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"The Conway Cabal" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2017 4:16 p.m. PST

"During the dismal autumn of 1777, these detractors included Granny Gates, an American general, a factious Congressional clique, Benjamin Rush, the highly esteemed "Father of American Medicine," and a certain ambitious foreign officer named Thomas Conway. They were all critical of Washington's handling of the war and they all wanted Washington replaced. Whether they united deliberately to form a "cabal," or plot, is debatable; regardless, their sniping, griping, and machinations have come to be known as the "Conway Cabal."

George Washington learned of a letter written by Conway to Gates that called him a weak general; he learned of anti-Washington talk in Congress; and he was aware of broadsides, letters, and talk questioning his abilities. This "cabal" so frustrated and embittered Washington that he indicated that he would resign from the army if his performance continued to be brought into question.

The campaign of 1777 was, by most estimations, the low point of Washington's military career. He retreated from Brandywine and he let slip away a probable triumph in the fog at the Battle of Germantown. Meanwhile his countryman General Horatio Gates had won a smashing victory at Saratoga. There was a desire expressed within the military and within Congress to have the commander in chief sent home to Mount Vernon and to replace him with the more successful Gates…"
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Personal logo Ironwolf Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2017 5:33 p.m. PST

Reading history has made it clear to me, politics was just as dirty then as it is now.

95th Division Supporting Member of TMP22 Apr 2017 8:34 a.m. PST

I think you are correct. The main difference being that there was no 24 hour news cycle and social media bombarding the public with constant 'updates'.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP22 Apr 2017 11:54 a.m. PST



Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP23 Apr 2017 4:05 a.m. PST

Actually, if you look at it from a contemporary perspective, ie as things stood in 1777, rather than with the modern-day interpretation of Washington as the "great leader" of the Continental Army (which he became only later) the "cabal" is not only easy to understand, but actually an example of Congress doing its job properly. It was part of the role of the political body to question the efficacy of the military leadership, as is right and proper in a democracy (using that word loosely). I think if Churchill or Lincoln had been president of Congress in 1777, dear old GW would have been on his way back to Mount Vernon right after Germantown and Gates given the nod as C-in-C. History has shown that, with hindsight, those who supported GW were correct (or at least had the best man for the job already); however, after the defeats at Brandywine and Germantown, and the loss of their capital, Philadelphia, GW's stock was not particularly high at the end of 1777 (Trenton/Princeton notwithstanding), whilst Saratoga brought France into the war, or so it seemed.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP23 Apr 2017 8:05 a.m. PST

The members of the Conway Cabal were evil because they lost to St. George Washington.
Even I can admit Washington was a better politician than general. And he got better at both as he went along.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP23 Apr 2017 8:10 a.m. PST

If you compare Germantown with Trenton, there is a similarity. Both were overly complicated, but one succeeded while the other did not. The pieces that did not gel at Trenton (the landings south of Trenton) were not that vital, while his approaches by different roads to the north did not stray.
He was as lucky at Trenton as he was unlucky at Germantown.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP24 Apr 2017 10:44 a.m. PST

Currently reading 'Fatal Sunday'. Beginning of book talks about this episode and mirrors what was said above. One needs to put a contemporary view to it. Hindsight is easy. Provides an interesting backdrop to how the Monmouth Campaign unfolded.

Bill N24 Apr 2017 1:47 p.m. PST

Even I can admit Washington was a better politician than general.

I think we underestimate how important it was that the commander of the American army in the AWI be a good politician.

Virginia Tory25 Apr 2017 9:28 a.m. PST

What dantheman said.

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