The Newburgh Conspiracy was what appeared to be a planned military coup by the Continental Army in March 1783, when the American Revolutionary War was at its end. The conspiracy may have been instigated by members in the Congress of the Confederation, who circulated an anonymous letter in the army camp at Newburgh, New York, on March 10, 1783. Soldiers were unhappy that they had not been paid for some time and that pensions that had been promised remained unfunded. The letter suggested that they should take unspecified action against Congress to resolve the issue. The letter was said to have been written by Major John Armstrong, aide to General Horatio Gates, although the authorship of its text and underlying ideas is a subject of historical debate.
The Continental Army was formed by the Second Continental Congress after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the ex-British colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in their revolt against the rule of Great Britain. The Continental Army was supplemented by local militias and volunteer troops that remained under control of the individual states or were otherwise independent. General George Washington was the commander-in-chief of the army throughout the war.
The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was an 18th-century war between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies which declared independence as the United States of America.
The Congress of the Confederation, or the Confederation Congress, formally referred to as the United States in Congress Assembled, was the governing body of the United States of America that existed from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789. A unicameral body with legislative and executive function, it was composed of delegates appointed by the legislatures of the several states. Each state delegation had one vote. It was preceded by the Second Continental Congress (1775–1781) and was created by the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union in 1781. The Congress continued to refer itself as the Continental Congress throughout its eight-year history, although modern historians separate it from the two earlier congresses, which operated under slightly different rules and procedures until the later part of American Revolutionary War. The membership of the Second Continental Congress automatically carried over to the Congress of the Confederation when the latter was created by the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. It had the same secretary as the Second Continental Congress, namely Charles Thomson. The Congress of the Confederation was succeeded by the Congress of the United States as provided for in the new Constitution of the United States, proposed September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia and ratified by the states through 1787 to 1788 and even into 1789 and 1790.
Commander-in-Chief George Washington stopped any serious talk of rebellion when he successfully appealed on March 15 in an emotional address to his officers asking them to support the supremacy of Congress. Not long afterward, Congress approved a compromise agreement it had previously rejected: it funded some of the pay arrears, and granted soldiers five years of full pay instead of a lifetime pension of half pay.
George Washington was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and Founding Father who served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. He led Patriot forces to victory in the nation's War for Independence. He presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which established the U.S. Constitution and a federal government. Washington has been called the "Father of His Country" for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation.
The motivations of numerous actors in these events are the subject of debate. Some historians allege that serious consideration was given within the army to some sort of coup d'état , while others dispute the notion. The exact motivations of congressmen involved in communications with army officers implicated in the events are similarly debated.
A coup d'état, also known as a putsch (German:), a golpe de estado (Spanish/Portuguese), or simply as a coup, means the overthrow of an existing government; typically, this refers to an illegal, unconstitutional seizure of power by a dictator, the military, or a political faction.
After the British loss at the Siege of Yorktown in October 1781, the American Revolutionary War died down in North America, and peace talks began between British and American diplomats. The American Continental Army, based at Newburgh, New York, monitored British-occupied New York City. With the end of the war and dissolution of the Continental Army approaching, soldiers who had long been unpaid feared that the Confederation Congress would not meet previous promises concerning back pay and pensions.
The siege of Yorktown, also known as the Battle of Yorktown, the surrender at Yorktown, German Battle or the siege of Little York, ending on October 19, 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia, was a decisive victory by a combined force of American Continental Army troops led by General George Washington and French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau over a British army commanded by British peer and Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis. The culmination of the Yorktown campaign, the siege proved to be the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War in the North American theater, as the surrender by Cornwallis, and the capture of both him and his army, prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict. The battle boosted faltering American morale and revived French enthusiasm for the war, as well as undermining popular support for the conflict in Great Britain.
The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 1 January 1801. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". Since its inception the kingdom was in legislative and personal union with Ireland and after the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.
Newburgh is a city in Orange County, New York, United States, 60 miles (97 km) north of New York City, and 90 miles (140 km) south of Albany, on the Hudson River. Newburgh is a part of the Poughkeepsie–Newburgh–Middletown Metropolitan Statistical Area, which belongs to the larger New York–Newark–Bridgeport, NY-NJ-CT-PA Combined Statistical Area.
Congress had in 1780 promised Continental officers a lifetime pension of half their pay when they were discharged.Financier Robert Morris had in early 1782 stopped army pay as a cost-saving measure, arguing that when the war finally ended the arrears would be made up. Throughout 1782 these issues were a regular topic of debate in Congress and in the army camp at Newburgh, and numerous memos and petitions by individual soldiers had failed to significantly affect Congressional debate on the subject.
