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tv   Dissension in the Continental Army  CSPAN  January 3, 2021 9:00pm-9:57pm EST

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next, historian mark edward lender discusses his book, "cabal, the plot against general washington." ofis about a group politicians and generals looking to relieve george washington of his command. >> now for today's speaker, mark lender. he does a phd in american history from doctors university. he is a professor at key union in new jersey. he retired as vice president for academic affairs. he is the co-author of 11 books. his book, fatal sunday, george , --ington the subjectook and
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for his talk today is "cabal, the plot against general washington." please welcome mark lender. mark: thank you, i do appreciate it. i thinks to the invitation to speak. i want to thank everyone for tuning in. i want to begin with a letter. i did not need these just year ago but i need them now. 1778. in may of washington had a few spare moments to write to landon cardi. could talk to him about things that he would not have two lesser acquaintances. sort of an on burning. it was a long letter about who was doing what, private affairs.
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then he hit on a less pleasant subject. it tot he could confide an old friend. letter to landon carter, he says there was a scheme to supersede me of my command. now washington did not mention names, it is clear from the context of the letter that those involved in the scheme were major generals horatio greats -- horatio gates, major general thomas mifflin and major general thomas conway. when the plot that washington feared became public, i will continue to read from the letter. -- they hadmeasure professed themselves my warmest
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admirers. this is as blunt a statement we have from washington on his belief in what is dorians have called the conway cabal. that will be my subject this afternoon. anway cabal has had interesting time with historians. early historians believe that the threat to washington's command was real. but in 1940, a fine scholar wrote a book called washington and the revolution in which he concluded that while the critics of washington were annoying, they did not actually constitute a major threat to his command. generallyeen the prevailing view. it whileinterested in writing a previous book.
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ever since that, it sort of nagged at me that there was more to this than i think most historians understood. i will argue this afternoon that the plot against washington was indeed quite real. a matter of critics that were annoying washington while he was trying to save the army at valley forge. not necessarily a political plot per se but an effort by various with a lot of congressional support to wear away the command authority of washington as commander-in-chief and in effect, take command of the war effort from his hands. it was as much as anything, an administrative coup that had a
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great deal of power. you have to look at who washington's critics were and why their motives were and they shared the disappointment in washington pasta command -- washington's command. we will talk our way through this. i hope you can all see that. a lot of the chief problems that washington had -- i am sure that most of you are familiar with this. undercord in 1777 was pressure. and the was occupied counterattack at germantown was beaten and the real, major
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disappointment came in november -- they were two toges that controlled access the city. the loss of those forts, the royal navy was able to get through to philadelphia and provision general william how's army. it was a crushing blow to morale. major general horatio gates forced the surrender of an entire british army at saratoga. horatio gates has had a different time -- difficult time with his story. has warned the
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shadow of his criticisms of washington. he was critical, he lost the battle of camden in south carolina in 1780. from which his military reputation never covered. we cannot write off ratio gates -- horatio gates just like that. he had a combat record in the seven years war. military paper pusher. that is not the sexy part of military history but this is a man who knew how to keep records, draft orders. he knew had to make sure that people got paid. quartermaster operations. these were skills that most american officers did not have. washington eventually appreciated horatio gates's skill. he made him managing general of
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the army. this was the man who took care of those tory records. there were that supplies. let's go that was absolutely essential. when he won the battle of saratoga, you have to understand that horatio gates was a genuine national hero. there is no question about that. one can understand why there givenbe comparisons washington's performance at gates'lphia and gaetz -- in the north. washington had his criticisms and they were a very bunch. on the top of the portraits on the right of your screen, that is benjamin rush. he was a signer of the declaration of independence from pennsylvania. below him is richard henry lee. he sponsored a resolution for independence in congress.
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low him is anthony wayne who became a favorite of washington but in 1777 was writing letters saying thatates washington was losing and the veterans were getting tired of it. we have to keep the perspective of 2020 on 1777. every man in that collage of portraits was a patriot that didn't want to lose the war. they did not have any personal animosity against washington. they just believe that he was not doing the job which he was hired. to anthony wayne's right is --ual adams of washington washington his son was serving as a doctor close to the lines. actually serving heroically. to the right of your screen is
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abraham clark of new jersey. was criticizing washington, one of his sons was a prisoner of war. of them treated so deplorably .hat congress had to retaliate they had to do the same thing to a british officer. there is daniel broadhead. in november of 1777, also saying to horatio gates that officers are tired of losing battles. they want to serve under gates. broadhead was openly blaming the losses on washington's leadership. screen underof the abraham clark is another major general. thomas met for. -- thomas mifflin. he was washington aid, he was in high favor with washington.
