We are taught social studies classes and studying American history that Benedict Arnold was a traitor. We are told of General Arnold’s treachery and selling out his comrades in arms to the British, thus sealing his fate for eternity. Today even the name of Benedict Arnold is almost synonymous with the name of a traitor. A deeper study of history shows that the great tension between Arnold and his immediate commander General Horatio Gates provided Arnold with the impetus necessary to defect. What if we redraw the circumstances that led to Benedict Arnold’s becoming a traitor. Then it is possible to create an alternate history, a new world where Benedict Arnold was no longer a traitor.
Benedict Arnold was born the second of six children in Norwich, Connecticut, on January 14, 1741. He was named after his great-grandfather Benedict Arnold, an early governor of the Colony of Rhode Island, and his brother Benedict IV, who died in infancy. Only Benedict and his sister Hannah survived to adulthood; his other siblings succumbed to yellow fever in childhood. Through his maternal grandmother, Arnold was a descendant of John Lathrop, an ancestor of at least five U.S. presidents Millard Fillmore, Ulyseus Grant, Franklin Roosevelt and both George Bush’s.
Arnold’s father was a successful businessman, and the family moved in the upper levels of Norwich society. When he was ten, Arnold was enrolled in a private school in nearby Canterbury, with the expectation that he would eventually attend Yale. By the time he was fourteen, there was no money for private education. His father’s alcoholism and ill health kept him from training Arnold in the family mercantile business, but his mother’s family connections secured an apprenticeship for Arnold with two of her cousins, brothers Daniel and Joshua Lathrop, who operated a successful apothecary and general merchandise trade in Norwich. In 1762, with the help of the Lathrops, Arnold established himself in business as a pharmacist and bookseller in New Haven, Connecticut.
The Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765 severely curtailed mercantile trade in the colonies. The latter act prompted Arnold to join the chorus of voices in opposition to those taxes, and also led to his entry into the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization that was not afraid to use violence to oppose implementation of those and other unpopular Parliamentary measures. Arnold initially took no part in any public demonstrations but, like many merchants, continued to trade as if the Stamp Act did not exist, in effect becoming a smuggler in defiance of the act.
On February 22, 1767, he married Margaret Mansfield, daughter of Samuel Mansfield, the sheriff of New Haven, an acquaintance that may have been made through the membership of both Mansfield and Arnold in the local Masonic Lodge. Their first son, Benedict VI, was born the following year, and was followed by brothers Richard in 1769, and Henry in 1772. Margaret died early in the revolution, on June 19, 1775, while Arnold was at Fort Ticonderoga following its capture. The household, even while she lived, was dominated by Arnold’s sister Hannah. Arnold was in the West Indies when the Boston Massacre took place on March 5, 1770. He wrote he was “very much shocked” and wondered “good God, are the Americans all asleep and tamely giving up their liberties, or are they all turned philosophers, that they don’t take immediate vengeance on such miscreants”. He was beginning to sow the seeds of revolution in his mind and heart in those days. He dreamed of glory in the military, but was always ashamed of his family, and constantly felt the drive to rise above the circumstances his father drove he and his family into. In 1775 he would get his chance to make a name for himself by leading an attack on Fort Ticonderoga with Ethan Allen, and invading Quebec.
In 1777 he would have his chance. In Spring of 1777, the British began a new campaign in the north, designed and led by General John Burgoyne. He marches south from Quebec with an army of 9000 men, while a diversionary campaign is being led through the Mohawk River Valley by Colonel Barry St. Leger, and Iroquois leader Joseph Brant. The goal of this campaign was to capture Albany and take control of the Hudson river, cutting New England off from the rest of the colonies. The American camp was becoming uneasy after Arnold’s return from Fort Stanwix. It was not so evident yet, but tension between Benedict Arnold and Horatio Gates would eventually boil over. On September 18, Burgoyne’s vanguard was just north of Saratoga, and about 4 miles away from the American lines.