Robert Morris, Jr. was an English-born merchant and a Founding Father of the United States. He served as a member of the Pennsylvania legislature, the Second Continental Congress, and the United States Senate, and he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. From 1781 to 1784, he served as the Superintendent of Finance of the United States, becoming known as the "Financier of the Revolution". Along with Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, he is widely regarded as one of the founders of the financial system of the United States.
A number of officers organized under the leadership of General Henry Knox and drafted a memorandum to Congress. Signed by enough general officers that it could not be readily dismissed as the work of a few malcontents,the memo was delivered to Congress by a delegation consisting of General Alexander McDougall and Colonels John Brooks and Matthias Ogden in late December 1782. It expressed unhappiness over pay that was months in arrears, and concern over the possibility that the half pay pension would not be forthcoming. In the memo they offered to accept a lump sum payment instead of the lifetime half pay pension. It also contained the vague threat that "any further experiments on their [the army's] patience may have fatal effects." The seriousness of the situation was also communicated to Congress by Secretary at War Benjamin Lincoln.
Henry Knox was a military officer of the Continental Army and later the United States Army, who also served as the first United States Secretary of War from 1789 to 1794.
Alexander McDougall was an American seaman, merchant, a Sons of Liberty leader from New York City before and during the American Revolution, and a military leader during the Revolutionary War. He served as a major general in the Continental Army, and as a delegate to the Continental Congress. After the war, he was the president of the first bank in the state of New York and served a term in the New York State Senate.
John Brooks was a doctor, military officer, and politician from Massachusetts. He served as the 11th Governor of Massachusetts from 1816 to 1823, and was one of the last Federalist officials elected in the United States.
Congress was politically divided on the subject of finance. The treasury was empty, and Congress lacked the power to compel the states to provide the necessary funds for meeting its obligations.An attempt to amend the Articles of Confederation to allow Congress to impose an import tariff known as an "impost" was decisively defeated by the states in November 1782, and some states had enacted legislation forbidding their representatives from supporting any sort of lifetime pension. Members of the "nationalist" faction in Congress who had supported the tax proposal (including Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton) believed that the army funding issues could be used as a lever to gain for Congress the ability to raise its own revenue.
The army delegation first met with Robert Morris and other nationalists. The politicians convinced McDougall that it was imperative for the army to remain cooperative while they sought funding. The hope they expressed was to tie the army's demands to those of the government's other creditors to force opposing Congressmen to act.
On January 6 Congress established a committee to address the army's memo. It first met with Robert Morris, who stated that there were no funds to meet the army's demands, and that loans for government operations would require evidence of a revenue stream.When it met with McDougall on January 13, the general painted a stark picture of the discontent at Newburgh; Colonel Brooks opined that "a disappointment might throw [the army] into blind extremities." When Congress met on January 22 to debate the committee's report, Robert Morris shocked the body by tendering his resignation, heightening tension. The Congressional leadership immediately moved to keep Morris's resignation secret.
Debate on a funding scheme turned in part on the issue of the pension. Twice the nationalists urged the body to adopt a commuted pension scheme (one that would end after a fixed time, rather than lifetime), but it was rejected both times. After the second rejection on February 4, a plot to further raise tensions began to take shape. Four days later, Colonel Brooks was dispatched back to Newburgh with instructions to gain the army leadership's agreement with the proposed nationalist plan. The army leadership was also urged by Gouverneur Morris to use its influence with state legislatures to secure their approval for needed changes. On February 12, McDougall sent a letter (signed with the pseudonym Brutus ) to General Knox suggesting that the army might have to mutiny by refusing to disband until it was paid. He specifically told Knox to not make any direct steps, but that he should "not lose a moment preparing for events."Historian Richard Kohn is of the opinion that the purpose of these communications was not to foment a coup or military action against Congress or the states, but to use the specter of a recalcitrant army's refusal to disband as a political weapon against the antinationalists. The nationalists were also aware of a significant cadre of lower-level officers who were unhappy with General Washington's leadership and had gravitated to the camp of Major General Horatio Gates, a longtime Washington rival. These officers, Kohn believes, could be used by the nationalists to stage something that resembled a coup if necessary.
The arrival on February 13 of rumors that a preliminary peace agreement had been reached in Paris heightened the sense of urgency among the nationalists.Alexander Hamilton wrote a letter to General Washington the same day, essentially warning him of the possibility of impending unrest among the ranks, and urging him to "take the direction" of the army's anger. Washington responded that he sympathized both with the plight of his officers and men and with those in Congress, but that he would not use the army to threaten the civil government. Washington believed such a course of action would violate the principles of republicanism for which they had all been fighting. It was unclear to the Congressional nationalists whether Knox, who had been a regular supporter of army protests to Congress, would play a role in any sort of staged action. In letters written February 21, Knox unambiguously indicated he would play no such part, expressing the hope that the army's force would only be used against "the Enemies of the liberties in America."