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have added other individuals to that collage. these were serious men. their arguments were basically on two fronts. you had men like mifflin, wayne whose arguments were simply military. washington was losing. then you had samual adams, benjamin rush, abraham clark simply objected to washington's decisions. they wanted to rely on militia. there is historical context that we have to keep in. the military history of the 13 colonies was in fact, british military. as they discussed on the floor of congress while they are debating what to do about the losing campaign of 1777, can -- congressional critics of washington noted that during the seven years war, the british
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government did not hesitate to replace losing generals. the british commander-in-chief -- british commander-in-chief after british commander-in-chief was relieved of duty if he did not produce military and political resorts. they went through a succession of planners until they hit jeffrey amherst who proved to be a war winner but it was a rough road for officers who did not land and commerce was aware of that. that leads to the question of whether congress would fire commander-in-chief. the answer to that is yes because they did. there were two commanders in chief during the revolution. there was washington, commander in chief of the company to -- continental army and commodore watkins -- hopkins,
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commander-in-chief of the continental navy. he lost political support. in fact, in early 1778, congress fired him. the president was there -- precedent was there. two generals in particular would have. thomas mifflin and thomas conway. you can read conway's letter. it is a famous letter. who was thomas conway? was an irish french officer. he was born in ireland and his to france avenue young age. he was fluent in irish -- english and french. to dust theamerica resume. that way he could go back to france and serve in the french army. he was a good disciplinarian.
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he trained his troops well. goods considered a very brigadier general. he was the junior brigadier general. he was not shy about his own abilities. there was an episode in washington's existence that made the general furious. the junior brigadier wants to be promoted above all the other brigadier's and washington had a great deal of trouble keeping the other figures in line -- hegadier's in line because had a lot of friends in congress. he also had a friend in horatio gates. gates wrote a letter to praising gates. an excerpt of it inadvertently became public. he quickly.
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you don't know if that is the exact wording of the letter that conway wrote to gates. jamesame to light because wilkins had too much to drink as he was carrying the dispatch, from gates tos congress. he stopped at the headquarters of general william alexander. he had too much to drink in the of woodwith the general sterling's aids including james monroe, the future president and junior officer. this is what he leaked to those reportedwho promptly to their commander in the next day.
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washington knew that he was being criticized but now he could actually put names on who might be involved. he already had contempt for conway because of conway's persistence in being promoted. this was thomas mifflin also writing to gates. you can read it and the long and as far ast is that mifflin was concerned, the cause was essentially lost unless gates came south, took command of the main army and retrieved the patriot military situation. research, on of my the cabal book, i found any
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number of these letters. this was the general sentiment at the time. first actual call for a change in command. we have to ask if there was really a plot. any number of senior patriot leaders certainly thought so. we can go quickly across the top. there was henry lawrence going left to right. the president of the continental congress. alexander hamilton who was a .lose aide lafayette, agyeman harrison, a signer of the declaration of independence. a member of the board of war, we will return to him. nathanael greene, john lawrence. he was the son of henry lawrence. imagine the letters those two wrote. john whorence keeping
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was also a member of washington 's staff and informed him what was going on in congress. john keeping his father informed about what was being said in washington. henry knox, of course, washington himself, a love these men -- absolutely convinced. to two key sources i want focus on is henry lawrence. he was better positioned to keep his finger on the pulse of political opinion and the higher reaches of patriot leadership. he wrote to his son, john in early january. it is pretty clear that he was worried. these were events that i dreaded in many incidents and many of these are coming to maturity.
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and letter is long, complex highly detailed. that is just an excerpt you are seeing. in it, he makes no secret that in his mind, washington was in trouble with continental congress. benjamin harrison also but into another member of congress, robert morris from savannah. hemade it very clear that actually used the word, cabal. this is the phrasing that want to emphasize, beware of the board of war. benjamin harrison was an original member of the board of war. in board of war was created mid-1776 to take the routine minutia of military administration off the back of
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congress. congress have been trying to run the war as a committee. that was impossible. there were too many distractions, finance, political affairs with 13 states, diplomatic correspondence, indian affairs, they could not run the work effectively. they were taking care of routine military records, correspondence, inventory equipment that was not being used to take care of british pows, to make sure that all of this stuff was taken care of efficiently and that washington did not have to worry about it in running a war effort. it did not work. the board of war was composed of members of congress and they ran into the same problems that trying to run the war that congress as a whole ran into. the president of the board of war was john adams. he said he never worked so hard in his life. while he tried to run the board of war.
