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January 17, 1942 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1942-01-17

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Page Five

... A Review, By Howard Peckham

Secre History of the American Rev-
olution, by Carl Van Doren, Viking,
New York, 1941, 534 pp. $3.75.
CARL VAN DOREN belongs to
that all-too-small group of
scholars who can also write well.
Doubtless this talent is his be-
cause he was first a professor of English,
then an editor, critic and biographer,
and lately a historian. His Pulitzer prize-
winning biography of Benjamin Frank-
lin was a best seller because it was emi-
nently readable. Thanks to its style,
-many persons are the better informed
today on Franklin and the eighteenth
century. In his current study, Secret
History of the American Revolution,
Mr. Van Doren has tackled a compli-
cated subject that many a scholar would
have served up as dull and dry as a
bone, or that a professorial writer would
have made sensational and unreliable.
But again Mr. Van Doren has managed
to be accurate and exhaustive and yet
be as readable as a novel. In a sense,
Mr. Van Doren makes history popular
by rendering it painless.
Such an accomplishment does not al-
ways elicit the highest regard from the
academic world. But history does not
exist for the exclusive enjoyment of a
privileged few. It must be made popular
or it loses its primary function. Wash-
ington once stated the argument suc-
cinctly: "As our Country grows and its
population increases-as it will-care
must be taken to have each succeeding
generation know the trials and tribula-
tions of those sho preceded them. His-
tory is an essential study to better gov-
ernment." Mr. Van Doren's book is an
account of one of the most insidious
temptations faced by the generation
that fought for the independence of the
United States-namely. to give up the
fight. That temptation. which was ac-
tively stimulated by the British, played
on the people's love for peace and com-
fort, their fears for a new and unprece-
dented form of government, their han-
kering for empire ties their suspicion
that they niay have acted hastily or
gone too far, their doubts over whether
they could win such a war, their fear
of economic ruin, and all the other con-
siderations which made some men Loy-
alists and others reluctant Rebels.
Those who risked all and persevered in
their faith in America's future finally
won and are revered today. but those
who wavered along the line are the sub-
ject of Mr. Van Doren' study.
Great Britain was as much aware
of this lack of unity among the Ameri-
cans as the Continental Congress was.
After the peace offers of 1778 were re-
jected, and the British had failed to win
any decisive victory thus far in the war,
a definite policy was inaugurated to try
to buy off the rebel leaders. British pol-
itics was so corrupt that this move
seemed entirely logical to His Majesty's
ministers. No one, they argued, would
really risk his life and fortune long for
a political principle: these American
leaders simply wanted something for
themselves-money, social prestige, or
power, Why not, then. find out their
price for abandoning their precious
cause? Money was available, as well as
Irish peerages, pensions, government
appointments, and other distinctions.
As commander-in-chief of the British
army in North America, Sir Henry Clin-
ton was charged with carrying out this
policy. Accordingly, several rebel lead-
ers were slyly approached: Ethan Allen,
John Sullivan, Israel Putnam, Joseph
Reed, but without success, although
some minor figures were engaged to
transmit intelligence. Amusingly enough,
the only person connected with the
Continental Congress who was won over
to the British side was the chaplain,
Jacob Duch. Then, out of a clear sky,
one of the ablest American generals,

who had not been approached by British
"feelers," abruptly offered his services
to the enemy. The date was early in
May, 1779, and the man was Benedict
The greater part of Mr. Van Doren's
book is taken up with Arnold's long ne-
gotiations with the British, the climac-
tic meeting with Major Andre to arrange
for the surrender of West Point, the
sudden revarsal of fortune after Andre
was captured by the Americans, Arnold's
flight and his pay-off. For the first
time the story is authentically and com-
pletely told. Arnold's correspondence
with British headquarters has been
hitherto unavailable and the extent of
it unknowit. When Sir Henry Clinton
returned to England in the spring of
1782, he took his papers with him and
kept them in his home. There they re-

ish came uncomfortably close to suc-
ceeding, and the episode has been called
the crisis of the Revolution.
Arnold's treason is familiar in its out-
lines to most of us. No one need be
ashamed for remembering it but vaguely
because a vague version is all we have
had. Of the 68 letters printed in Mr.
Van Doren's appendix, only six were
known to historians before this. It was
known that Arnold corresponded with
the British, but not for how long. It
was known that in September, 1780, he
had a meeting with Andre in order to
arrange for the surrender of West Point,
after which Andr6 was captured. Arnold
managed to escape down the Hudson to
Clinton's headquarters, while his wife
had hysterics and everyone felt sorry
for her. Andr6 won admiration for his
composure, and many people regretted

The Vision of Hugh Fitzgerald is taken from the first chapter of a
long novel which John Ragsdale has been writing for more than a year.
Out of school since the year before last he returned in September as a
junior to continue with his school work (and, incidently, to compete in
the annual Hopwood contest). The declaration of war, however, stirred
his poetic blood and he is now waiting a calling from our Uncle Sam to
begin the training period as an Army Flying Cadet.
Eugene Mandeberg, a junior in the Lit School and a night editor on
The Daily, appears in Perspectives for the second time. He practices
journalism but keeps a finger in the artistic pot.
Burton Gavitt writes only as an avocation but occassionally produces
such a story as Brother Eddie despite himself. This is his first appear-
ance in Perspectives.
James Allen, a beloved alumnus of Perspectives' editorial staff, left
the lit school a couple of years ago with his equally beloved associate,
Harvey Swados. Now completing his curriculum in the Law School he
finds little time to write, reviewed Fitzgerald's last book largely to avoid
buying it himself. May have been motivated in part by a piquant urge
to view his name again in respectable print.
Monet Sorensen, now one of Perspectives' regular contributors, won a
minor prize in the 1941 Hopwood Contest. Although only a junior in
school. she plans to continue with her poetry after graduation.
Jean Michael is the nom de plume of a sophomore who could not
stand the glow of literary publicity. Her story, The Funeral, fits into
Perspectives' traditional progression of stories of the depressing and
Wystan Hugh Auden, whose work has appeared under the Random
House imprint, in the pages of America's fashionable magazines, and in
numerous coterie publications, does not come to us as a stranger. English
by birth. Mr. Auden came to the United States a few years ago and is today
considered among America's outstanding poets.

guilty on two counts of using his public
position for private gain, that same
courtmartial had acquitted him for lack
of proof of a more serious charge of
the same nature, of which we know now
that he was guilty. Arnold also wanted
glory, renown, eminence. He was pri-
marily a man of action and an able
field commander whose men would fol-
lo whim any where. This inactivity as
military governor of Philadelphia was
not good for a man of his temperatment.
He saw himself taking the limelight if
he could crush the Revolution by sur-
rendering to the enemy an important
post like West Point. Such a leading
role appealed strongly to him. Revenge
likewise was a part of his motivation.
He had without doubt been ill-used by
Congress, but most of the other generals
had been slighted too, Washington in
particular. No one would have blamed
Arnold if under the circumstances he
had resigned his commission and retired
to private life. But of course, Congress'
unjust treatment of him was no excuse
for a treasonable plot which would bring
great suffering to hundreds of thous-
ands of innocent third parties.
After Arnold joined the British he
issued a proclamation attempting to
justify his conduct. Therein he gave
three reasons for changing sides: fear
of the French alliance, disapproval of in-
dependence, and objection to the tyr-
anny of Congress. Yet, as Mr. Van
Doren points out, Arnold never ex-
pressed such sentiments while he was
in the American army. Even his quar-
rel with Congress was a personal mat-
ter, not a political dispute about the
powers of that body. Furthermore, Mr.
Van Doren has discovered that this pro-
clamation _was drafted with the help of
William Smith, a noted Loyalist inNew
York, and that it embodies the familiar
old Loyalist arguments,
M1R. VAN DOREN'S third revelation is
proof that Peggy Shippen Arnold,
the young second wife of Arnold, was
involved in the treason from the start.
She is referred to early in the correspon-
dence, and later she helped forward
some of the letters. Therefore, her hys-
terics at West Point, after Arnold had
been forced to flee, was clearly an act
to fool Washington and the other Amer-
ican officers into believeing her inno-
cent. Oddly enough, only one person
ever accused her of acting then, and
he was Aaron Burr. But because of
his dark reputation, it was easy to dis-
believe him. Mr. Van Doren's careful
check of the sequence of events on the
day Arnold fled also points to her in-
sincerity. If she had been innocent, she
would have thrown her fit immediately
after Arnold broke the news to her that
all was discovered. Instead, she kept
quiet for several hours to give him a
head start on his pursuers; then when
she was sure that Washington had at
last learned of his flight, she went into
her act to protect herself.
Although Mr. Van Doren exposes sev-
eral men as traitors who have hidden
under the cloak of patriots, his book is
still tremendously heartening. The won-
der is, as he concludes, "not that some
were false but that most of them were
true to the ragged colors of a perilous
cause." Both Arnold and the British
assumed that many soldiers would fol-
low Arnold's example. To encourage
them Arnold issued a second proclama-
tion offering them very lucrative in-
ducements. But 'after two months of
advertising and waiting, Arnold was able
to muster only 28 deserters! It also
shows how little he understood the men
he had led; and how little he compre-
hended the motives of his fellow ofifcers
is indicated by his serious suggestion
to the colonial secretary that Washing-
ton could be bought off with a title.
(Continued on Page Eleven)

mained until Mr. Clements purchased
them from a descendant in 1926. Then
they were removed to Mr. Clements'
house in Bay City, where they were
sorted, arranged and catalogued. After
Mr. Clements' death, the collection was
removed to the Library he built and
gave to the University of Michigan. Mr.
Van Doren is the first person, outside
of Library staff members, permitted to
study the treason story in these papers.
To substantiate all his charges, he has
carefully documented his statements
and has published Arnold's treason cor-
respondence in an appendix. Although
written for the lay public, the book is
as soundly written as any PhD dis-
ARNOLD'S STORY is too involved 'to
be summarized here. As he was in
Philadelphia when he opened the treas-
onable correspondence, the transmission
of messages required the services of
runners, agents, and decoders. The af-
fair had its melodramatic aspects which
Major Andre, who as Clinton's aide
handled the British end of the negotia-
tions, was not one to subdue. Mr. Van
Doren once remarked that Andre's ex-
ecution was a form of dramatic criti-
cism for his having bungled the third
act of his little play. Even so, the Brit-

Washington's sternness in having him
hung. That about sums up the story
heretofore. Arnold has been alternately
villified and defended.
What, then, has Mr. Van Doren re-
vealed that is new? First of all, he has
suppleid the continuity of the story from
beginning to end. It has been assumed
that Arnold did not correspond with the
enemy until 1780, after the court-mar-
tial vrdict against him in February of
that year had stung his pride. But his
defection in May, 1779. makes his vil-
lainy even less defensible. Moreover,
the fact that Arnold initiated the cor-
respondence throws new light on his
character. The means by which the
correspondence was carried on and the
other person involved are also new
Secondly, Mr. Van Doren has made
indisputably clear that Arnold's motives
for changing sides were personal, not
political as Arnold insisted later. There
can be no doubt that Arnold had a lust
for money and that in 1779 he needed
money. Perhaps it was his mercantile
background that made it impossible for
him to overlook an opportunity to ob-
tain a dollar or turn a profit. Although
be railed against the "injustice" of the
courtmartial verdict which found him

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