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A Crisis of Peace: George Washington, the Newburgh Conspiracy, and the…

by David Head

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On March 15, 1783, General George Washington addressed a group of angry officers in an effort to rescue the American Revolution from mutiny at the highest level. After the British surrender at Yorktown, the American Revolution still blazed on, and as peace was negotiated in Europe, grave problems surfaced at home. The government was broke, paying its debts with loans from France. Political rivalry among the states paralyzed Congress. The army's officers, encamped near Newburgh, New York, and restless without an enemy to fight, brooded over a civilian population seemingly indifferent to their sacrifices. The result was the Newburgh Affair, a mysterious event in which Continental Army officers, disgruntled by a lack of pay and pensions, may have collaborated with nationalist-minded politicians such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Robert Morris to pressure Congress and the states to approve new taxes and strengthen the central government. Fearing what his men might do with their passions inflamed, Washington averted the crisis, but with the nation's problems persisting, the officers ultimately left the army disappointed, their low opinion of their civilian countrymen confirmed. A Crisis of Peace provides a fresh look at the end of the American Revolution while speaking to issues that concern us still: the fragility of civil-military relations, how even victorious wars end ambiguously, and what veterans and civilians owe each other.… (more)
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On March 15, 1783, General George Washington addressed a group of angry officers in an effort to rescue the American Revolution from mutiny at the highest level. After the British surrender at Yorktown, the American Revolution still blazed on, and as peace was negotiated in Europe, grave problems surfaced at home. The government was broke, paying its debts with loans from France. Political rivalry among the states paralyzed Congress. The army's officers, encamped near Newburgh, New York, and restless without an enemy to fight, brooded over a civilian population seemingly indifferent to their sacrifices. The result was the Newburgh Affair, a mysterious event in which Continental Army officers, disgruntled by a lack of pay and pensions, may have collaborated with nationalist-minded politicians such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Robert Morris to pressure Congress and the states to approve new taxes and strengthen the central government. Fearing what his men might do with their passions inflamed, Washington averted the crisis, but with the nation's problems persisting, the officers ultimately left the army disappointed, their low opinion of their civilian countrymen confirmed. A Crisis of Peace provides a fresh look at the end of the American Revolution while speaking to issues that concern us still: the fragility of civil-military relations, how even victorious wars end ambiguously, and what veterans and civilians owe each other.

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