The principal concern of the Continental Army and its officers in late 1782 and early 1783, however, was not military badges, but back pay owed to them and pensions promised to them by Congress. Washington began receiving letters from confidential correspondents warning of “dangerous combinations” within the army who planned to march on Congress if their demands were not met. Some Congressional delegates, worried about a potential military coup d’ etat, suggested to Washington that he use his stature to threaten Congress in order to help the officers. Still others within the army urged Washington to assume dictatorial or monarchical powers to force Congress to fulfill their obligations to the troops. With the emergence of the Newburgh Conspiracy, Washington biographer James Thomas Flexner noted, “[t]he American Revolution…reached its moment of major political crisis.”
On March 10, 1783, the officers of the Continental Army in New Windsor posted the so-called Newburgh Address which raised the specter, in biographer Bruce Chadwick’s words, “of a permanent, leaderless, and quite angry military,” refusing to disband at war’s end and potentially ready to march on Philadelphia. Washington sensed the urgency of the threat and requested a gathering of the officers at the Temple Hill meeting hall where they could discuss their grievances. Washington implied that he would not attend the meeting.
The officers assembled on benches in the hall on March 15, 1783. Flexner calls this “probably the most important single gathering ever held in the United States.” Washington arrived unexpectedly, walked across a small stage, and pulled from his coat a speech he had prepared at his headquarters. He commended their bravery, appealed to their patriotism, promised to persuade Congress to meet their just demands, and pleaded with them to refrain from opening “the flood gates of civil discord” and deluging “our rising empire in blood.” Do not take any action, he said, that “will lessen the dignity and sully the glory you have hitherto maintained.” His words, however, appeared to fall on deaf ears.
Then, in a dramatic moment, he reached in his coat for a reassuring letter from a congressman that he intended to read. He then took from his pocket his eyeglasses which only a few of his closest aides had ever seen him wear. The officers sat silently as Washington fumbled to place the eyeglasses on his face while holding the letter. Washington then remarked, “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 country.”
“This homely act and simple statement,” wrote Flexner, “did what all Washington’s arguments had failed to do.” Washington’s words, writes Bruce Chadwick, “touched the hearts of every man in the hall.” One officer who sat in the Temple Hall that day later wrote in his journal that, “There was something so natural, so unaffected, in his appeal that it rendered it superior to the most studied oratory; it forced its way to the heart.” The Newburgh Conspiracy ended at that moment. Thomas Jefferson later wrote “the moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.”
When British King George III was told that after winning independence Washington planned to retire to Mount Vernon instead of seizing power as a dictator, he remarked, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
To qualify, each commander had to come from the 17th century onwards – the period covered by the museum's collection – and had to have led an army in the field against the British, thus excluding political enemies, like Adolf Hitler.
Michael Collins invented the modern model of terrorism. "The Big Fella" was a gangster, pure and simple. Everyone else on the list wore a uniform and adhered to something resembling rules of war. Collins was just a bomb-thrower.
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty: six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and its exaltation among the nations.
Shortly after the peace was signed, the story began, the Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen "had occasion to visit England" where he was subjected to considerable teasing banter. The British would make"fun of the Americans and General Washington in particular and one day they got a picture of General Washington" and displayed it prominently in the outhouse so Mr. Allen could not miss it. When he made no mention of it, they finally asked him if he had seen the Washington picture. Mr. Allen said, "he thought that it was a very appropriate [place] for an Englishman to Keep it. Why they asked, for said Mr. Allen there is Nothing that Will Make an Englishman Shit So quick as the sight of Genl Washington."
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