This Week’s Book Review – Turncoat

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Turncoat’ offers a fresh look at Benedict Arnold

By MARK LARDAS

Aug 7, 2018

“Turncoat: Benedict Arnold and the Crisis of American Liberty,” by Stephen Brumwell, Yale University Press, 2018, 384 pages, $30

Benedict Arnold has become synonymous with treason. Yet few today know his story.

“Turncoat: Benedict Arnold and the Crisis of American Liberty,” by Stephen Brumwell is a fresh look at the man and his times.

Arnold was a brilliant general, probably only second to George Washington in talent. Next to Washington, he may be most responsible for the survival of the patriot cause. His dogged defense on Lake Champlain in 1776, and his spirited attacks in the Saratoga campaign in 1777, defeated Britain’s northern offensive and led France to enter the revolution on the American side. Absent Arnold, Britain would likely have won by 1778. Three years later, he tried to give Britain the war by betraying West Point to them.

Brumwell traces what led Arnold to switch sides. It was more complicated than many believe.

Arnold was prickly and always protective of his honor. Washington and many of the other Revolutionary generals also were. Yet Arnold combined this with a personality that created jealous enemies.

Badly wounded at Saratoga, Arnold’s wound denied him the active battlefield command he desired. As a substitute, Washington appointed the injured Arnold military governor of freshly-recaptured Philadelphia in 1778. It proved a poisoned command.

Arnold quickly quarreled with Philadelphia’s civilian government. The ruling Philadelphia radicals attacked Arnold with a flurry of meaningless or trivial charges. They should have been dismissed. Instead, to placate this politically powerful faction led Arnold to be court martialed.

Additionally, the French alliance upset Arnold. The revolution began as a political party fight. This is why loyalists were called Tories. Many viewed the French alliance as inviting a stranger into a family quarrel.

This and disillusionment with the Colonial government led Arnold to switch sides. Viewing himself as a new General Monk (who dumped the Parliamentarians to restore Britain’s monarchy after the English Civil War) Arnold sought to end the war by reunifying colonies with Britain.

Arnold misjudged the moment. Instead his actions increased colonial resolve and made him a synonym for treason.

“Turncoat” is a book with surprising resonance today. It shows what happens when the political gets too personal.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

7+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

6 thoughts on “This Week’s Book Review – Turncoat”

  1. If you really want to understand the Never Trump phenomena, read this book. You will find many parallels between the behavior of the Never Trumpers and Benedict Arnold’s decision to switch sides in the American Revolution.

    2+

    Users who have liked this comment:

    • avatar
    • avatar
  2. Seawriter:
    If you really want to understand the Never Trump phenomena, read this book. You will find many parallels between the behavior of the Never Trumpers and Benedict Arnold’s decision to switch sides in the American Revolution.

    You mean Never Washington, right?

    0

  3. 10 Cents:
    You mean Never Washington, right?

    Actually no. Arnold’s anger was aimed at the politicians in the Continental Congress, and more particularly at the committee running Philadelphia, not Washington, whom Arnold respected. Washington viewed these politicians with equal disdain. His reaction was different than Arnold’s, however.

    1+

    Users who have liked this comment:

    • avatar
  4. I think one can change a famous saying without too much damage. “Pride goeth before” betrayal. The smart often are myopic and pick the wrong side. The proud hate to be under used too.

    0

  5. Seawriter:

    10 Cents:
    You mean Never Washington, right?

    Actually no. Arnold’s anger was aimed at the politicians in the Continental Congress, and more particularly at the committee running Philadelphia, not Washington, whom Arnold respected. Washington viewed these politicians with equal disdain. His reaction was different than Arnold’s, however.

    If the British won did Arnold think they would treat Washington kindly? If not, this is what I met by Never Washington. Arnold’s actions would have assured there was no first president in my opinion if they had succeeded.

    0

  6. 10 Cents:
    If the British won did Arnold think they would treat Washington kindly?

    Actually Arnold probably did. Arnold viewed the Revolution as a political faction fight, of a type frequently occurring in British history. Arnold was wrong in that view by 1780, but it was a pretty accurate description of the dispute in 1774-75. There was a reason those loyal to Britain were called Tories. Forgotten today is that the patriot party started out by being called Whigs, the party opposed to the Tories in Parliament.

    The American Revolution only became a revolt after King George III sided with Parliament (run by the Tory party) in late 1775.

    Also, in 1780 Britain had made an offer to settle the war by allowing the colonies to return to their previous allegiance, with a general amnesty, representation in Parliament and let’s go fight the French. (A lot of Continentals – including Washington – disliked and mistrusted the French.) While that would have settled things in 1775 or 1776, by 1780 those terms were past their “sell-by” date.

    4+

    Users who have liked this comment:

    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar
    • avatar

Leave a Reply