Skip to main content

Washington Stems Disaster

May 2024
1min read

I would most like to have been once in the presence of George Washington. In that rich lifetime were many revealing moments, but my choice would be March 15, 1783. Britain had conceded the military triumph of the American colonies. Fighting had ceased. But despite the promise of impending peace, a binding treaty was not in place. Washington held warily to “an old and true maxim that to make a good peace, you ought to be prepared to carry on tue war.” Yet to his dismay, throughout his officer corps, the indispensable backbone of the army he must hold intact, raged such anger against the indifference of Congress to their needs that an ugly proposal of mutiny had won support. Washington called a meeting and addressed his malcontents in person. He asked for their continued patience with Congress, implored them not to sully their glorious achievement by a disgraceful act, and promised his intervention on their behalf. As he read his remarks, he paused. He took out his spectacles and begged his audience’s indulgence while putting them on, observing that he had grown old in their service and now found himself growing blind. That gesture, an officer remembered later, “forced its way into the heart.” And Washington prevailed. It was a quintessential Washingtonian gesture, genuine but also studied, for he had mastered the histrionics as well as the dynamics of leadership. It was one of his great moments, and to have been there would have been one of mine.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate