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Home > History > The Story of Benedict Arnold's Treason - The Why, the How, and the Causes and Effects.

The Story of Benedict Arnold's Treason - The Why, the How, and the Causes and Effects.

This article details the reasons behind Arnold's treason and how his actions cemented his legacy as American history's chief antagonist.
The Treason of Benedict Arnold

The Source of Arnold's Rage

For much of the Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold was highly regarded. He played major parts in Patriot victories at Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga, and was crippled in his failed attempt to take Quebec city. He was a favorite of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Behind the scenes, however, Arnold's bitterness toward the Continental Congress, and certain political figures such as John Reed and military leaders such as Horatio Gates, had reached a boiling point. Arnold had indeed been snubbed by Congress. He had been passed over for many promotions, which were instead given to those he deemed inferior. He had been largely denied credit for his military successes and took a back seat to Ethan Allen at Fort Ticonderoga and Horatio Gates at Saratoga. Furthermore, Arnold lived a lavish lifestyle and incurred significant financial debt. His new wife, Peggy, came from a family that was known to have Loyalist sentiments. It is thought that Peggy, accustomed to living the high life, encouraged his treason. Arnold came to believe that as long as there was a Continental Congress, the American experiment would never work.

Conducting Treason

Thus, in 1780, Benedict Arnold made the decision to covertly contact British General Henry Clinton, with the intentions of surrendering the Patriot fort at West Point along the Hudson River, for which he was assigned command. From the start, Arnold's actions at the fort were suspicious. He never ordered important repairs to the fort and he also weakened its defenses by sending away weapons. Some of his subordinate officers believed he was selling the weapons on the black market for his personal gain. Negotiations for the surrender occurred between Arnold and a popular British operative named John Andrè. Among other things, Arnold would receive 20,000 Pounds and a commission as an officer in the British army. Andrè, however, would be captured carrying the plans for West Point, and would be summarily hanged. Andrè's capture made it immediately clear that Arnold was a traitor, and he narrowly escaped capture himself - saved only by a dramatic "breakdown" by his wife, Peggy, that succeeded in stalling Washington and Hamilton long enough to allow Arnold to escape to the British side. Washington, who was a chief supporter of Arnold, was said to have been devastated.

Spurned in the British Military As Well

Arnold, meanwhile, became a brigadier general in the British army, but was passed over for promotions because his traitorous actions made him untrustworthy. In 1781, Arnold led in a raid that led to the torching of New London, Connecticut, only miles from his hometown. Following the war, Arnold never returned to America. He died in England in 1801, leaving a legacy of shame that continues to this day in America. It didn't have to be that way, however. One can only speculate that if not for his treason, Arnold's place in American history would be exalted. Perhaps "Benedict" would be a common and proud name among boys today, instead of a name that parents dare not bestow upon them, for fear of the negativity it may invoke.

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