22 May 2021
George Washington Rejects A Crown
No demented and arrogant despot was he, the Father of Our Nation. He’d fought and led and persevered and often cursed (in private) the lousy hand he’d been dealt on 15 June 1775 by the Continental Congress: command of the Continental Army.
That rag-tag group of revolutionaries suffered mightily in their military rough-neck fight for the freedom of a fledgling nation from the tyrant King across the sea. Their freedom-fighting work was often deemed greater than any farm labor or job they’d held until that time. Desertion was common and widespread among these amateur soldiers, citizens all of them.
The disastrous and devastating battles of the Campaign of New York and New Jersey during the autumn of 1776 and the winter months of 1777 led to a peak in desertions at about 20 percent of the Continental Army. That figure is derived from statistics kept by the enemy, the Redcoats. The U.S. military, at that point, either did not keep such numbers, or kept them and kept them so hidden they were lost to posterity.
Revolutionary desertion rates declined after the spring of 1778. Aid from the French had come in the form of ships, firearms, military engineers, military officers, and clothes. By 1779, American military uniforms were made by the French, in France. Never underestimate the conquering power of a well-designed uniform of quality fabric.
The American revolutionary fervor was codified with the construction of American rebel-wear: sartorial splendour with the spirit of ’76 for the States. No longer attired in rags and bereft of socks and boots, suffering much less from frostbite (that led in many cases to amputation), the American rebel fighters began to look like professional military soldiers.
France, her King Louis XVI and his ministers were also persuaded to send troops, boots-on-the-ground, to America in early 1790. The persuasion party to convince the King to send a French army to help the Continental rebels consisted mainly of major leaders in this war:
Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, known quite simply as Lafayette to Americans;
Charles Gravier, Count of Vergennes, the Foreign Minister from France who was called Vergennes in the States;
George Washington, who wrote an embarrassingly fawning letter of request to be brought by Lafayette to his king. The penned entreaty asked for this French aristocrat and military officer to return to America at the head of “a Corps of gallant Frenchmen . . .”;
Alexander Hamilton, who got straight to the point: “It would be good if 2,000 troops could be sent over.”
The appearance of Comte d’Estaing on crutches at Versailles also aided in securing more French aid. This French admiral had just lost the 1779 Siege of Savannah, after having lost the Siege of Newport, Rhode Island in 1778. He didn’t get along with his American counterparts, and, after losing two battles, he wasn’t getting along with his French equals either; they caustically saw d’Estaing as their inferior.
French interests aligned perfectly with American interests on this matter of men in French uniform, fighting to secure American independence from Great Britain. Thus was created a very unique and striking cockade for the Franco-American alliance in this war.
The cockade for the Revolutionary tricorn now featured the black cockade with a small white cockade in the center, signifying the partnership between these two nations in this truly revolutionary war. The French officers, such as Marquis de Lafayette, wore a white cockade with the small black cockade in the center, symbolizing this alliance.
It should be noted that the letter sent by General Washington through Lafayette to the Court of Versailles in early 1780 had not received Congressional concurrence. The first American fleet had also been initiated without the approval or funding of the Continental Congress. George Washington had taken his own lead in outfitting small ships to fight the naval war; Congress later took severe notice of the success of “Washington’s Fleet” and began the laborious, and inherently corrupt, process of outfitting, bankrolling, and administering an organized national navy.
General George Washington commanded more than the merely physical aspects of these battles. He took hold of the reins of internal revolt among his army during times when the enlisted men contemplated wickedness more than discipline. The encampment in Morristown, New Jersey, during the severely hard winter of 1779-1780, tested the mettle of these men yet again through inadequate food and provisions, and rampant disease. For every soldier killed on the field of battle in this war, more than twice that number died of disease.
Washington believed that idleness among these men was equivalent to, and encouraging of, “leisure for cherishing their discomforts.”
Their discomforts and deprivations were many and exceedingly troubling, often leading to death even before the sense of victory in this lengthy war could be minimally felt. What kept these men, those who stayed the course, committed to the cause of American independence from Great Britain?
Between the beating of reveille at first light and the sounding of tattoo, the signal for lights out, the brave and stubbornly resolute soldiers forged a common bond. That band of brothers, in wartime, will not desert one another. That brotherhood of soldiers endures long after the battle has been fought, and either won or lost.
