Digital History

The Critical Period

The Threat of a Military Coup Previous Next
Digital History ID 3226



Following the British surrender at Yorktown, Washington moved 11,000 Continental Army soldiers to Newburgh, N.Y. By 1783, the army was near the point of mutiny over Congress' failure to pay them. In March, Continental Army officers, camped at Newburgh, N.Y., considered military action against the Confederation Congress. On Mar. 15, Washington strode in. "Do not open the flood gates of civil discord," he told them, "and deluge our rising empire in blood." Washington strongly believed that the military needed to be subordinate to civilian authority.

On a 90-degree June day in 1783, former Revolutionary War soldiers, carrying muskets, marched on the Philadelphia statehouse where Congress was meeting. They threatened to hold the members hostage until they were paid back wages. When Congress asked Pennsylvania to send a detachment of militia to protect them, the state refused, and the humiliated Congress temporarily relocated, first in Princeton, N.J., and later in Annapolis, Md., and New York City, N.Y.

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