HomeHamilton DatabaseOriginal Source DocumentsHamilton DatabaseNewburgh Conspiracy Correspondence with George Washington

Newburgh Conspiracy Correspondence with George Washington

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Reconstructed Temple of Virtue at the New Windsor Cantonment, site of the March 15th Officers' MeetingReconstructed Temple of Virtue at the New Windsor Cantonment, site of the March 15th Officers' Meeting

What is the "Newburgh Conspiracy"?

Today known as the Newburgh Conspiracy, it was a series of events that centered around a meeting arranged for officers stationed at the New Windsor Cantonment, New York in March 1783. An anonymous letter called for a gathering in the cantonment for officers to write up their grievances to Congress over poor conditions and lack of pay. It is unclear what measures they intended to take or to what extent, but the irregularly-called meeting did ignite fear of a potential uprising from the Army. George Washington intervened to counsel the officers to remain patient and have faith that Congress would fulfill their obligations to them. Soon after, Congress came to a compromise on a payment plan for the soliders. 

Brief Timeline

March 9th - Pennsylvania colonel Walter Stewart arrives to New Windsor Cantonment from Philadelphia, spreading a report that Congress planned to dissolve the Army before settling soldiers' pay.
March 10th - "Address to the Officers" sent out
March 11th - Washington sends out general orders to cancel the scheduled officers' meeting and schedules one for the 15th
March 12th - Congress receives the text of the peace treaty
March 15th - Meeting of the officers

Setting the Scene:

George Washington had his headquarters at the Hasbrouck House in Newburgh, New York with the majority of the Continental Army stationed nearby at the New Windsor Cantonment. The last major battle fought by the troops stationed there was the Seige of Yorktown, some fifteen months prior. Also at this time, peace negotiations with Great Britain were coming to a conclusion.
 
Alexander Hamilton had served closely with George Washington as his aide-de-camp for four years (1777-1781). During the period of correspondence featured below (February-May 1783), Alexander Hamilton was serving as a New York representative of the Confederation Congress in Philadelphia. He also became the Chairman of the "Committee for peace arrangements." The Confederation Congress (1781-1789) was made up of representatives of each state. Each state had one vote and all important votes had to be unanimous among the thirteen states. The Confederation Congress had no right to taxation and depended on the states to give them money. 

Chain of correspondence:

February 13, 1783: Hamilton → Washington
Alexander Hamilton writes to George Washington warning him of his concerns for the state of the national finances and for possible unrest within the Army.
Read it from Founders Online.

March 4, 1783: Washington Hamilton 
Washington agrees with much of the sentiments expressed by Hamilton in his previous letter (February 13th), but doesn't believe that the Army will "excee[d] the bounds of reason & moderation."
Read it from Founders Online.

March 5, 1783: Hamilton → Washington
Alexander Hamilton writes a brief note to George Washington asking if he received his letter (February 13th) on a "very confidential subject."
Read it from Founders Online.

March 12, 1783: Washington → Hamilton 
Washington writes a letter informing Hamilton of the anonymous "Address to the Officers" that was circulated on March 10th and the actions that Washington has so far taken in response. 
Read it from Founders Online.

March 17, 1783: Hamilton → Washington
Alexander Hamilton responds to Washington letter (March 12th), approving of Washington's measures to take charge and redirect the discontent. Hamilton also lays out the issues of debt and peace negotiations faced by Congress at this time.
Read it from Founders Online.

March 24, 1783: Hamilton → Washington
Alexander Hamilton writes Washington about the finalization of peace and again expresses his approbation of Washington's actions in the "affair of the officers." He stresses the need for the continued influence of Washington in the shaping of the country's foundations now that the war has been concluded. 
Read it from Founders Online.

March 25, 1783: Hamilton → Washington
Alexander Hamilton writes an official letter on behalf of the Congress expressing their concerns over the ability to constitutionally comply with the resolutions drafted by the officers' meeting on March 15th. He also communicates two propositions considered by Congress to ask for Washington's opinion. 
Read it from Founders Online.

March 25, 1783: Hamilton → Washington
In a private letter sent along with the official letter of March 25th (see above), Alexander Hamilton expresses his personal frustrations on the state of affairs. He states that if Congress does not grant payment to the Army, the Army "must submit to its hard fate" because taking up arms against Congress was not an option.
Read it from Founders Online.

March 31, 1783: Washington → Hamilton 
Washington expresses his happiness at the conclusion of the war. He also writes of his oftenly-expressed sentiments on the "defects of the present Constitution" and asks for more detail on Hamilton's thoughts.
Read it from Founders Online.

April 4, 1783: Washington → Hamilton 
George Washington responds to Hamilton's two letters from March 25th. Washington goes on to warn that Congress should not disband the army before settling payment to them and that the Army "entertain[s] suspicions that Congress...[will] make a sacrafice of the Army and all its interests" for their own purposes.
Read it from Founders Online.

Continued Related Correspondence:

April 8, 1783: Hamilton → Washington
April 9, 1783: Hamilton → Washington
April 16, 1783: Washington → Hamilton 
April 16, 1783: Washington → Hamilton 
April 22, 1783: Washington → Hamilton
May 2, 1783: Washington → Hamilton  


Important Related Documents 

"Address to the Officers"
Anonymously written by who is believed to be John Armstrong, Jr, the document called for a meeting of the officers to write out their grievances about Congress.
Read it from Founders Online  (text is found in enclosure No. 2)

General Orders, 11 March 1783
George Washington expresses his "disapprobation of such disorderly proceedings," refering to the meeting called for in the 'Address to the Officers,' and schedules a new meeting for March 15th.
Read it from Founders Online.

Washington's "Newburgh Address"
The speech that George Washington gave to the officers convened at the March 15th meeting, in which he asked for continued patience and "a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress."
Read it from Early America.  

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