George Washington’s Newburgh Address

On March 15, 1783, George Washington gave one of his most moving and important speeches.  Known as George Washington’s Newburgh Address, it was a speech that Washington gave to his assembled officers at his Newburgh, New York headquarters to confront a potential uprising of the army over back pay owed to them and the failure of the Continental Congress to live up to their promises to provide the soldiers with retirement benefits after the defeat of the British at Yorktown.  For quite some time,  Congress had been indifferent to the pleas of George Washington on behalf of his men for such back pay and other benefits owed to them.  Instead, with the threat of the British seemingly over, Congress turned its attention to other matters than the support of the army.   In March of 1783, the problem came to a head when an anonymous letter was circulated among Washington’s officers at Newburgh calling for a meeting to plan some action to compel Congress to pay the soldiers what they were owed.  Hearing of the meeting, George Washington cancelled  the planned meeting, asking the officers to delay it until an already scheduled official staff meeting of officers to be held on March 15th.  Even still, Washington’s officers did not expect Washington himself to personally attend the meeting.  Unexpectedly, however, Washington showed up and strode to the front of the room.  There, he pulled a prepared speech out of his coat, but finding it difficult to read it, Washington surprised his officers by pulling a pair of spectacles from his coat and putting them on, asking his officers to please excuse him as he had grown grey in the service of his country during the past eight years of the Revolutionary War.  Reminding the officers of all the struggles that they had mutually endured during the Revolutionary War, many of Washington’s officers actually broke into tears – so overwhelmed to realize the sacrifices that Washington had made for his men and that they had all made together for their country.  This effectively put an end to the proposed so-called Newburgh Conspiracy and prevented the army from marching upon Congress – thus previous the supremacy of civilian control of the country.

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~ by americanpresidents on March 8, 2010.

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