Things Change…

It is definitely no compliment to be labeled a ‘Benedict Arnold’. That name carries with it the stinging impact of the accusation Traitor! History shows us that, for this man, it was a well-deserved accusation, but history also shows us that there was a time when it was not deserved at all.

Things change.

Though Benedict Arnold will forever be impressed in American memory as a traitor, before that event, he wore the revered titles of Colonel, General, Brigadier General and Major General while fighting for the American cause. Do you, like me, wonder, How did this happen? Why? Arnold fought alongside the famous patriot Ethan Allen in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga less than a month after the first shots of the war were fired at Lexington and Concord. Five months later, he led 1,100 troops along the Kennebec River wilderness route towards Quebec, intending to take that city for the revolutionary cause. During those times that “tried men’s souls”, he commanded a flotilla of ships on Lake Champlain that withstood a British offensive and caused its retreat. And yet, even so, Arnold ultimately became the man who clandestinely negotiated with the enemy to surrender West Point for money and status. He became the man who burned and raided colonial towns, and captured their forts.

In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, it is suggested that Arnold’s growing debt after his second marriage, and his feelings of being unfairly criticized and unappreciated by his countrymen, were the factors that led to his turncoat behavior. In September of 1780, his true colors being exposed, Benedict Arnold fled to England and was, in fact, rewarded with “substantial financial remuneration” and a brigadier generalship.

Most astonishing of all, to me, is the fact that Benedict Arnold, the patriot, had been a particular favorite of George Washington’s. I quote our first Commander-in-Chief, in lauding Arnold for his military endeavors: “It is not in the power of any man to command success, but you have done more – you have deserved it.”

Things most definitely change.

“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts…” (1 Corinthians 4:5)

2 responses to “Things Change…

  1. By understanding what actually drives a person (providing consistency instead of contradictions that don’t add up), and by imagining what “might have been” had circumstances not been what they were, the legacy of Benedict Arnold takes on an entirely different flavor.

    This is a bit of an eye opener. Brace yourself to have some assumptions challenged.

    American history, like most battle accounts, has primarily been written by the victors, with key elements left out. It was a different time, with different issues than we have today, and that’s one of the reasons why so few understand Benedict Arnold’s “Treason”. As time rolls on, contrasting information becomes available because access to facts cannot be shrouded or controlled forever in this “information age”.

    In the day, principles of religious freedom were paramount because countries still had “official” religions dictated by their monarchy (i.e. – France). What has gone completely under the radar in American history accounts was that the French alliance was an alliance with what WAS an enemy of the American colonies, not even 15 years prior (George Washington had fought AGAINST them). During the French & Indian war, British troops rallied to defend these territories that were at arm’s length from England – AGAINST the French. Hence, the French “Alliance” – and all it stood for (France spelled forced Catholicism and INequality in a society that was itself overdue for rebellion and revolution against its own king) was a threat to the VERY principle that the American cause was fighting for – freedom from tyranny – and yet this allegiance was negotiated by none other than Benjamin Franklin, presumably with the mindset “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

    In Arnold’s mind, French oppression would be far worse than British oppression, indeed France was a powerful country, the historical nemesis of Protestant faith and Britain, not to be trifled with. Raised Protestant (and with the religious freedoms being a key issue of the time that we sadly fail to identify with because of all we take for granted), French alliance was, for all intents and purposes, a “deal with the devil” from Arnold’s standpoint. He had intimate knowledge that Britain had already offered peace, along with “righting the wrongs” that originally started the ball rolling at the beginning of the American Revolution, and yet this offering was never taken to the people who were fighting on the ground, to the public, for vote – it was buried as unacceptable before shared with the people. Peace was what he embraced above all – peace (in a war effort that was bungled time and time again by naive power-hungry politicians in this new “Congress” who didn’t fight on the front lines like Benedict himself did), and of course, the preservation of his religious belief system.

    Benedict didn’t side with “a country”. He sided with a set of principles and was a devout believer in his religion. When those principles were cast aside in the interests of power-hungry politicians, HIS alliances did NOT change. He signed up for the American Revolution, not the WAR of Independence. The rules were changed part way into the game: to fight for independence, instead of fighting to right wrongs with their mother country (this is undeniable history).

    Arnold was NOT motivated by greed or dissatisfaction – these are rather obvious American propaganda once you realize that his actions were indeed consistent with all his heroic deeds and his M.O. From his youth, Arnold was DRIVEN by trying to bring honor to his family name, because after being a successful merchant his father had descended into being nothing more than a town drunk, due to misfortune and the loss of his wife. So you need to understand that in all that he did, Arnold acted in ways that he felt were heroic and above the “common man”. This wasn’t mere ego, it was, in his mind, his duty.

