Arnold, Benedict

Was Benedict Arnold’s treason during the American Revolutionary War predictable?

When in February 1777 Congress created five new major generalships, Arnold was passed over in favor of his juniors.  Arnold resented this affront, and only Washington’s personal persuasion kept him from resigning.

Two months later he repelled a British attack on Danbury, Connecticut, and was made a major general, but his seniority was not restored and Arnold felt his honor impugned.  Again he tried to resign.

Finally, after the Battle of Saratoga (Fall, 1777) he was restored to his proper relative rank.

However, In 1778 he began living extravagantly and violated several state and military regulations to raise money.  Then, in 1779, Arnold married Peggy Shippen, a Loyalist sympathizer.

All the classic warning signs of treason are there: repeated affronts to one’s pride, money troubles, and more frequent and intimate associations with enemy sympathizers.

George Washington should have seen this one coming.

(As a side note, it is interesting how often jealousy plays a role in history–office politics writ large.  The Britannica gives many examples of jealous peers getting a leader in trouble with a Pope or a king.  Arnold’s career troubles may have originated in his fellow officers being jealous of his successes and his “rash courage and impatient energy.”  For a good primer on office politics, especially in the military, try reading The Caine Mutiny.)

Whatever happened to Arnold?  In 1781 he retired to England–inactive, ostracized and ailing for the rest of his life from various war injuries.  And that’s a lesser-known risk of being a spy–NEITHER side respects you.  I wonder if Edward Snowden will face this same problem, even if people decide he is a hero rather than a spy.


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