Benedict Arnold: America’s First Traitor
By Tom Morrow
Most Americans have heard the name “Benedict Arnold.” That moniker is usually uttered in an insulting manner. The real historical character was a businessman-turned Continental Army officer serving under George Washington during America’s Revolutionary War.
The problem was just prior to the climax of the War, Arnold jumped ship to join the British army.
Arnold originally fought with distinction and valor for Washington, but when he thought he was being unfairly treated as a hero of the Revolution, Arnold defected to the British army – primarily because of money.
Connecticut-born on Jan. 14, 1741, when Arnold joined the Continental Army in 1775, he had become a rather wealthy merchant operating ships of trade on the Atlantic Ocean. In the Continental Army, he was commissioned a captain and rose through the ranks as he distinguished himself through acts of intelligence and valor. Arnold’s heroic actions included his leadership and bravery in the battles at Montreal and Quebec. He also was instrumental in bringing about the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. As a result, Arnold was promoted to major general and participated in operations and action in 1777, during the pivotal Battle of Saratoga.
Despite Arnold’s successes, he was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress while other officers claimed credit for some of his accomplishments. Adversaries in military and political circles brought a number of charges of corruption or other malfeasance, but he was acquitted on each occasion in formal inquiries. Finally, after Arnold pressed the issue of the government’s debt to him of more than $30,000, Congress investigated his accounts and found the fledging United States did owe Arnold a lot of money because he spent much of his own treasure to date on the War effort. But Congress had no money and agreed to put off payment until after the War.
Frustrated and bitter at this, as well as the Congresses’ alliance with France and failure to accept Britain’s 1778 proposal to grant full self-governance in the Colonies, Arnold decided to change sides and opened secret negotiations with the British.
In July 1780, as a Continental general, Arnold pursued and was offered command of West Point (then an important Continental Army fortress guarding the Hudson River). Once in command, Arnold’s ultimate plan was to surrender the fort to the British, but the scheme was exposed when American forces captured British Major John André, who was carrying papers that revealed the plot.
Upon learning of André’s capture and fearing compromise, Arnold fled down the Hudson River to a British ship, narrowly avoiding capture by the intelligence forces of George Washington, who had been alerted to the plot.
With the British, Arnold received a commission as a brigadier general in the Royal Army, an annual pension of 360-pound sterling, and a lump sum of more than 6,000 pounds. He led British forces on raids in Virginia, and against New London and Groton, Connecticut, but by that time the War effectively ended with the American victory at Yorktown.
In the winter of 1782, Arnold moved to London with his second wife, Margaret Shippen Arnold. He was well-received by King George III and the Tories (Conservative party), but frowned upon by the Whigs (the opposing party). In 1787, he returned to the merchant business with his sons Richard and Henry in St. John, New Brunswick. In 1791, he returned to London to settle permanently where he died in 1801.
Because of the way he changed sides, his name quickly became an insulting byword in United States for treason or betrayal. His conflicting legacy is recalled in the ambiguous nature of some of the memorials that have been placed in his honor (or dishonor).
What price does a man put on loyalty to one’s country? In Arnold’s case, was it worth spending eternity as American history’s number one traitor and villian?
WEDDING TEARS — A little boy was participating in an uncle’s wedding. As he came down the aisle, he took two steps, stopped, turned to the crowd (alternating between bride’s side and groom’s side). While facing the crowd, he would put his hands up like claws and roar. So, it went, step, step, “ROAR,” step, step, “ROAR,” all the way down the aisle.
By the time the little boy had reached the pulpit, the wedding crowd was near tears from laughing. The youngster, however, was getting more and more distressed from all the laughter and also was near tears. When the minister asked what he was doing, the child sniffed and said, “I was being the ring bear.”
SCAG SEZ: It seems that, to become a big gun in business, you shouldn’t be fired.” – Cecil Scaglione, Mature Life Features