George Washington occupies a unique position of popularity and reverence in the history of the United States of America. He epitomizes the self-sacrificing sort of moral nobility that characterized the colonial period's definition of "fame." The museum has a vintage edition of Washington Irving's four-volume Life of George Washington. Volume four relates the "Discontents of the Army at Newburg," an incident that speaks volumes about General Washington's character and popularity.

Having defeated the British colonial forces in America, the army found itself encamped at Newburg for the winter. While the veterans shivered in their camp, the weak, ineffectual Congress was unable, under the provisions of the Articles of Confederation, to acquire the necessary concurrence of nine states for funds to be appropriated for long-overdue pay for the troops.

After months of fruitless correspondence with the invertebrate political establishment, the officers of Washington's army finally resolved to take matters into their own hands. They vowed that they would not "be the only sufferers by this Revolution." They would meet and plan a march on the Congress where they would extract their pay at the point of a bayonet, if necessary. General Washington was, of course, not invited to the meeting. He surprised them by appearing unexpectedly.

Unable to dissuade them from their folly by oratory, he produced a letter from a Congressman who was sympathetic to their plight. Pausing for a moment, he produced a pair of reading glasses. Begging their indulgence while he put them on, he casually observed to his eager listeners that he "had grown gray in their service, and now found himself growing blind" as well. His officers were shamed into abandoning their plot and the newborn nation was spared from the prospect of a military coup de etat.

Belhaven Treasure #25

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Diane K. Mason, HTML Editor 1998