Such a passionate bond forms an almost spiritual vow to one another, and to the cause of liberty. It silently speaks, but that silence is louder than gunfire. That eternal accord declares that no tyrant can impose his depraved will upon his subjected citizens, or take away from them, their natural rights, through coercion and through any of a number of other noxious acts. No despot can deprive the children of God of their God-given rights, which constitute the only legitimate and moral basis for legal rights.
That powerful emotion of honorable commitment, one to another, is not quantifiable, but it is qualitative. It contains all of the quality of valor and all of the spirit of striving to achieve any noble cause, but most wondrously, the noble cause of freedom. From that ardent link, joining one rebel with another, and another, and another, is forged the unbreakable chain that builds the inestimable virtue: patriotism.
The noble cause of American liberty fed the fight for freedom, which, in its glorious turn, nourished the patriotism of these humble men, many of them young, perhaps too young to be able to verbalize the feelings about their sacred duty.
Thomas Paine had persuasively and poignantly expressed the magnificent motivations of those rank-and-file rebels. To recap his historic eloquence:
The American Revolution was the fight against tyranny to create a New World, a place and a time where liberty allows the dreams of fulfilling your destiny to soar well beyond the suppressed hopes of the citizens in the Old World.
Is that not what revolution, real revolution, seeks to achieve? The realization of dreams that dare not even be uttered in the lands of tyrants and of kings who rule as despots.
During the latter years of the War of Independence, there occurred annual celebrations that the rebels enjoyed, as a break from warfare, to commemorate these newly national American holidays:
Independence Day, what we now call the 4th of July; St. Patrick’s Day; May Day; 17 October, which is the date of the Surrender of British Lieutenant General Burgoyne at Saratoga, New York. And — one holiday that experienced a rapid reversal in sentiment and allegiance. That historic revision of an official holiday was granted enormous approval by the U.S. Continental Congress:
12 September, the King’s Damnation Day, a date that had been celebrated before this war as the King’s Coronation Day.
There’s historical revisionism of the highest caliber!
The refusal of a crown by George Washington was rooted, fiercely and profoundly, in the conscience of this Founding Father who was born in the British American colony of Virginia in 1732. To his dying day, in 1799, at Mount Vernon, the Father of His Country was a leader among men, a patriot among patriots, and a commander among proud Americans.
His terse rejection of a crown expresses his passionate defense of the liberty for which he had sacrificed so much, and for which so many other Americans had given all. This letter was written in response to a suggestion given to General Washington by an officer of the Revolutionary Army, not long after the decisive American victory at Yorktown.
This opinionated subaltern officer believed that the newly liberated colonies could “never become a nation under a republican form of government.” He therefore proposed in May 1782 “the establishment of a kingdom — with Washington at the head.”
George Washington possessed a fervent temper, one that he disciplined, rigorously and routinely, throughout his life. His written reply was swift to this military officer, a type of advisor who nowadays would be deemed an Expert, and trotted out on propaganda media to thwart the intrepid impulse of this heroic military leader.
The words of this general display a literary blend of self-control, achieved through irony, and a wordy, sometimes direct, sometimes hyperbolic, attempt at diplomacy and patience. The formality of the tone, however, cannot even attempt to conceal the contempt of this piqued commander who was not only an extremely good judge of character, but a sharp-tongued cavalryman of rather effective eloquence.
Newburgh, May 22, 1782
With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment I have read with attention the sentiments you have submitted to my perusal. Be assured sir, no occurrence in the course of the war has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army as you have expressed, and I must view with abhorrence, and reprehend with severity—for the present, the communication of them will rest on my own bosom, unless some further agitation of the matter shall make a disclosure necessary.
I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address which seems big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall any country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable—at the same time in justice to my own feeling, I must add, that no man possesses a more sincere wish to see ample justice done to the army than I do, and as far as my powers and influence, in a constitution, may extend, they shall be employed to the utmost of my abilities to effect it, should there be any occasion—Let me conjure you then, if you have any regard for your country—concern for yourself or posterity—or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind, and never communicate, as from yourself, or anyone else, a sentiment of the like nature.
With esteem I am Sir
Your Most Obedient Servant