How George Washington would fix partisan politics in America todayRoundup
Eli Merritt is a visiting scholar in the Department of History at Vanderbilt University.
In times of trouble, there is no greater teacher than history. In reminding ourselves of the courage, high ethics, and emotional intelligence of seminal leaders from our past, we equip ourselves to transcend our tribal natures in order to preserve our cherished democratic and constitutional institutions.
In the spring of 1783, George Washington faced a military-constitutional crisis of epic proportions. A year and a half earlier the Battle of Yorktown had brought American victory in the war, but a definitive peace treaty had yet to be signed.
Distrustful of the Parliament in London, Washington refused to lay down arms and disband the some 7,500 soldiers and officers then stationed in Newburgh, New York, until official word arrived from American peace commissioners in Paris that independence had been formally won.
Most ominous for the the fifty-one-year-old Washington that year, the bankrupt Confederation Congress in Philadelphia had no money to pay army officers wages presently due or the lifetime half-pay pension they had been promised for their service in the Revolution.
For years the officers had been begging and pleading the civilian government for funds to keep them out of poverty, but a woefully polarized Congress balked and temporized instead.
In Newburgh the prospect of disbanding without pay or pension horrified General Horatio Gates, second in command of the army, and his irascible, hot-headed aide Major John Armstrong.
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