George Washington and the Efforts to Replace Him as General

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  • This topic has 9 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 8 years ago by Josh.
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  • #8767
    D
    Keymaster

    George Washington is revered as a hero of the Revolution and Founding Father of America. As often in history, we tend to remember the larger than life versions of stories. How could such a hero at one point been a consideration to be replaced?

    Horatio Gates was a British officer in the Seven Years’ War. He was quite successful, and ended up living in Virginia before the American Revolution broke out. When it did, he became a Major General in the army and had significant successes including forcing the British surrender at Saratoga in 1777. With such a major victory in his belt, Gates seemed to begin some political maneuvering to have himself replace General George Washington as head of the Army. Elected as President of the Board of War, Gates and Washington would have a relationship filled with friction, as Gates didn’t show Washington the respect he deserved on multiple occasions, and seemingly while trying to replace him (highlighting to others Washington’s loss of New York and Philadelphia).

    Congress would, however, maintain their confidence in Washington. Gates would resign from the Board of War, once again take a field command, and suffered a major defeat at Camden, South Carolina in 1780. Washington would go on to help win the war and become the first President of the United States.

    Do you think Gates was very close to having Washington ousted? How different might have things been?

    #8774
    Josh
    Participant

    Washington’s command hung in the balance more than once. He had a very checkered battle record after all.

    I think so long as Congress supported him he could be assured of his command. Congress supported him as long as he kept the cause alive. Washington was the man that took Boston, as I suppose given the lack of any other commander to praise took the credit for the entire campaign. Things must have looked very dicey after New York and if he hadn’t won at Trenton and Princeton who knows what might have happened. I think he was living almost on time borrowed from his early reputation. He also had a knack of just managing to save a situation before it was too late.

    Josh.

    #8778
    D
    Keymaster

    Very true. And even after proving himself, as late as 1783 he faced another potential overthrow related to the Newburgh Conspiracy. In short, the government didn’t have the funds to pay all of the active soldiers for their service. In a play for power a small group of folks were inciting all sorts of actions from protest, to physically demanding payment from Congress, to oust George Washington, and even potentially establish military rule. The extent of these “plans” is not fully confirmed as one could consider 2 century old back room dealing conversations to have little documentary evidence, yet it was presumed Horatio Gates was involved yet again in some capacity to oust Washington.

    More related to your point of Washington saving situations in just the knack of time, when tempers were flaring and a meeting of high-ranking army officers was called to determine a plan of action to get payment, Washington made a surprise visit to the hostile crowd and with one sentence, he eloquently ingratiated himself with all that were present. Before starting his speech, he spoke:

    “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.”

    With that one, powerful sentiment, many negative thoughts dissipated and the respect many of the officers once had, returned. This lessened hostilities and was a point from which more peaceful means were determined to address the overall situation/”conspiracy”. Washington’s subtle, yet strong and influential leadership (albeit very calculated), once again helped unify.

    #8784
    Josh
    Participant

    The man deserves his legendary status, that’s it, it’s all I can say, some men don’t Washington did! And though the man is more interesting than the legend there is a darn good reason why he has one!

    Josh.

    #8788
    D
    Keymaster

    Surely! It would be a fun course to have offered in a college or university to learn about a character study of Washington. He was sort of an original public relations/lead by example/success by determination and intelligence pioneer. Also his desire not to have grand power is likely in part what allowed the country to help lay a strong foundation for democracy.

    #8796
    Josh
    Participant

    Surely, leadership course would benefit from something like that.

    In answer to that question how different might it have been if Gates had taken over… I think it would have been immeasurably different, Washington was beaten allot of times, but never as bad as Gates was at Camden. It was Arnold that really helped him win at Saratoga after all.

    Josh.

    #8809
    D
    Keymaster

    Agreed. And I’m not sure Gates would have that the unifying and majestic yet humble air of leadership that Washington possessed. I think he would have been more brash and divisive, which would have carried through into the new nation.

    #8816
    Josh
    Participant

    Indeed, but I don’t think we’d have had much to worry about, Gates in command would’ve been a disaster, Arnold won Saratoga for him, and it helped that Burgoyne was utterly out of his depth, not without some talent but as soon as things went wrong he tended to lose the plot. All in all I’ve never been very impressed by Gates, from a British standpoint he’d have been an excellent choice.

    Josh.

    #8825
    D
    Keymaster

    True and agreed. Also, the ways and methods he used to discredit Washington in attempt to take his place show a significant lack of ethics that would not have measured up to that which Washington offered. Had he been in charge, Gates would likely have lost battles, blamed others, and by the time Congress realized a change was needed, the war could have already been lost.

    Arnold seemed to be a capable officer, from some things I’ve heard it appears he got a raw deal several times from his officer. Not that spying for the British was good, though in a climate where he was fighting for the “underdog” and not getting any credit for his significant efforts, he decided to provide his services for the likely winner at the time. Maybe Gates was a small influence in that by his treatment of Arnold.

    #8828
    Josh
    Participant

    Yes Arnold may well have felt a mix of grievences and an inclination to think he was giving his all for a lost cause. Things where a bit grey if I’m not mistaken when he skipped town as it were. Obviously I’m British so I can’t really critisise his choice in flags, but I do applaud the sentiments of many in Britain who met him after the war. Not sure if he was a bad human being, although he certainly showed disloyalty and a self serving interest, he was a talented soldier, if the British had won he’d have been a hero at least in Britain, but since they lost he was a traitor in both places.

    Washington’s admirable personal qualities are doubtless a principle reason why he kept command and went on to lead his country, sensibly and wisely through its earliest years.
    Josh.

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