15 June 2009

Why He Is Ever My Favorite

The account of Washington's handling of the Newburgh Conspiracy from AmericanHeritage.com; the President addresses a gathering of rebellious soldiers who threaten the existence of the new nation. They are unmoved by his prepared speech.
He had read it all. And it had failed. He knew it had failed. They were not persuaded.

Washington shuffled his papers. He had labored over his speech. But it held long, involved, cumbersome sentences. When spoken, the muscle was lost in the flesh of ornate composition. Washington could not match Brutus as a writer.

In desperation he took a letter from a pocket of his regimentals. In it Congressman Jones praised the army and pledged his support. Perhaps this would help. As Washington opened the note, there was a murmur among his officers. Washington took that as impatience. He cleared his throat and attempted to read.

He could not. The script was too small. His eyes could not focus. The dim letters blurred. Helplessly he fumbled in another pocket for his spectacles. As he donned them, the murmur increased. Again he thought it impatience. He adjusted the spectacles. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you must pardon me. I have grown gray in your service and now find myself growing blind.”

It was enough. They’d not been impatient. The murmur was one of sympathy, understanding, affection. In their eight years together they had never seen Washington wear spectacles. He had seemed tired and worn before. Now he seemed older and vulnerable. He was only fifty but had aged this week. He had problems they didn’t even know about. If he still trusted the Congress, they could do no less.

Few heard as Washington haltingly read from Jones’s letter. No matter.

When he stopped, the officers crowded about him in reassurance and contrition. Some wept. Others simply stood, stunned and silent, as the general left the room.

If Gates hoped to regain the initiative, he had no chance. Henry Knox quickly moved to thank the commander for his speech. Then, after a quick review of McDougall’s report, General Ruf us Putnam moved that Knox’s committee prepare new resolutions for the officers’ consideration. In short order the officers resolved their “unshaken confidence” in Washington and in the Congress. The crisis was over.

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