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ofy reorganized in october 1777. they try to create a board not composed of members of congress but of those that had experience in military affairs to run the same functions but on a professional basis and undistracted basis. the board of war would be focused on these issues and not worried about anything else going on in congress. importantly, the board of war was never intended to deal with the army's daily operations. it will support -- to be a support function. with thomas mifflin entering the situation. he had flown out with washington for the reasons -- for reasons that go beyond our canon this afternoon. his relationship with the
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commander-in-chief had become embittered. washington was disappointed in the performance of his quartermaster general. consultant the chief that congress belied on as they reorganized the board of war. with ishave to deal scope and management literature. but this actually has a formal definition in the united states military. i am reading from the army manual right now. when a unit attempts to do more than it is allowed to do. when ancreep occurs organization sets out to do things that they were never intended to do. it was not necessarily bad.
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sometimes an organization will try to do things that make sense even though it was not necessarily created to handle such and such a task. this is what we saw, a power grab. 1777was between october of which is when it was reorganized 1778.rch of wanted an officer and inspector general to train the ofy, to establish protocol routine drills, tactical evolutions. --icer valuations evaluations. be a direct staff member and valuable staff member.
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remember friedrich von steuben as that. but that is not what washington face. congress commits the board of war to establish and inspector general that did not report to washington. the inspector general would have reported directly to the board of war. they would not have been a member of washington's staff. washington would have had no authority over them whatsoever. the inspector general would implement a training regiment and would conduct officer evaluations, make extensive reports on all army functions directly to the board of work. washington had no control over that young man. it was washington -- he considered it an insult.
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threat to hisit a command authority. mifflin convinced congress to promote thomas conway to the post of inspector general and make him the major general. washington almost faced a revolt of his other rickety ears -- brigadiers. we know that privately, he was truly indignant of this whole its logicalken to conclusion, the inspector general would in effect have of the army.el if you can devise how the army is going to be trained and how it will conduct itself you arely in the field, responsible for officer evaluations. this is normally what a commander-in-chief would do.
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this was being taken away. washington and his staff knew what to do. letter ofd from a alexander hamilton to washington. this is the extent of this operation. it makes the inspector general independent of the commander-in-chief and it confers powers which will produce universal opposition in the army. a brat of scheme is fashion. xander spoke for washington and his staff and said that it -- powerer program grab at it ♪ -- paragraph at
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the expense of washington's command. this was to establish a complete separate commissary opposition -- operation to supply food and porridge for the army but he did it independently from the department that reported to washington. the established commissary department would not interfere with the operation of the commissary a -- agents. it created mass confusion. because the army was in pennsylvania, the commissary agents of the state of pennsylvania were all competing for the same supplies, heading up prices, creating mass confusion, less origin food raised the army in a time when
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the army was starving. the quartermaster department which was supposed to take care of army movements and take care this,chases outside of mifflin created a plan approved by congress so that the quartermaster general would not report directly to washington, it would be a creature of the board of war. this is a violation of unity command. in addition to the expected i can go on and on. there is not really time to go into the ways in which the board of war began to step on washington's authority. the existing units moved him
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around without telling washington. withy actually interfered washington as an attempt to prison operations with the british army. they will take over control of actual daily operations with the army. , the so-called direction into canada. the army on the verge of , troops deserting, dying of disease, horatio gates decided to launch an independent invasion. he did not discuss the plan with washington beforehand. washington was never included in
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the planning for the operation. theas to be run totally by board of war. direction was the term that congress used. was the term that congress use. washington at this point had had enough. stepped in and actually told lafayette that he did not have to go directly to the north to assume command. that he would be allowed to go to new york when congress was in session and argue about the commander or management involved in the northern invasion. technically, this was insubordination. washington was not involved in that chain of command. it was directly from gates and
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the board of war to lafayette. in the army to this itself was explosive. that arewo reactions really worth something. his title was not ambassador but he was the equivalent of the french ambassador. gerard. andre he reported directly to the french foreign minister of virginia. them in theto keep french quarter abreast of what was going on in america. close to the ground. his contacts in congress and outside of congress were very good. when the word of the interruption became public, to himgot off a letter
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and he explained it, am quoting from him right now. the entire proposal was a cabal : "the cabal against washington." i don't see how it could be anything else. and even more revealing letter was written by a member of congress, joseph reed, pennsylvanian. reed served asr, an aid to washington. his relationship with washington was quite tepid. 1776, washington had inadvertently become aware of anotherndence between american general, generally and joseph reed. it was clear that reed had become critical of washington
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and impressed with gates. theington, in the midst of 1776 crisis, let it go but his neveronship with reed really healed and never had the warmth it originally had. confronteded was about the abruption into canada, interpreted old against thea shot commander-in-chief. he wrote to another pennsylvania. -- pennsylvanian. in any form at measures on adopting
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-- can never agree to. either change the hands or support them. in other words, it is either time to back washington or get rid of him. reed announced to all that who would listen that it is time to support washington to support washington a matter what your previous criticisms of him would be. that the war effort was running off the rails and this contact -- contest between the board of -- itd commander-in-chief was the abruption into canada that finally crystallized a realization in congress that they had allowed the board of war to go too far. what was really going on was -- it was quite legal, it was done
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publicly but it really amounted to an administrative coup. one by one, the board of war was removing the command authority on general washington. in all the succeeded efforts they had attempted, washington would have just been another general. the title of commander-in-chief would have been completely empty. the board of war would have been running the american war effort. that he of course survived the war as commander-in-chief but that does not to get the fact that the attempt to diminish his command authority was quite serious. the board of war had a great deal of support. there were even officers that were sponsored with washington and were willing to go along.