On the 19th, Arnold begs Gates for the chance to attack the British, and after enough pestering, Gates allows him to take the left wing and nothing else. Arnold takes his troops and goes to where the skirmishes are occurring. As the battle continues, Arnold detects a gap in the British line and orders several charges in order to break through. As Arnold heads back toward the battlefield, Gates orders him back and strips him of field command and ordered him to stay at camp. The Troops marching out under Gates are not inspired and do not want to follow him. The Americans lose momentum, and the fighting ends. The British eventually take the field when they send as many of their reserves as they can afford to send to attack the Right Wing of the army. The Americans retreated, giving the British a Technical victory. Burgoyne had 700 men killed or wounded, and the Americans had only 350 killed or wounded. With their supplies running low, Burgoyne decided to hold on and not push forward. With their supplies dwindling, and Burgoyne refusing to consider retreat, on October 4th, they agreed to launch an attack on the American Left Wing on the 7th. They engaged the Americans once again outside of Saratoga, this time at a place known as Bemis Heights.
After Gates had stripped Arnold of his field command, he would take command of the American left himself and give control of the right to Benjamin Lincoln. In the chaos of battle, a stray bullet hit General Horatio Gates in the heart, knocking him from his horse, mortally wounding him. News of Gate’s death quickly reached the camp. This becomes then our point of divergence, instead of Gates receiving a wound is killed. When Arnold heard word of this he mounted his horse and dashed quickly to the battlefield. When he arrived the left wing of the army was collapsing, but when the men saw their commander arrive their spirits were rejuvenated and they turned back to face the British. Arnold would lead his men from the front, bullets whizzing past him. At one moment he was almost shot out from under his horse, but he managed to stay mounted the whole time. By the end of the day the field was in American hands. Days later Burgoyne’s army surrendered to Arnold and the Northern Army.
Arnold became more famous throughout the colonies. There were those who wanted to replace George Washington with Benedict Arnold, but Arnold refused. In December of 1777 Arnold would be given official command of the northern army, with Benjamin Lincoln as his right hand. Throughout the war Arnold would repel several invasion attempts by the British out of Canada, and attempt at least one invasion himself, but would be stopped by the winter cold.
He led an attack on New York City in the Spring of 1781. He would lose the battle, but like the many battles of the American Revolution, the British losses far outnumbered the American losses. Arnold regretted not being present at the Battle of York Town in Virginia, but he would still be one of the most famous Generals throughout the entire revolution. He was perhaps next to Washington the most famous General and the hero of Saratoga.
After the war many members of the revolution returned to their lives. George Washington returned his command of the continental army to the congress, wishing to live out the rest of his days in peace at Mt. Vernon. John Adams would return from Europe to spend a year at home before being called back into service as the United States Minister to Great Britain. Benjamin Franklin would return to Philadelphia after his long stint as Minister to France. Benedict Arnold would return to Connecticut to resume his business as a merchant, attempting to regain much of the wealth he lost during his service in the revolution.
Not all revolutionary leaders had happy endings after the war was over. In particular Thomas Jefferson’s story was the most tragic. In 1782 Jefferson’s wife Martha would die, on her death bed she pleaded her husband to not remarry. In loving devotion to his wife, he obeyed. His love for his wife was so strong that her death caused him to go into a deep depression. He spent weeks at his home Monticello not saying a word. However, on Christmas Eve of 1782, he succumbed to what everyone around him in those dark days feared. He was found in his study by his daughter Martha, hanging from a noose. The children would be cared for by their neighbors until they were sent to live with relatives.
In September of 1783 the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the war between Great Britain and her former colonies, the nations of Europe recognizing the American Confederation. Not all was well in the new nation. British troops still occupied forts in the Northwest Territory. Tensions between Patriots and loyalists had become so high that part of the Treaty of Paris addressed this, allowing any American wanting to leave the 13 former colonies to return to Britain or go north into Canada were to be allowed to do so. Property stolen from loyalists wasn’t returned. The states were engaged in trade wars, placing tariffs on goods from other states. It was chaotic time for everyone..
In 1787 it was realized that the United States needed a stronger central government, and the Articles of Confederation were insufficient to do this. In May of 1787 the states sent delegates to Philadelphia in order to amend the Articles, but it soon became clear that a whole new document would be necessary. The convention became divided along lines of those who favored a new constitution, and those who favored to retain the Articles of Confederation. Those who favored adoption of a new constitution were the Federalists, while those who opposed the adoption became known as the Anti-Federalists. Leading Federalists were Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and George Washington. Leading anti-Federalists were Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and Richard Henry Lee. Ultimately the Federalists would win and the Constitution would be adopted.
