RETRACE OUR STEPS: The Newburgh Veterans (1783)
Ten years after the American Revolution, Elias Boudinot gave a speech on the Fourth of July, reminding his audience of the Newburgh Conspiracy. During the war, soldiers had been fighting and dying for their country while their families were surviving mostly upon charity. Now that the war was over, Congress was still broke and it looked as though the soldiers would return home with nothing. When George Washington learned of a military coup against Congress, he ordered a meeting with the Officers and promised to do whatever he could on their behalf. The Officers quickly denounced the scheme. In closing, Boudinot encouraged his audience to emulate the Newburgh Veterans.
“The war-worn soldiers, reduced to the calamities of a seven years arduous service, now solemnly pause and reflect on… their critical situation… want and dire distress stare many in the face… [And now,] Their country’s exhausted treasury cannot yield them even the hard-earned pittance of a soldier’s pay…
Brotherly affection [however] produces brotherly relief [and] the victorious bands unite together… and instead of seizing their arms, and demanding their right by menace and violence, they… determine to give one more proof of unexampled patriotism… [They] unite in a firm, indissoluble bond… to continue their mutual friendship… and to effectuate [offer] every act of beneficence [benevolence]… to any of their number and their families who might unfortunately be [in need]…
[Allow] me to congratulate you on this seventeenth anniversary of our happy independence. Long, long, even to the remotest ages, may the citizens of this rising empire enjoy the triumphs of this day! May they never forget the invaluable price which it [Independence] cost… [And] May we, by the uniform conduct of good citizens, and generous, faithful friends, show ourselves worthy of such valuable connections!” Elias Boudinot, Oration before the Society of the Cincinnati, July 4, 1793
“… the good sense of the Officers has terminated this Affair in a manner, which reflects the greatest glory on themselves and demands the highest expressions of gratitude from their Country.” George Washington, Letter to Benjamin Harrison, Sr., March 19, 1783
“If the whole Army has not merited whatever a grateful people can bestow… then shall I have learned what ingratitude is… [and it] will embitter every moment of my future life. But I am under no such apprehensions, [because] a Country rescued by their Arms from impending ruin, will never leave unpaid the debt of gratitude.” George Washington, Letter to Congress (Elias Boudinot), March 18, 1783
“… should we wander from [the Founding Principles]… let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.” Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801