Why was Benedict Arnold called "A Benedict Arnold"?

The following is an excerpt from "The Slave Children of Thomas Jefferson" by Sam Sloan

Still, it seems unbelievable even after the passage of almost two hundred years that the Vice-President of the United States, in office at that time, engaged in a shoot-out and killed the former Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.

As to Alexander Hamilton's constant feuding with Thomas Jefferson, it appears that he sincerely believed that Thomas Jefferson would make a weak president, in view of his libertarian ideas and his radical concept of giving freedom to the people. Alexander Hamilton opposed this, because he favored a strong central government, somewhat more similar to the government which we have today. As to his assessment that Thomas Jefferson would make a weak president and that the nation would lapse into anarchy, Alexander Hamilton was eventually to be proven wrong, but he cannot be faulted for having that belief.

It is often said that Thomas Jefferson was an architect, an inventor, a scientist, and agronomist and so on. However, it has never yet been alleged that he was a master of military strategy. In defending the charge that, while Governor, Thomas Jefferson had been so inept that he had not posted a lookout to see if the British were coming, thereby allowing the British under General Benedict Arnold to march into Richmond virtually unopposed, Thomas Jefferson stated that he had not thought to post a lookout because none of his predecessors had done so either. Unfortunately, he did not have the opportunity to read about the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere ("One if by land and two if by sea" and the "Old North Church tower as a signal light"), because that yarn by Longfellow was not composed until 1863, long after Thomas Jefferson had died.

The one thing which Thomas Jefferson did for which he was most severely criticized during his lifetime and which almost ended his political career was his act of running away into the Appalachian Mountains when the British attacked first Richmond, then Jefferson's estate at Elk Hill and finally Monticello in an effort to capture and arrest him. His detractors stated that, as he was the Governor of Virginia at the time, he should have stayed behind and directed the battle against the British, instead of running away. Because of this criticism, he resigned as the Governor of Virginia in 1781.

However, it has been pointed out that the British Army exhausted itself by chasing around Virginia in an effort to catch Jefferson. In addition, the entire population of Virginia turned against the British because of the acts of Lord Cornwallis in burning fences, barns and crops in a single minded effort to capture Jefferson. Both factors contributed to the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia only five months after Thomas Jefferson resigned as governor.

It is surprising that the British thought that an army on foot could catch a single man on horseback, as familiar with the mountains and the terrain of Virginia as Thomas Jefferson was.

General Cornwallis later went to India, where he played a large role in subduing the population there with the same slash and burn tactics which were unsuccessful in Virginia.

In case the reader ever appears on a quiz program and the MC ever asks the question: What was the name of the horse of Thomas Jefferson? Remember the answer: Caractacus. Of course, Thomas Jefferson used about five primary horses during his lifetime, but Caractacus was by far the most famous. One legend has it that Caractacus did not agree with Thomas Jefferson's plan of retreat in the face of the advancing British army, and so threw him off, breaking his arm.

One often hears attempts to compare George Washington to Thomas Jefferson. In fact, there is no comparison and no similarity at all between these two men. Jefferson was a great thinker, but certainly not a military man. In contrast, George Washington was not a great thinker, but he was even more certainly not a great military man. His great ability was in surrounding himself which sycophants, who would protect his position as commander in chief, while letting others do the actual fighting. There was not even one battle-field victory for which General George Washington really deserves credit. His best known battle, the great "Battle of Monmouth Court House", was actually an attempt by George Washington to chase the British who had decided on their own to make a strategic withdrawal from Philadelphia to New York. Even that battle was by no stretch of the imagination a victory. It might have become a victory, except for the fact that General Charles Lee, who had disagreed with Washington's plan of attack in the first place, disobeyed Washington's order to attack and retreated instead. With this momentum lost, the British were allowed to continue in their way to New York relatively unmolested.

That great battle took place on June 28, 1778. It was the last battlefield engagement by General George Washington during the entire Revolutionary War, which ended with the surrender of Cornwallis in 1781.

