03 January 2010

Benedict Arnold--A true Patriot

I have to admit a love for alternative history: the big what if? Stuff like Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove's The Two Georges, Robert Sobel's For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga, and Redcoats' Revenge: An Alternate History of the War of 1812. A part of this comes from my conviction that the founders would not have fought the war for American Independence if they saw the ultimate outcome, especially in terms of how the United States has turned out. One can read the grievances in the Declaration of Independence and find that the Tories were correct when they said they would "rather be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away than three thousand tyrants less than a mile away" since many of those grievances still exist.

But does one even need to go beyond the period of the War for American Independence to find proof of my conviction? Benedict Arnold was a strong believer in the Independence movement: whhich included spending his own money toward that effort. His numerous military victories for the Independence movement have been discounted based upon his "treason". Likewise, the reasons for his "treason" have been clouded over and covered with selfish reasons, although I have heard that one reason was that he was opposed to the Alliance with France. Other reasons are that he was disapppointed with Congress.

I have found the text of a letter he wrote to the American Public about his "treason" and it appears to confirm my opinion:
A very few words, however, shall suffice upon a subject so personal; for to the thousands who suffer under the tyranny of the usurpers in the revolted provinces, as well as to the great multitude who have long wished for its subversion, this instance of my conduct can want no vindication; and as to the class of men who are criminally protracting the war from sinister views at the expence of the public interest, I prefer their enmity to their applause. I am, therefore, only concerned in this address, to explain, myself to such of my countrymen, as want abilities, or opportunities, to detect the artifices by which they are duped...

With the highest satisfaction I bear testimony to my old fellow soldiers and citizens, that I find solid ground to rely upon the clemency of our Sovereign, and abundant conviction that it is the generous intention of Great Britain not only to leave the rights and privileges of the colonies unimpaired, together with their perpetual exemption from taxation, but to superadd such further benefits as my consist with the common prosperity of the empire. In short, I fought for much less than the parent country is as willing to grant to her colonies as they can be to receive or enjoy.

Some may think I continued in the struggle of these unhappy days too long, and others that I quitted it too soon-- To the first I reply, that I did not see with their eyes, nor perhaps had so favourable a situation to look from, and that to our common master I am willing to stand or fall. In behalf of the candid among the latter, some of whom I believe serve blindly but honestly--in the bands I have left, I pray God to give them all the lights requisite to their own safety before it is too late; and with respect to that herd of censurers, whose enmity to me originates in their hatred to the principles by which I am now led to devote my life to the re-union of the British empire, as the best and only means to dry up the streams of misery that have deluged this country, they may be assured, that concious of the rectitude of my intentions; I shall treat their malice and calumnies with contempt and neglect.

The problem with the War for American Independence is that it was a civil war, but it needed a pretense of righteousness to cover the fact that it was a dirty war: Us v. them. But many of "them" were also colonials (e.g., Tenche Coxe)! Unfortunately, Arnold, like another of my pantheon: Banastre Tarleton, were on the losing side and make lovely bogeymen and scapegoats in the American Myth factory which posits that ordinary people rose up to fight a foreign enemy. Never mind that the war was between three (or more) well-trained armies and Arnold was able to live out his days and died in London. The picture at the top of this piece comes from the house where he lived out his days in peace.

I would love to attribute Arnold's actions to prescience since I find it very interesting how he confirms my belief that those who supported Independence would be tremendously disappointed with how this country has turned out. If hindsight is 20-20, how many supporters of Independence would have supported insurrection over reason as the answer to their woes? Or to again quote Samuel Adams:
"Rebellion against a king may be pardoned, or lightly punished, but the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death."

And ask doesn't the precedent of rebellion sanction that as a method of change: whether against a king or a republic? Was that a precedent that should be kept or does that lead to another form of tyranny?