Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Washington's Address at Newburgh

Gen. Washington

Despite the American victory at Yorktown in October 1781, it wasn't until 3 September 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris (and its subsequent ratification in 1784 ) that America's War for Independence came to an end. Although Yorktown effectively brought an end to the major fighting, it was necessary to keep troops in the field to provide a counter to the British forces still garrisoned in America.

In 1783, the American Army, under the command of Gen. George Washington, was headquartered in Newburgh, New York. The Continental Army was growing increasingly unhappy with its lot and with Congress. The soldiers were owed months and sometimes years of back pay and many felt that Congress would not follow through with the promises that had been made to them. (The thirteen former colonies were now operating under the Articles of Confederation which gave the new government power over the Army, but did not give it the means to raise money to pay its soldiers).

On March 11, 1783 Gen. Washington, having learned that his officer Corps was planning on holding a meeting to discuss their situation, sent out an order condemning such an action. Washington was concerned about the seditious talk traveling through his army about marching on Congress or even disbanding the army. As a compromise measure, he asked that the meeting be postponed and said that he would send a representative to the meeting.

The meeting was postponed and rescheduled for Saturday March 15. The officers were then taken by surprise when General Washington himself went to the meeting. Washington made an appeal to his men with the following speech. At the conclusion of his speech he then began to read a message from Congress. Initially unable to read the text he paused and said the following:

"Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country".

Having served with Gen. Washington for so many years the gathered officers were quite moved by their General's sign of weakness and age and the Newburgh Conspiracy, as it has been referred to, advanced no further.

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