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Swords in Their Hands: George Washington and…

Swords in Their Hands: George Washington and the Newburgh Conspiracy

by Dave Richards

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The triumph of the American Revolution almost ended in a disaster of financial insolvency, military revolt and the death of a new nation just aborning. “Sword in Their Hands” chronicles the roads to that lead to that crisis, the characters who spawned the Newburgh Conspiracy and the Father who saved his country once again.

Author Dave Richards has done an excellent job of explaining the background to the events and the people involved. The main problem stemmed from the weakness of a Continental Congress that assumed the obligation to prosecute a war without the ability to impose taxes and states unwilling to pay their assessment to the national government. Army officers fought for years without pay or supplies while Congress and the states looked to each other to provide the means to continue. With victory won they faced abonnement: uncompensated, impoverished, victims of the country whose independence they had just won. With the Army headquartered at Newburgh, New York leaders called a meeting to prepare an ultimatum to Congress calling for payment of a pension or a lump sum to save its officer corps from poverty and disgrace. Just in its moment of victory the Army threatened to march on Congress, stage a military coup and scuttle the American experiment with democracy. As he had in the past and would in the future, George Washington rose to the occasion. A surprising and unwelcome visitor, he implored his men to do nothing that would tarnish their place in the hearts of their countrymen. Seeing they remained unconvinced, he produced a letter. Unlike his earlier notes, this one was in small print. He reached into his pocket and removed the glasses that they had never seen. His acknowledgement of infirmity: “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind in the service of my county” reconnected them with the chief they had followed, reminded them of all they had fought for and saved civilian control of the military. Thereafter Washington would be an advocate for those who had heeded his call one last time.

I have seen reviews that claim that this book is too long. Perhaps so for those seeking History Lite, but not for me. This book is an extremely well research study of a little known but crucial moment in the early life of our country. The text is only 293 pages but a lot is packed into them. By the time I finished it I felt I had a much greater familiarity with military leaders who had previously been little more than names, a better perspective on the course of the war and an enhanced understanding of political environment in which nation and states were feeling their way into the future. I had recently read “Moses Robinson and the Founding of Vermont” by Robert A. Mello. The times of the two works overlap, a time when Vermont asserted its independence while fending off claims from neighboring states and indecision from Congress. As I read about Vermont’s tale I wondered about the relative status of state and the national government. “Swords in Their Hands” touched on the same topics and struggles. At the end of this book I felt that I had a much better appreciation for the process that accompanied our nation’s early, uncertain growth. For that “Swords in Their Hands” is worth every page and every word.

I did receive a free copy of this book for reading and review. ( )
  JmGallen | Jul 18, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0985387580, Paperback)

Fearful that they will never see the back pay they are owed and the postwar pensions they have been promised, George Washington's officers gather on March 15, 1783, in the Temple of Virtue in the Hudson Highlands. They are "ready to revolt." They have read an incendiary address written by a fellow officer that has made them recall the great neglect and suffering they have endured and that proposes they send only one more petition to Congress, one containing an ultimatum: Pay the Continental Army what it is owed and provide the officers with pensions or else face the alternative of seeing them refuse to disband if peace arrives or of watching them turn their backs on America and leaving it defenseless against the British if the Revolutionary War continues.

Congress, though, cannot pay the Continental Army or provide the officers with pensions; it is broke and does not have the authority to tax the American people directly to obtain the funds needed to do those things. If it wants to do those things, it has to go to the states to get funding. However, when it does request funds from the states it almost always is ignored.

That is something a faction of nationalists in Philadelphia who insist that the states must grant real taxation authority to Congress cannot tolerate. So they have set in motion a desperate plot to hang the angry army over the heads of state legislators and delegates in Philadelphia who support the idea of state sovereignty to terrify them into giving them what they want.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 18 Jul 2015 01:01:13 -0400)

"Swords In Their Hands tells the detailed story of the new United States of America on the brink of a military coup during the American Revolution."--Page 4 of cover.

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