in which the members of his community (whites, that is) became ready for a revolution in public opinion brought on by the persuasion, perseverance, and patience of the enlightened advocates of emancipation and expatriation."

But after declaring at the outset that they would not be apologists for Jefferson, the authors go on to 'explain' why Jefferson didn't do what he didn't do.  The authors write, "Jefferson could tell himself that he understood what had to be done [about slavery] even as the great majority of his fellow statesmen manifestly did not. He could also tell himself that history was on his side. Just as he 'hoped' the people were virtuous enough to resist despotic designs against their liberties - his belief that chaos would not reign if the machinery of government were interrupted - so he hoped that a way would be prepared 'under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the Masters, rather than by their extirpation'. Framed in these binary terms as a stark choice between 'the consent of the Masters' and their 'extirpation', Jefferson was confident that enough people in Virginia would eventually see the light, for the stakes were high and clear."

At least the authors admit that Jefferson's logic was faulty; though, again, they counter that with another apology. They write, "In retrospect Jefferson's faith in the future seems absurdly misplaced. But he did, in fact, see a way forward, even in the dark moments when the death of his wife destroyed his dreams of domestic happiness and when he contemplated the ignominious ruins of his [early] political career." According to the authors, Jefferson had an alternative vision of a white Virginia, "'Peopled by farmers who looked to their own soil and industry', not by planters who exploited slave labor. Focusing on the opposition of virtuous farmers to would-be aristocrats in the gentry who owned the vast majority of Virginia slaves and who were naturally reluctant to forfeit their political power and social preeminence, Jefferson could foresee the progress of an enlightened public opinion that would infuse the regime and it's statesmen with the 'substantial and genuine virtue' of the 'mass of cultivators'. As society progressed, [Jefferson] and his kind would eventually disappear."

While Jefferson did not become an ardent defender of slavery, he did seem to change after his return from his time in Paris.  The authors write that, after returning from France in 1789, "Jefferson appeared to retreat on the subject of slavery. Though he continued to the end of his days to call it an evil, he declined to be an active agent for change. Instead, as an official of the new nation [becoming the first Secretary of State under President George Washington], Jefferson turned his attention elsewhere - to the development of the government of the United States along the lines he favored. He put the project of emancipation (a state matter) off onto later generations of Virginians and others who lived in slave states."

The authors address one of the keys to black-white relations in Virginia in the 18th century.  It's worth noting that in his Notes on Virginia, Jefferson wrote about Native American men and women; and about black women.  Missing, however, was any comments about black men.  Why?  The authors answer, "In part, [the answer lies] in the workings of the patriarchal world that Jefferson inhabited. Patriarchy is not simply about male domination of women. It is males against males, and white men's sense of competition with black men and their fear of them were fundamental to Jefferson's worldview. These deep feelings expressed themselves most often in fantasies of what black men might do if not controlled and in the spreading of canards about their basic nature [sexual endowment, etc.]. This was all very outwardly directed. Not much self-reflection was going on, and certainly no consideration that the problem might lie with white people's attitudes and their way of treating black men. Had Jefferson and other whites been willing to change, their relationship to black men would have changed too. Jefferson's belief that masters and slaves in America existed in a state of war almost inevitably led him to fixate upon black men and their potential as warriors. When he thought of slave rebellions, he thought of black men. Though whole families of enslaved people decamped to the British during the American Revolution, it was black men who bore arms and engaged in violent confrontations with their former masters.... Seeing slavery as a state of war also fueled Jefferson's view of black men as potential sexual threats to his and other white males' ownership of white women's bodies. He was certainly not alone in this. White males' sexual anxiety also played an integral role in their competition with and fears about black men, though this was not something Jefferson could ever admit to in writing.... Jefferson and his cohort evinced much more concern about black men having sex with white women than about white men having sex with black women. Virginia had codified this anxiety - written long-standing legal rules that punished black male-white female sex severely, while largely ignoring sex between white men and black women. In the rare cases in which a white man got into trouble for having sex with a black woman, it was a man from the lower classes."

So, what of Sally Hemings and the children Jefferson fathered with her?  There is no doubt, now, that Jefferson did have a long-standing relationship with Hemings - not just simply sexual episodes. How was he able to justify this? How was he able to 'blend' his children with Hemings and his two white children into a 'family'?" Granted, such blended families were not at all unusual in Virginia at the time. Still, the authors write, "Southerners who visited Monticello would have found the interracial mixing there familiar, for it was one of the features of slavery. But even they were surprised by Jefferson's failure to be more circumspect. He could have moved Hemings and their children off Monticello, putting them out of sight of his legal family and visitors. It is doubtful he ever thought to do so. He [had] built his house on the mountain to suit himself."

And from that mountain, as regards slavery, he did nothing. His hypocrisy would have bloody consequences 35 years after his death.

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 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 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."