On February 25 and 26 there was a flurry of activity in Philadelphia, which may have been occasioned by the arrival of Knox's letters. The nationalists had had little success in advancing their program through Congress, and continued to use rhetoric repeating concerns over the army's stability.On March 8 Pennsylvania Colonel Walter Stewart arrived at Newburgh. Stewart was known to Robert Morris; the two had previous dealings when Stewart proposed coordinating activities of private creditors of the government, and he was aware of the poor state of affairs in Philadelphia. His movement to Newburgh had been ordered by Washington (he was returning to duty after recovering from an illness) and would not necessarily draw notice. Although his movements at camp are not known in detail, it appears likely that he met with General Gates not long after his arrival. Within hours rumors began flying around the Newburgh camp that the army would refuse to disband until its demands were met.
On the morning of March 10 an unsigned letter began circulating in the army camp. Later acknowledged to be written by Major John Armstrong, Jr., aide to General Gates, the letter decried the army's condition and the lack of Congressional support, and called upon the army to send Congress an ultimatum. Published at the same time was an anonymous call for a meeting of all field officers for 11 a.m. the next day.
Washington reacted with dispatch. On the morning of the 11th in his general orders he objected to the "disorderly" and "irregular" nature of the anonymously called meeting, and announced that there would be a meeting of officers on the 15th instead. This meeting, he said, would be presided over by the senior officer present, and Washington requested a report of the meeting, implying that he would not attend. On the morning of the 12th a second unsigned letter appeared, claiming Washington's agreement to a meeting as an endorsement of the conspirators' position.Washington, who had initially thought the first letter to be the work of individuals outside the camp (specifically citing Gouverneur Morris as a likely candidate), was compelled to admit this unlikely given the speed at which the second letter appeared.
The March 15 meeting was held in the "New Building" or "Temple", a 40 by 70-foot (12 by 21 m) building at the camp. After Gates opened the meeting, Washington entered the building to everyone's surprise. He asked to speak to the officers, and the stunned Gates relinquished the floor. Washington could tell by the faces of his officers, who had not been paid for quite some time, that they were quite angry and did not show the respect or deference as they had toward Washington in the past.
Washington then gave a short but impassioned speech, now known as the Newburgh Address , counseling patience. His message was that they should oppose anyone "who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood."He then produced a letter from a member of Congress to read to the officers. He gazed upon it and fumbled with it without speaking. He then took a pair of reading glasses from his pocket, which were new; few of the men had seen him wear them. He then said:
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 caused the men to realize that Washington had sacrificed a great deal for the Revolution, just as much as any of them. These, of course, were his fellow officers, most having worked closely with him for several years. Many of those present were moved to tears,and with this act, the conspiracy collapsed as he read the letter. He then left the room, and General Knox and others offered resolutions reaffirming their loyalty. Knox and Colonel Brooks were then appointed to a committee to draft a suitable resolution. Approved by virtually the entire assembly, the resolution expressed "unshaken confidence" in Congress, and "disdain" and "abhorrence" for the irregular proposals published earlier in the week. Historian Richard Kohn believes the entire meeting was carefully stage-managed by Washington, Knox, and their supporters. The only voice raised in opposition was that of Colonel Timothy Pickering, who criticized members of the assembly for hypocritically condemning the anonymous addresses that only days before they had been praising.
General Washington had sent copies of the anonymous addresses to Congress. This "alarming intelligence" (as James Madison termed it) arrived while Congress was debating the pension issues.Nationalist leaders orchestrated the creation of a committee to respond to the news, which was deliberately populated with members opposed to any sort of pension payment. The pressure worked on Connecticut representative Eliphalet Dyer, one of the committee members, and he proposed approval of a lump sum payment on March 20. The final agreement was for a five years' full pay instead of the lifetime half pay pension scheme originally promised. They received government bonds which at the time were highly speculative, but were in fact redeemed 100 cents on the dollar (i.e., at full value) by the new government in 1790.
The soldiers continued to grumble, with the unrest spreading to the noncommissioned officers (sergeants and corporals). Riots occurred and mutiny threatened. Washington rejected suggestions that the army stay in operation until the states found the money for the pay. On April 19, 1783, his General Orders of the day announced the end of hostilities against Great Britain. Congress thereafter ordered him to disband the army, since everyone agreed that a large army of 10,000 men was no longer needed, and the men were eager to go home. Congress gave each soldier three months pay, but since they had no funds Robert Morris issued $800,000 in personal notes to the soldiers. Many soldiers sold these notes to speculators, some even before they left camp, in order to be able to make their way home.Over the next several months, much of the Continental Army was furloughed, although many of the rank and file realized it was effectively a disbandment. The army was formally disbanded in November 1783, leaving only a small force at West Point and several scattered frontier outposts.
