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The Newburgh Conspiracy
Digital History ID 177

Author:   Edmund Pendleton
Date:1783

Annotation:

Following the British surrender at Yorktown, George Washington moved 11,000 Continental soldiers to Newburgh, New York. Resentful at the lack of support they had received during the war and bitter at Congress' failure to compensate them for their wartime sacrifices with back pay and pensions, many officers and soldiers threatened a military uprising. This threat of a military coup--known as the "Newburgh Conspiracy"--was strongly opposed by Washington, who believed that the military needed to be subordinate to civilian authority.

In June 1783, however, a group of armed former Pennsylvania soldiers marched on Philadelphia, surrounded Independence Hall, and demanded back pay. Congress asked the Pennsylvania government for assistance. The state refused, and the humiliated Congress temporarily relocated, first in Princeton, New Jersey, and later in Annapolis, Maryland, and New York City.


Document:

With your last favor [letter]...came the missing one of June 24th containing the account of the behavior of the soldiers in their insult to Congress.

I wish the conspiracy may be traced to its real source, and the motives truly investigated, when I still think it will not terminate in public good, or the redress of real injury in the Army; the citizens I supposed cannot be well pleased either with the company of their Military visitants, or reflections upon their conduct which made such a visit necessary, and fix'd a stigma on their public character, as wanting either inclination or courage to support the members of the great National Council, holding Session in their metropolis--perhaps the people might want neither, and the fault was in their rulers in not calling forth exertions. Be this as it may, they do not reason badly who counsel a return to Philadelphia either to prevent unfavourable impressions abroad, or that the great question of fixing the permanent residence of Congress may not be embarrassed, or influenced by temporary convenience.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Edmund Pendleton to James Madison

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