After the victory over the British at Yorktown, many of the Continental soldiers became disillusioned with the new American government, as they had not been paid for years. Disgruntled, a group in New York, referred to as the Newburgh Conspiracy, plotted to march and occupy the Capitol, to force Congress to give them back pay and pensions.
With some British troops still on American soil, a show of disunity could have easily renewed the war. On March 15, 1783, General George Washington surprised the conspiracy by showing up at their meeting in New York. Washington gave a short but impassioned speech, urging them to oppose anyone “who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood.”
Taking a letter from his pocket, Washington fumbled with a pair of reading glasses, which few men had seen him wear, and 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.”
As soldiers realized Washington had sacrificed a great deal for the opportunity to begin a new free nation, many of those present were moved to tears. With this act, the conspiracy collapsed.
Congress later resolved the crisis by giving a sum equal to five years pay to each officer. Six month later the Treaty of Paris was signed, officially ending the war.
On NOVEMBER 2, 1783, from his Rock Hill headquarters near Princeton, General George Washington issued his Farewell Orders:
“Before the Commander in Chief takes his final leave of those he holds most dear, he wishes to indulge himself a few moments in calling to mind a slight review of the past . . . The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverance of the Armies of the United States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.”
“To the Armies he has so long had the honor to Command, he can only again offer in their behalf his recommendations to their grateful country, and his prayers to the God of Armies. May ample justice be done then here, and may the choicest of Heaven’s favours, both here and thereafter, attend those who, under Divine auspices, have secured innumerable blessings for others.”
A month later, December 23, 1783, Washington bid a tearful farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York.
Self-Educated American contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.
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