Thoughts on the Events of 1/6/2021

Introductory Remarks

Part of being a faithful Catholic is living the virtue of patriotism. This means having a reasonable, measured, and passionate love for our nation and fellow countrymen. I wanted to take a few minutes this morning to share a few of my own thoughts, as a lover of this nation and of History.

Yesterday was a difficult day for our great nation. As an immigrant raised in this great country, I am without a doubt a proponent of a measured sense of American exceptionalism. The ideals of liberty, freedom, and Democracy are easily compatible with our Catholic Faith. And so to watch the subversion of these values by those who have been whipped into a frenzy is painful. 

The U.S. Capitol building is a monument to compromise and dialogue. It is a testament to 228 years of the development of this great experiment of representative democracy. There have been times of great trial, of course. The Capitol building was breached and torched by the British in 1814. The hallowed halls were in division in the decades preceding the Civil War. In 1856, Representative Preston Brooks (D., SC) almost beat Representative Charles Sumner (R., MA) to death with a cane in the hall of the House. Then in 1861, the South seceded from the Union and the nation was embroiled in its greatest test. 

Following the Civil War, the North and the South came back together due to the integrity and fortitude of the winning side not overly chastising the vanquished
It took many more decades for women to be well-represented and given a real political voice. It took even longer for those of color to be given a voice and representation, and the work certainly continues.

During our nation’s relatively-short history, the peaceful transfer of power and the accepting of the outcome of elections has been the hallmark of our Democracy and what I would call a miracle. A large part of what makes America exceptional in my mind is the peaceful transfer of power. This was under attack yesterday. Our nation, at the highest ideological level, was under attack yesterday.

This morning, as I meditated on this further, I was reminded of the first talk of insurrection against Congress in 1783. This plot was quelled and disappeared with the phenomenal leadership of our nation’s first President, George Washington. Below is a synopsis of that episode in our nation’s history.

May Almighty God continue to lead us closer to His heart and may our Blessed Mother wrap us in her mantle. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us. Amen.

The Newburgh Address and the First Failed American Coup

Following the British loss at the Siege of Yorktown in October 1781, the American Revolutionary War came nearer to the end and talks of peace began. At the time, the American Continental Army was based in Newburgh, New York. The end of the war and the inevitable dissolution of the Continental Army was approaching and the men began to fear that they would not be paid what they were owed in back pay and pensions by the Confederation Congress.

General Henry Knox of the Continental Army drafted a memo to Congress showing the unhappiness over the pay concern and that the promised pension would not be instituted. At the time, the treasury was empty and the Congress, before the Constitution, lacked the power to raise funds in any meaningful way. The situation was dire and by March 10, 1783 an unsigned letter circulated the camp of the Continental Army, written by the aide to General Horatio Gates, Major John Armstrong, Jr. The letter lamented the condition of the army and that there was little support from Congress. At the same time, there was an anonymous call for a meeting of the field officers scheduled the next day.

General George Washington caught wind of this circulated letter and the unusual calling of the officers’ meeting. So, instead, he called a meeting for March 15, 1783 in which he implied that he would not be attending. On the 12th of March, a second unsigned letter circulated which suggested that Washington must agree with the cause and endorsed the conspirators.

On March 15, 1783, the meeting came and was held in a building on camp called the “Temple.” Horatio Gates opened the meeting, and, to everyone’s surprise, General George Washington entered the room. He asked to speak to the officers and Gates yielded the floor. The men were clearly angry and did not show him the due deference to which he had become accustomed.

Washington then gave an impassioned cry of the heart which has come to be known as the Newburgh Address. He opposed vehemently anyone “who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood.” He then took a letter from Congress from his jacket and fumbled with it because he could not read it. Historian Thomas Fleming relays that General Washington said the following to his men: “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.”[1] Certainly, this must have had a calming effect on the men. The war had rendered this formidable man old, gray, and near blind. Who could say that he had not given his all to the cause?

The assembly listened to the letter and many were moved to tears. The conspiracy fell apart due to the decisive and impassioned actions of the man who would become our nation’s first President. The assembly, in a virtually unanimous fashion, expressed in a resolution their “unshaken confidence” in Congress and “disdain” and “abhorrence” for the proposals from earlier in the week.

David Cobb, who was on Washington’s staff at the time, wrote in 1825 that, “I have ever considered that the United States are indebted for their republican form of government solely to the firm and determined republicanism of George Washington at this time.”[2]

[1] Fleming, Thomas (2007). The Perils of Peace: America’s Struggle for Survival after Yorktown. New York: Smithsonian Books.

[2] Kohn, Richard H (April 1970). “The Inside History of the Newburgh Conspiracy: America and the Coup d’Etat”. The William and Mary Quarterly (Third Series, Volume 27, No. 2): 188–220.

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