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in other words, the conway cabal was real. remember that collage of people who believed that the conway cabal and threat to washington was real? some of the best individuals in senior patriot leaderships, both in politics and the military. what was had known really going on, these are the people that would have known it. for many generations of that, ins to question find it quite surprising having reviewed the evidence. there were not paranoid, they reacted to real events, they reacted strongly to the inspector general fair.
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-- affair. they reacted with a great deal of mystification and even anger board'sful lot of the efforts to undermine washington's authority. we have some conclusions. cabal as --ee the it was the action of the board of war. it was heavily influenced by washington's critics. as peoplesuspects thought at the time were mifflin, gates and thomas conway. washington supporters saw it from the beginning and they were right.
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the mission was quite real 1777 andctober of march of 1778. there is no question about it, the board struck directly at washington's command authority. the board had political support. very few members of congress stood up and said we should not be doing this. the few was one of voices who consistently supported washington in congress. that was the abruption into canada that was the wake-up call that most members of congress needed in order to back off. we know that the conway cabal ultimately failed. we know that washington had the political skill and ultimately,
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the political support and military support to deal with this. so how did washington survive? there is an answer for that. go out and get the book. here is the book. it will be available to you in the giftwrap of the museum if you want. today,er of my notes there is a 26 page paper that is luminously footnoted. i would be happy to emailer to anybody who wants a copy. thank you very much for your attention. i enjoyed it myself and i hope you did too. i will hang around for questions and answers. adam: thank you, mark. fascinating. while we are waiting for questions from our viewers to go in, just to reiterate that you mark's bookpies of our other bestse
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collection of items -- ask our authors in these programs who are so deeply engaged in these subjects, what is next on your list to research and publish? two project. -- projects. when the book is written, it is awaiting publication and i looked to go back to horatio .ade -- horatio gates he was not the lightweight that people supposed. i look at the war in the north with a focus on ticonderoga. aside fromme that -- ofavado a lot of these
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there are three historians involved in this, when looking at the northern frontier anticolonial -- and the colonial period. i am looking at it from 1777 until the end of the war. it is a fascinating period. northern new york was a vast indians,d of canadian .- canadians, indians that made for complex military a complexcal -- military and put situation. when that book is done, i am halfway through working with a fellow author. inare looking at violence the war.
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most of what we have seen published is a description of of the violence. away any doubt that the american revolution was simply a ghastly mess. it was a horrific war. what we have had our areriptions of -- descriptions of the violence, we are trying to explain it. this is a pretty grim reading to tell you the truth. but we think it is revealing and we think it is a new take on the war for independence and one that i think deserves a lot more attention. it keeps me off the streets and
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out of trouble. historians never really retire. there is always something new. i am sure that you're all getting different versions of that same story. >> the subject of the conway knownis a relatively less area in the illustrious life of george washington. what interested you in digging further into the subject? a i mentioned earlier that friend of mine, gary is an archaeologist. we teamed up to write a book called fatal sunday. the battle of monolith had always been a fascinating thing. i did not live all that far from the battlefield. it is one of the best preserved
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battlefields in the country. we got into this because i was the campaign was simply misunderstood. that the importance of the battle was not necessary -- necessarily military. the british got what they wanted out of the battle. they got their army safely back to new york to be deployed. a semblance of military performance that he could claim as a victory. he really needed that after the cabal experience. he was bruised. another losing or mediocre campaign. he needed a political victory. the subtitle was the politics battle.