Discontent related to pay had resurfaced in Philadelphia in June 1783. Due in part to a critical miscommunication, troops in eastern Pennsylvania were led to believe that they would be discharged even before Morris' promissory notes would be distributed, and they marched to the city in protest. Pennsylvania President John Dickinson refused to call out the militia (reasoning they might actually support the mutineers), and Congress decided to relocate to Princeton, New Jersey. There is circumstantial evidence that several participants in the Newburgh affair (notably Walter Stewart, John Armstrong, and Gouverneur Morris) may have played a role in this uprising as well.
The main long-term result of the Newburgh affair was a strong reaffirmation of the principle of civilian control of the military, and banishing any possibility of a coup as outside the realm of republican values. It also validated Washington's stature as a leading proponent of civilian control.
Historian Richard Kohn writes that a number of key details about the individuals and their motivations are not known, and probably never will be. For example, it is unclear exactly how much Colonels Brooks and Stewart, the principal messengers in the affair, knew.The intent of the Gates group has been the subject of some debate: Kohn argues that they were intent on organizing some form of direct action (although he disclaims the idea that this would necessarily take the form of a traditional coup d'état ), while historian Paul David Nelson claims Kohn's thesis is circumstantial and poorly supported by primary materials. A letter written by General Gates in June 1783 illustrates the disagreement: in the letter Gates writes that the purpose of the events was to pressure Congress. Kohn argues that Gates is writing after the fact to cover his tracks, while Nelson claims Gates is giving a candid account of the affair. Historian C. Edward Skeen writes that Kohn's case is weak because it relies heavily on interpretation of written statements and is not well supported by the actions of the alleged conspirators. He notes, for example, that there is ample evidence suggesting mutinous sentiments were not obviously circulating in the Newburgh camp between the arrivals of Brooks and Stewart; Kohn counters that the relative quiet in camp masked significant undercurrents of unhappiness.
David Cobb, who served on Washington's staff during the affair, wrote in 1825, "I have ever considered that the United States are indebted for their republican form of government solely to the firm and determined republicanism of George Washington at this time."Skeen notes that the event has served to significantly burnish Washington's reputation.
1783 (MDCCLXXXIII) was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar, the 1783rd year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 783rd year of the 2nd millennium, the 83rd year of the 18th century, and the 4th year of the 1780s decade. As of the start of 1783, the Gregorian calendar was 11 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.
Alexander Hamilton was an American statesman, politician, legal scholar, military commander, lawyer, banker and economist. He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was an influential interpreter and promoter of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the founder of the nation's financial system, the Federalist Party, the United States Coast Guard, and the New York Post newspaper. As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton was the main author of the economic policies of George Washington's administration. He took the lead in the Federal government's funding of the states' debts, as well as establishing a national bank, a system of tariffs, and friendly trade relations with Britain. His vision included a strong central government led by a vigorous executive branch, a strong commercial economy, a national bank and support for manufacturing, and a strong military. Thomas Jefferson was his leading opponent, arguing for agrarianism and smaller government.
Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben, also referred to as Baron von Steuben, was a Prussian and later an American military officer. He served as Inspector General and a Major General of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He is credited with being one of the fathers of the Continental Army in teaching them the essentials of military drills, tactics, and disciplines. He wrote Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, the book that served as the standard United States drill manual until the War of 1812. He served as General George Washington's chief of staff in the final years of the war.
Horatio Lloyd Gates was a retired British soldier who served as an American general during the Revolutionary War. He took credit for the American victory in the Battles of Saratoga (1777) – a matter of contemporary and historical controversy – and was blamed for the defeat at the Battle of Camden in 1780. Gates has been described as "one of the Revolution's most controversial military figures" because of his role in the Conway Cabal, which attempted to discredit and replace General George Washington; the battle at Saratoga; and his actions during and after his defeat at Camden.
The Conway Cabal was a group of senior Continental Army officers in late 1777 and early 1778 who aimed to have George Washington replaced as commander-in-chief of the Army during the American Revolutionary War. It was named after Brigadier General Thomas Conway, whose letters criticizing Washington were forwarded to the Second Continental Congress. When these suggestions were made public, supporters of Washington mobilized to assist him politically. Conway ended up resigning from the army, and General Horatio Gates, a leading candidate to replace Washington, issued an apology for his role in events.