In December of 1788 the first election under the newly written constitution was held. George Washington was called on to run, and so he did, returning once more to assist the nation he helped founded. He would win every vote in the electoral college for President. Coming in second would be John Adams. Washington would be sworn into office on April 30th, 1789. He would set many of the precedents that would be followed by succeeding presidents. One of the most important precedents he would set was the selecting of cabinet members. For the position of Secretary of State he would select John Jay, who had served as Minister to Spain and France. For Secretary of the Treasury he would select Alexander Hamilton. For Attorney General he selected Edmund Randolph. Last but not least, he would select General Benedict Arnold to be the Secretary of War.
In 1792 George Washington reluctantly ran for a second term as President. He would run against his vice president John Adams, and New York governor George Clinton. Washington would win by a landslide against his opponents, however Washington would lose the state of New York to George Clinton. Though Clinton would lose, it became clear that Washington was not perfect. John Adams would come in second to Washington, making him vice president. There was much infighting in Washington’s cabinet, in particular between Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Vice President John Adams. The conflict between the two had less to do with politics and more to do with each others character. Adams was a well off man from an old established family in Massachusetts. Alexander Hamilton was bastard orphan climbing the social ladder. During the Revolution Adams had been in the continental congress and had been sent to Europe as a diplomat, while Hamilton served in the army next to Washington. This gave Hamilton a special relationship with the President that Adams could not relate to. With Washington constantly keeping Adams out of Cabinet meetings, the arguments he would have with Hamilton outside of those meetings were more explosive. This dispute came to a head in 1795 when John Adams resigned as his position as Vice President. He would achieve a seat in the Senate for Massachusetts after the 1796 election.
During the Presidency of George Washington there would be several military conflicts within the new Republic. The Northwest Indian War was one. The British had been inciting Indian attacks against Americans in order to prevent them from getting involved in the war in Europe. Secretary of War Benedict Arnold would lead several expeditions into the Northwest Territory personally to defeat the Shawne, Miami, and Lenape tribes. This conflict would end with the Treaty of Greenville. Along with the Northwest Indian War there was the Whiskey Rebellion, which Arnold would also personally put down.
Arnold’s service in the revolution as well as defeating the Indians and the Whisky rebels would increase his popularity to a point where he would be offered the presidential nomination of the newly created Federalist Party. The parties did not exist during Washington’s term in office. During his presidency politicians were labeled as being either pro-administration, or anti-administration. The reason for the formation of the party was Vice President John Adams leaving the administration. Adams would join James Madison in the Senate in an attempt to unify the anti-federalists.
In the Presidential election of 1796 it would be the first time a real traditional presidential election would be held by two opposing political parties. The Federalists nominated Benedict Arnold of Connecticut for President and Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina as his Vice President. The other party known as the Democrat-Republicans nominated John Adams of Massachusetts for President and Aaron Burr of New York for Vice President. Although the election was fairly close they elected the Federalist ticket and Benedict Arnold became the second President of the United States of America.
In rewriting the story of Benedict Arnold our alternate historians look back at Arnold’s Presidency as a worthy successor to Washington’s Presidency. The only man who could fill the fathers shoes, one who likewise was a great hero of the Revolution. Benedict Arnold was sworn in as President of the United States on March 4th, 1797. From his predecessor he inherited a Republic currently at peace, but looking ever more as on the brink of war. American ships at sea are in harms way from the French, the Barbary Pirates of North Africa, and on occasion from the British, despite treaties forbidding it. Arnold knew he had much to work with, but also much riding against him.
Events abroad, especially in Europe, occupied much of President Arnold’s attention. The need for a stronger navy was evident, but ships could only be built so fast. Shortly after Arnold is inaugurated the first ship of the US navy is created, the USS United States. It was a small start, but it would have to do. Without a significant navy, fighting the Barbary Pirates in North Africa was not an option, however he did not want to give in to the demands of Muslim Pirates. There was also the problem with France. Since the Jay Treaty was signed with Britain, the government of Revolutionary France considered it to be a revocation of the treaty of alliance signed between the United States and France in 1778. Since that time, the British had ceased seizing American ships, but the French began the same practice.