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in looking at the politics of the monmouth campaign, washington's suspicion was a lot more precarious than a lot of historians let out. it also showed that in addition skills -- hisy political skills were shrewd. washington knew had to fight politically. he knew how to use individuals on his behalf. he had a first rate staff. hamilton was part of it, john lawrence was part of it. very talented, very well-connected. when it came time to fight back, washington could organize the defense.
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apparently he gets a lot of credit for that, at least among historians. i think the general public as sort of mr. that but it was the monmouth campaign that really brought that out. that is where my interest came out. adam: what happened to horatio gates after the cabal ended? gaetz -- gates, it blew up in his face. he was allowed to return to the field. board never attempted to become involved in the daily operations of the army again. gates went back to field command but they were more administrative command.
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he never commanded in battle again until 1780. ates theon offered g command in a subtle expedition iroqu the euro coy -- ois. needs aid no, that younger man. the continental army was .aptured south tosent gates organize the continental army and he committed to battle. at the battle of camden in 1780, he was absolutely routed. a very controversial defeat. gates made critical tactical errors. cornwallis simply drove his army
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off the battlefield. nevers reputation recovered. he wanted a formal hearing to clear his name, he never got it. it took until 1782 until congress returns him to active duty. he became involved in 1783 in what became known as the newburgh -- -- new brick and servicing. conservancy. we don't know what that was, exactly. there were some angry with congress over a lack of pay. at the heartbably of that. washington stopped it dramatically. he was not invited to a meeting that his allies had called that gates was chairing.
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washington crashed the meeting and he told the officers what they had endured, what their legacy was and told him not to disgrace themselves by doing something at the end of the war that would disgrace themselves. if that had happened, if the officers had tried something, i don't know what it would have militaryhe american creation, nothing good. tradition, nothing good. if right at the beginning of the new republic, the continental or sorted theted authority of congress, it would have been terrible.
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at the end of his life, gates was really close with his wife. when she died, it really broke his heart. he remarried for money. his financial problems were gone. he moved to new york and lost a lot of his old friends. he became a jeffersonian in his political outlook. a lot of his new england allies during the federal war had become federalists and walked away from him. generous with continental veterans. -- he ended upen acquitting many officers. -- loan load money money to continental veterans knowing that he would never get it back. he never entered politics in any
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serious way. he never really recovered the reputation he had in 1776. deservedof saratoga all the praise that he got. we will not get into the argument of he -- whether he deserved all the credit that he got. but his reputation never really recovered. the entriess against washington. a terrible loss at cameron. -- camden. he was a genuine founding father. that saw his star rather faded by the end of it. in some ways, tragic. i think our last question is a very fitting one.
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one historian to another, you mentioned it early in your talk. other historians have weighed in on the cabal. dino douglas freeman? washington's major biographers and what he said about this? douglasu know n and what he said about this? bill he heard about it firebrand. it was subsequently identified as being authored by thomas it --n but whoever wrote
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he was never able to find it. he so this whole thing as a personal affront to washington. i don't think he saw it in terms of the administrative coup that i have described. he was looking at -- for a full plot to actually fire washington. that washington took great alarm too. at least in terms of washington's personal feelings. he saw this as a body blow. washington was furious. made washington seem very humid. how could anybody enter insult and criticisms and not be angry?
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washington was. the main point was coming out of the cabal, we saw washington, the man rather than this ivory figure up on a pedestal. does that answer the question? adam: it does and there is one more question if we could squeeze it in. what became of the board of war? mark: it became what it was supposed to be. it became a support office. it handled military correspondence to congress. it kept track of equipment, not what the army was. it made sure that it had army records handled in order. it made sure that washington did not have to handle this
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record-keeping. correspondence anywhere. not there on what washington needed to address immediately. questions in congress about what we do with such and such a situation. it was created to be a support office. it was shifted from that under mifflin and gates and it went had originally been intended to be established as. it conserved through the end of the war and on into the confederation. adam: i think that wraps up our discussion for today. for a to thank dr. lender
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fascinating talk. >> the c-span cities tour travels the country, explain the american story. since 2011, we have been more -- to than 20 places across the country. next, a look at one of our city tour visits. >> we are about 4/10 of a mile from the library. besident bush chose this to the site of his final resting place. and so in april, about a year and a half ago now, we buried mrs. bush here. and then in november, after his death in november and the funeral six days later in december, he was brought up here with the up-4141 and the special car. and amazingly,re

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