John Armstrong Jr. was an American soldier and statesman who was a delegate to the Continental Congress, U.S. Senator from New York, and Secretary of War.
Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site, also called Hasbrouck House, is located in Newburgh, New York overlooking the Hudson River. George Washington lived there while he was in command of the Continental Army during the final year of the American Revolutionary War; it had the longest tenure as his headquarters of any place he had used.
Lewis Nicola was an Irish-born American military officer, merchant, and writer who held various military and civilian positions throughout his career. Nicola is most notable for authoring the Newburgh letter, which urged George Washington to assume a royal title. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Nicola had been an officer in the British Army, serving in Europe before immigrating to the Thirteen Colonies. Establishing a residence in Philadelphia with his family, Nicola opened a library in 1767 and was active in colonial philosophical organizations. As a result of his work to establish the American Philosophical Society, he was elected as one of its curators. When the American Revolution broke out, Nicola offered his services to the colonial government, which eventually appointed him to various positions with local forces.
On May 22, 1782, the Newburgh letter was sent to George Washington who was camped at Newburgh, New York; written for the army officers by Colonel Lewis Nicola, it proposed that Washington should become the King of the United States. Washington reacted very strongly against the suggestion, and was greatly troubled by it.
The New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site, also known as New Windsor Cantonment, is located along NY 300, north one mile of Vails Gate, in the Town of New Windsor, Orange County, New York. The site features a reconstruction of the Continental Army's final military encampment.
William Jackson was a figure in the American Revolution, most noteworthy as the secretary to the United States Constitutional Convention. He also served with distinction in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. After the war he served as one of President George Washington's personal secretaries.
George Washington commanded the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). After serving as President of the United States, he briefly was in charge of a new army in 1798.
The military career of George Washington spanned over forty years of service. Washington's service can be broken into three periods, French and Indian War, American Revolutionary War, and the Quasi-War with France, with service in three different armed forces.
The Confederation Period was the era of United States history in the 1780s after the American Revolution and prior to the ratification of the United States Constitution. In 1781, the United States ratified the Articles of Confederation and prevailed in the Battle of Yorktown, the last major land battle between British and American forces in the American Revolutionary War. American independence was confirmed with the 1783 signing of the Treaty of Paris. The fledgling United States faced several challenges, many of which stemmed from the lack of a strong national government and unified political culture. The period ended in 1789 following the ratification of the United States Constitution, which established a new, more powerful, national government.
Events from the year 1783 in the United States.
Walter Stewart was an Irish-born American general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
George Washington's resignation as commander-in-chief marked the end of Washington's military service in the American Revolutionary War and his return to civilian life at Mount Vernon. His voluntary action has been described as "one of the nation's great acts of statesmanship" and helped establish the precedent of civilian control of the military. After the Treaty of Paris ending the war had been signed on September 3, 1783, and after the last British troops left New York City on November 25, Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army to the Congress of the Confederation, then meeting in the Maryland State House at Annapolis, Maryland, on December 23 of the same year. This followed his farewell to the Continental Army, November 2 at Rockingham near Princeton, New Jersey, and his farewell to his officers, December 4 at Fraunces Tavern in New York City. Washington's resignation was depicted by John Trumbull in 1824 with the life-size painting, General George Washington Resigning His Commission, now on view in the United States Capitol rotunda.
George Washington's political evolution comprised the transformation of a young man from a moderately wealthy family in the British colony of Virginia who was motivated largely by self-interest into the first president of the United States and the father of his country. Washington was ambitious for the status and influence with which he had been surrounded in a youth spent around his half-brother Lawrence and the influential Fairfax family Lawrence married into. After working as a surveyor, a position he was able to gain with the patronage of the Fairfaxes, Washington sought to emulate his brother's military career with a commission in the Virginia militia, despite his lack of military experience. With the patronage of more influential people, he was appointed major in 1752. The next year, he was appointed special envoy charged with delivering to the French a demand to vacate territory claimed by the British. His successful completion of this task gained him his first measure of renown. Washington was promoted in 1754 and made second-in-command of the Virginia Regiment. He enhanced his reputation with his first military victory in the Battle of Jumonville Glen, a skirmish that ignited the French and Indian War. He was promoted again in 1755 and given command of the regiment, serving until his resignation in 1758. During his military service, Washington grew disillusioned with the British because of his treatment as a second-class citizen and the defensive strategy they adopted during the war. He gained no further opportunity for military honor and failed to achieve his ambition of a royal commission in the British Army.
There was something so natural, so unaffected, in this appeal, as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory; it forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye.