The irony that on the Ides of March… where the original western tyrant was dispatched, the world’s greatest republican (notice the small ‘r’) proved beyond any doubt his fidelity to that cause. George Washington addressed the Newburgh conspirators on March 15, 1783. At a pivotal moment, when our vulnerable government dangled by string following the unlikely victory in the Revolution, Washington shined brightest.
Officers in the Continental army furious over not being paid… during years of fighting the Revolution were threatening mutiny and possibly a coup d’etat. Officers loyal to Horatio Gates planned a meeting to formalize their mutinous intention of replacing Washington with the dastardly Gates. Washington requested to attend the meeting, then surprised Gates (who had opened the meeting) by requesting to speak. The tiny building was dimly lit, smoky, and crowded as Washington took the floor; the faces of his men were expressionless. Washington fumbled with his prepared address, starting, stopping, tripping on his words in the dim candlelight. After a few attempts at beginning, he paused, “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.”
The impassioned speech that followed… was really unnecessary. Washington’s sincere request reminded every officer in that room how selfish they had all been. No amount of money, treasure, or property could replace what they had won, together. Eventually, Congress granted the officers some of the pay owed them, but the Revolution had been saved by a true leader that night in a tiny cabin in Newburgh, New York.