    In an attempt to END the war without another gunshot or any further bloodshed, he planned to simply surrender West Point during a period of military “stand down” readiness, which would have been a critical and pivotal loss for America, forcing them into the peace negotiations that they had previously “passed” on. His goal was NEVER to be a traitor – it was to be a military hero once again, in the only way that was obvious to his “out of the box”, yet brilliant military mind – to end the war, end the bloodshed, to ASSURE freedoms and not allow the French threat to his Protestant religion or the peoples’ right to own property, to lead the way to reunification with the British Motherland that had saved these colonies from this same French threat only 15 years before, and to negotiate for clemency regarding those who led the fight against the original British oppression. He was going to make it right, to lead the American colonies back to peace and brotherhood with England.

    Had Andre NOT been caught, Arnold’s plan would likely have succeeded. He would have been revered as a wise and enlightened military hero-turned-peacemaker, ending a bloody period and righting the wrongs that began the revolution. He made no error, other than entrusting the plan to someone who was previously enamored with his wife (Andre had pursued Margaret “Peggy” Shippen during the British occupation of Philadelphia and it was her “trust” in Andre that included him in the plan). This is mere conjecture, but perhaps jealousy played a part in Andre’s discovery upon capture – after all, Andre was smitten with Arnold’s wife and had pursued her during the British occupation of Philadelphia. Her familiarity with Andre was part of why he was involved in the plan. If Andre wanted to discredit and destroy Arnold, there would be no better way to do it. Or – perhaps he was merely a bumbling idiot.

    So… congress changed the very nature of the fight from a “Revolution” fought because principles were compromised, to “War of Independence” because they – what – thought Britain was still inherently evil (despite offering peace), but France was suddenly “good”? Clearly, after the failure of his plan, Arnold was seen as a threat to “independence”. But try to remember, it wasn’t originally about “independence”, it was about fairness and representation – items which were “righted” in the peace offering from Britain in 1778 (which ironically was a direct result of the American victory at Saratoga – which was also entirely due to Arnold’s tactics, leadership, and indisputable battlefield courage and heroics).

    When his plan to surrender West Point failed, he was discovered, and he fled to the British, Arnold HAD to be demonized by American leaders, there was no other tactical or political choice. But really, if you research the unsullied facts, you can’t help but find the contrasting explanation: his actions in trying to surrender West Point were consistent with someone who was a heroic leader and not just a war-mongering fighter – who was STILL acting in what he believed to be the absolute best interests of his countrymen, – and who tried to embrace a peace that had been offered — instead of continuing a war where the decision makers were comfortably OFF the battlefield. Yet somehow Arnold is accused of having the greatest ego of them all. Someone who was willing and eager dispense with his own “military power” once and for all, for the sake of common peace, assurance of freedoms, and goodwill – his Achilles’ heel was being a true visionary for peace and wanting an end to all the horrors he had shared with his men on the battlefield. Unfortunately for him, Arnold’s allegiance wasn’t with men on either side – it transcended that, and with his upbringing, he felt he had to answer to his God. He fought for principles, not other men’s egos or their quest for power. A continuation of a senseless war, suffering and death, when peace was clearly an option – was NOT something he could buy into with any conscience – especially with the specter of France looming on the horizon.

    Much Arnold’s underlying standpoint is clear, upon reading his “Letter to the Inhabitants of America”, which was written more as a plea for common sense than it was a defense of his actions. However, that letter is not commonly visited as a part of American history.

    If you think about it, the ever-glorified George Washington himself had sworn allegiance to the crown and fought as a British officer in the French and Indian war. Look it up. Yet he betrayed that commitment to the King and fought against his own monarch during the American Revolution, and then spurned a peace treaty offered to him, resolving the issues that PROMPTED the revolution.

    Yet for some reason, nobody ever calls George Washington a traitor. Why is this?

    Arnold’s actions, his motives, and his driving principles have been bulldozed and rewritten by American history, but they were not lost to those who have direct links to the knowledge through family. One thing is certain, time and time again, people fail to reconcile the heroic deeds of the man with his “treason”. That’s simply because they never actually connected the dots of his TRUE intentions and merely based it upon what happened when the whole plan dreadfully awry. If you truly want to know and reconcile Benedict Arnold, now you have the missing puzzle pieces.


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