|General George Washington,
by Charles Willson Peale, 1776
|General Horatio Gates,
by Gilbert Stuart, 1793-94
|General Thomas Conway
|General James Wilkinson
Conway’s response was to protest that he had never called Washington a weak general—a patent falsehood—and to go on to say tactlessly that, although Washington’s advice in council was “commonly sound and proper,” he was influenced by men who weren’t his equal in knowledge or judgment, nicely disparaging Washington and his staff in the same breath.
|General Thomas Mifflin
The war of letters wasn’t going well in Congress either. Washington’s opponents succeeded in appointing Mifflin and Gates to the board of war, with Gates as its president. Over Washington’s opposition, Conway was promoted to major general and assigned to the new post of army inspector general, which rankled the commander in chief to no end. To add insult to injury, Conway was to work alongside Washington but to answer only to the board.
by John Trumbull, 1806
In January 1778, Conway and Gates appeared before Congress in an effort to clear their names, but they refused to reveal the letter that started the controversy. And I wonder why! General Lafayette, as though he was speaking for the French court, implied that France could not conceive of a commander other than Washington. At that point Congress saw the handwriting on the wall, and in the end, fully supported Washington. The cabal collapsed, with the consequence that Mifflin and Wilkinson both resigned from the board of war; Gates apologized for his part in the affair and slunk back to his own command; and Conway, who was transferred to a subordinate command, resigned from the army in protest. The Conway Cabal was the only serious threat to Washington’s command during the war, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Considering today’s political machinations, the writer of Ecclesiastes seems to have it right: There’s nothing new under the sun. Does any of this seem familiar to you in today’s political scene? Certainly no one enjoys being criticized, but do you think legitimate criticism of our leaders can be beneficial to the health and welfare of our republic, depending on how it’s handled? How might the suppression of all criticism be harmful? Please share your thoughts!
~~~J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 Indie Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, received the 2017 Interviews and Reviews Silver Award for Historical Fiction. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.