Washington does, however, deserve full credit for his ability to keep people working together towards a common cause. He was a "unifier". In this respect, perhaps he does deserve the title he received from history as the "Father of his Country". Later, as president, he headed what would now be called a "unity" or coalition government. He brought into his cabinet both Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, two of the bitterest rivals imaginable. Jefferson was reluctant to join. He preferred to be reappointed as the Ambassador to France. Washington had to write him two personal letters before he agreed to become Secretary of State. Jefferson did not arrive in Philadelphia to assume his duties until early 1790, nearly one year after Washington had become president. However, Washington could never stop the constant feuding between Jefferson and Hamilton. Both quit the cabinet while Washington was still in office.

The general who truly was a great commander during the war was none other than Benedict Arnold. He was perhaps the only American general with a winning record. Without the victories which he won, America might easily have lost the Revolutionary War. Had Benedict Arnold not changed sides near the end of the war, he probably would have emerged as the greatest hero of that war, greater even than George Washington, rather than as the worst villain.

The French military officers sent by King Louis XVI to assist America in the Revolutionary War appear to have done more than just help out George Washington. Of course, there can be no doubt that George Washington made a great contribution to the American victory, because he showed up at the surrender ceremonies just in time to accept the sword of Cornwallis. George Washington spent most of the war in various stages of retreat in New York and Pennsylvania. By the end of the war, he had few troops left, most of them having gone home because of not being paid their salaries. George Washington did not campaign in Virginia and fought no battles there, where the victory was ultimately won.

This is not to say that George Washington was completely passive during the war. He did maneuver around and is famous for crossing the Delaware River by rowboat several times. The famous painting of "Washington Crossing the Delaware" has a romantic version of him standing in the bow of the rowboat. If he had done this in real life, he would probably have fallen into the river. Anybody who has studied the actual history of that war, as opposed to the official elementary school version, has quickly realized that General George Washington contributed little to the ultimate American victory.

For example, when the British landed 35,000 troops on Staton Island, New York, Washington did not attack them as they were getting off the ship, as he obviously should have done. Instead, he waited in the luxury of Brooklyn Heights. When the British came there looking for him, he retreated to Manhattan. When the British crossed the East River, Washington decided that Harlem was the place for him and camped out on what is now approximately the campus of Columbia University. This high ground, now known as `Morningside Heights' but then known as `Harlem Heights', was a good place for an army which was not anxious to fight. When the British came there, Washington decided that New Jersey was a good place to be. As a result, the British captured all of New York City, without ever being engaged in a serious battle.

After that, George Washington maneuvered even more backward, giving up New Jersey, and finally camping for one famous winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where his un-paid troops suffered from frost-bitten feet, while General George Washington lounged by the fireside in the luxury of a private home.

It was the French officers, of whom Lafayette was one, who had studied the scientific art of war and who knew how to formulate a proper strategic plan of attack. Lafayette, with an army of 3,000 men in Virginia, attacked the army of Cornwallis, who had 7,000 under his command, on July 6, 1781. Cornwallis was never actually defeated in battle. He eventually surrendered on October 19, 1781 because he was surrounded and had nowhere to go. The French generals, including Rochambeau and Lafayette, had cut off all escape routs by land, whereas French Admiral Francios de Grasse had blockaded Yorktown by sea. This led Cornwallis to give up.

Technically, the war was not yet over. The British still occupied New York. However, they were simply ignored. Two years later, in 1783, realizing that the population was against them, and lacking the ability and the will simply to envelop the colonies and burn all the major cities to the ground, as the North did to the South in the subsequent American Civil War, the British finally withdrew.

In spite of what we all have learned in our high school history books, the American Revolution was won more at sea than by land. This was partly due to the exploits of John Paul Jones (a collateral ancestor of this author) who sailed all the way around the island of England, entering the British harbors and sinking British ships while moored at anchor. The main problem which the British faced during the war was the need to supply their army across 3,000 miles of ocean, while being engaged at sea by the French and Dutch navies who had come to the assistance of the Americans plus, of course, Captain John Paul Jones who was operating from the safety of French harbors. If one counts the battles actually fought on land, the British won the overwhelming majority, and the few victories of the Americans included mostly those won by General Benedict Arnold, who later on changed sides, after being wrongfully subjected to a politically motivated court martial.

General Benedict Arnold was arguably the ablest military officer in the entire Revolutionary War. He won battles for both sides. For the Americans, he won the battle of Saratoga and successfully occupied Montreal. He retreated only when overwhelmed by a vastly superior force. He won an impressive series of victories at a time when all of the other American military officers were losing. However, he was too thin skinned for the political in-fighting which is also part of every war. After one of his greatest victories, he was enraged at being passed over for promotion in favor of junior officers. However, a few kind words from General George Washington caused him to fight and win again. He even fought successfully as a common foot-soldier on occasions when his political opponents in the military denied him an official rank.

Eventually, the Continental Congress did award Benedict Arnold the rank of major general but later on he repeatedly felt slighted again. He eventually changed sides and won some victories for the British. The British also awarded him the rank of general but never respected him in view of the fact that he was a turn-coat. They sent him to London before the war was over and refused to give him further military assignments. He died there in 1801, scorned in his adopted country, a broken and bitter man, despised on both sides of the Atlantic. However, next only to General George Washington, among all the Revolutionary War generals, his name will ring forever in the annals of history. Just about the worst thing that you can say about a person is to call him `a Benedict Arnold'.

Thomas Jefferson had nothing to do with either the "Constitution of the United States" or the "Bill of Rights", because he was in France from 1784 until nearly the end of 1789. Had he been in America during this period, the Constitution might have been a very different document. Surprisingly, none of his letters appear to express any strong opinion as to whether the new Constitution was a good thing or a bad thing. He was completely out of the picture because of his long stay in France during the period of adoption and ratification.

Unlike the "Declaration of Independence", no one person can be considered the architect of the "Constitution of the United States". Alexander Hamilton, the sole signing delegate from New York (the remainder of the New York delegation having walked out in protest), was high on the list of framers, as was Gouverneur Morris, who represented Pennsylvania at the time, and George Wythe of Virginia. George Wythe was among the many delegates to the Constitutional Convention who did not sign the final document for various reasons. The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, exactly when Thomas Jefferson was carousing about with Maria Cosway over in France and more than two years before he returned to America.

Only six persons signed both the "Declaration of Independence" and the "Constitution of the United States". These were Benjamin Franklin, George Clymer, Robert Morris, James Wilson (all of Pennsylvania), George Read (Delaware) and Roger Sherman (Conn.).

The minutes of the Constitutional Convention were deliberately destroyed so that the acrimonious debates which resulted in the compromises and the adoption of the Constitution would never be made public. However, to Hamilton goes the credit for securing ratification by the key State of New York. Hamilton probably did not play a major role in the drafting of the Constitution itself, but he became the primary author of the brilliantly written "Federalists Papers", which convinced the public of the benefits of ratifying the Constitution.

This was no small achievement. Almost everybody seemed to object to the Constitution for one reason or another. The battle against the ratification of the constitution was led by Patrick Henry, who, by choice, spent most of his career as a perpetual outsider. The biggest state, New York, and the smallest state, Rhode Island, both thought the Constitution was unfair to them. The South reluctantly joined the Union with the understanding, later reneged upon, that they could withdraw at any time. Near the end, both North Carolina and Rhode Island refused to join. Because of this, they were threatened with an embargo. They were told that if they did not join the Union, their goods would be taxed the same as imports from foreign countries. As a result, they finally joined.

The "Bill of Rights" was passed by Congress on September 25, 1789, just two months before Thomas Jefferson returned from France. The chief architect of the Bill of Rights is considered to have been George Mason of Virginia, who refused to sign the Constitution on the grounds that it did not contain a bill of rights. However, Thomas Jefferson was clearly in sympathy with the Bill of Rights and was in America as the Secretary of State during its period of ratification, which lasted from 1789 until 1791.

Earlier, while a member of the Virginia Assembly from 1776 until 1779, Thomas Jefferson tried to amend the "Virginia Constitution" with articles similar to those contained in the "Bill of Rights". However, his radical ideas went much further and included free public education and gradual emancipation of the slaves. Almost all of his amendments were rejected. The one about freeing the slaves did not even come up for a vote in the Virginia House of Delegates. He did, however, get passed a law abolishing the automatic right of primogeniture.

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