Men of Honor: General Washington and Major André

Nobody likes a traitor..

Other than Judas, history has no more famous traitor than Benedict Arnold, whose name has become synonymous with betrayal. A military officer in the American Revolution and a friend of George Washington, Arnold fell to persuasion from Major John André, a British spymaster, into surrendering West Point to the British for £20,000. This would have enabled the British to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.

The head of the British Secret Service, Major André crossed behind enemy lines to visit Arnold. When André’s ship did not return for him after coming under enemy fire, Arnold provided André with civilian clothes and a passport that allowed him to travel under a false name. André ran afoul of some militiamen who arrested him. The evidence they found on his person (papers showing the British how to take the fort) soon proved him as a spy.

A charming and likable prisoner, André won over his guards and various officers. His old and new friends on both sides attempted to save his life, but Washington believed he had to pay for his crimes. His actions with Arnold would have damaged the Patriot cause. A board of senior officers investigated André, deliberated, and ordered him hanged as a spy. Alexander Hamilton wrote of him, “Never perhaps did any man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less.”

Benedict Arnold escaped but lost his reputation on both sides. George Washington was a man of great integrity and honor. He considered Arnold a friend. To have a friend and fellow officer betray the cause for financial gain was a horrific shock and a deep insult. At first, Washington refused to believe it. Anyone who has ever experienced disloyalty can imagine how he felt. It was not just a betrayal of himself, but everything they fought for and believed. Arnold agreed to send innocent men to their deaths to advance his own cause. Washington found this unforgivable.

Had the Americans caught Benedict Arnold, they would have hung him. Despite his once-friendship with Washington, despite any personal feelings, because he was a traitor. His actions endangered many. They betrayed his general’s personal trust. And, “the wages of sin is death.”

Treason is no small thing. When the Founders stood against an unjust larger government taxing them without representation to form a new country, they committed treason. As Benjamin Franklin said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” They were well-aware of the potential consequences. When you choose a side, personal courage and honor demands you stay on it.

Major Andre and General Washington both chose a side and knew of the consequences if they failed. Despite his charm, Major André had caused Washington’s men grave losses. The British had also caught and hanged the first American spy, Nathan Hale. The board that found his death necessary understood André had to die as Arnold would have died.

In war, when your mercy can endanger innocent lives, you must do what benefits the greater cause. Washington better than any man knew the cost of war and its awfulness—while many of the Founders fought with words, he struggled in blood-soaked battlefields. Never lecture a soldier on the “cost” of war. They see it in their dead friends’ faces. Washington would not have treated André’s death flippantly. But he found it necessary.

André ‘ a self portrait

André had a choice. He knew his beliefs, his intentions, and his side. André chose to act as a spymaster and turn Benedict Arnold. He rode behind enemy lines and risked his life on a spy mission. He knew the penalty if they caught him: death. Loyalty to their country and beliefs fueled both André and Washington’s decisions. If the Americans had lost, I suspect Washington would have gone to his death as André did—with honor.

André had a choice. He knew his beliefs, his intentions, and his side. André chose to act as a spymaster and turn Benedict Arnold. He rode behind enemy lines and risked his life on a spy mission. He knew the penalty if they caught him: death. Loyalty to their country and beliefs fueled both André and Washington’s decisions. If the Americans had lost, I suspect Washington would have gone to his death as André did—with honor.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop devotes her free time to eating chocolate, debating theology with her friends, researching the Tudors, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life.

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2 thoughts on “Men of Honor: General Washington and Major André

  1. evaschon

    Excellent article.

    I first ‘met’ John Andre when I read Jack Cavanaugh’s great novel about the Revolutionary War – ‘The Patriots’. He features as a side character in that and I liked him. And then I adored JJ Feild’s portrayal in TURN.

    Arnold was the one completely without honor in this situation – Washington and Arnold were both fighting for what they believed in, but Arnold was fighting/betraying his comrades for money.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Charity Post author

      Andre would be a great character for a novel, so I can see why you enjoyed him. I like Fields’ Andre as well. Made me angry when they executed him. 😛

      I don’t think anyone has anything nice to say about Benedict Arnold. I’m sure he had his good points in addition to his flaws, but being a traitor doesn’t tend to leave you an enduring popular legacy. I’m not sure how he thought he would benefit in the end. 😛

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