“'You cannot conceive the uneasiness which arises from the total want of so essential an Article as Money.’”
So wrote General Washington to the governors of the United States in January 1782. He was pleading for pay for the officers and soldiers who’d fought in the American Revolution—which wasn’t over yet, by the way.
This may be news to the vast majority who believe that the revolution ended with Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown in 1781. In fact, the war didn’t officially end until November 1783, and the U.S.’s future cohesion and strength was by no means as inevitable as we’re often led to believe.
The army, which hadn’t been paid, was in real danger of mutiny. In the South, General Greene reported “‘the distress of the Officers are great and many of them have drained every private resource in their power. Many bear their sufferings to a certain degree beyond which it is dangerous to push them nay ruinous.’” A similar discontent prevailed in the Army of the North. Meanwhile, an ineffectual and nearly bankrupt Congress made the long-suffering military promises it couldn’t keep.
This was only one of the daunting problems the new nation faced. In fact, given the difficulties and dangers—not to mention some extremely bad behavior on all sides—it’s astounding that our forefathers ever managed to forge a nation.
Then I started reading, and found a fascinating, suspenseful story, just chock full of the exhaustive detail Nerdy History Persons hunger for: yes, lots of quotations from original sources, all beautifully footnoted.
Even better, it’s a terrific example of history’s relevance, offering insights into today’s battling factions in Congress, power struggles between the legislative and executive branch, issues of big vs. small government—and, of course that essential Article, Money. *Unlike the majority of books referred to in this blog, which Susan and I buy with our own actual money, this one came gratis.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.