Arnold had several responses to the international events, one in particular would shape the US in dramatic ways. In the summer he signed the Army Act of 1797. This act, as the Naval Act of 1794 had increased the size of the military considerably. It would create a new standing army, which would soon be called the Army of the Republic. The idea of a standing army was appalling to the anti-Federalists, but President Arnold, with his experiences in the revolution, the Indian War, and the Whiskey rebellion, he felt it was of utmost importance that the US have a large standing army ready to put down any insurrection from within, or any invasion from without. The anti-federalists in congress opposed this idea, believing a standing army was a threat to liberty. However when the nation seemed ever closer to the brink of war, the Act would pass.
In 1798 the United States sent three delegates to Paris in order to discuss an end to French impressment of American ships on the seas. However when the American delegation arrived they were met by three French agents, infamously named by American Newspapers as “X, Y, and Z”. The French had already been demanding in exchange for peace at sea 50,000 pounds sterling, a 12 million dollar loan from the United States, and a formal apology for comments made by President Arnold toward French Foreign Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand. However on top of this the agents X, Y, and Z demanded a personal bribe from the American delegation to the three of them. This was met with repulsion by the American delegates. They left France shortly after this, and would give a detailed report to President Arnold and congress.
There was outrage in states, in particular among the Federalists. News papers denounced the events as an insult to America and her pride. The demands from the French government were one thing, but the treatment of her delegates on official business was unforgivable. A French Minister to the United States named Edmund Charles Genet, dubbed by people in the US as “Citizen Genet” was known to cause trouble in the US. There were instances where he recruited Americans to fight the British and her allies at sea and in the colonies. Genet’s biggest attempt was revealed in the Spring of 1798 a group of radicals attempted a coup of the government of South Carolina. The coup was prevented before it could be attempted, but the fact that a foreign national attempted to overthrow a state government, it was enough to call for war. On July 4th, 1798 President Arnold requested that congress declare war on the Republic of France. The declaration of war on France would be nearly unanimous, with just 3 congressmen voting against it.
Shortly after this declaration another diplomatic mission was sent to Britain in order to form a formal alliance with Great Britain, with Senator John Adams as part of the delegation. They agreed to a formal alliance, with the United States joining the Second Coalition against France. Along with joining in alliance, Great Britain also agreed to defend American ships at sea from foreign powers, including the Barbary Pirates of North Africa. There were other areas of negotiation along with the treaty of alliance. The delegates also discussed a partitioning of the French Caribbean. The United States would receive St. Dominique, and the British would receive any of the remaining islands they can capture. Franco-American war, was a conflict between France and her European allies on one side, with America and Britain’s European allies on the other. There would be two main theaters, Europe, and the Caribbean. The United States under President Benedict Arnold had joined with Britain against France. Though the Americans would not see action in Europe, they would see plenty of action.
The first Skirmishes were along the border between Spanish Florida and the state of Georgia. The Spaniards armed the Seminole in Florida and ordered them on cross border raids into Georgia. In the past whenever this happened the Americans would encounter the Seminoles, have a short skirmish, and then the Seminole would retreat back across into Spanish Florida, foreign territory. However since the United States and Spain were at war, American militias were able to pursue the Indians into Spanish territory. America was not able to devote much to the naval war. With only one ship to its navy, the USS United States, there were very limited naval actions the United States could do on its own. President Arnold would appeal to private ship owners in the US to act as privateers against France and her allies. This would work to an extent, however it would mostly just reduce the trade going from the West Indies to France and Spain. America’s lack of naval power would be augmented by the British Caribbean fleet. This was done with the understanding that the US would supply much of the ground forces. The first American invasion of French territory would not occur until March of 1799.
On March 5th the USS United States backed up by a handful of British ships would attack the island of St. Dominique. Along with the war ships were also transport ships containing American Marines and volunteers. They stormed the beaches near Port-au-Prince. This was not an easy fight. Local French colonials put up a fierce resistance, however by sunset on March 6th Port-au-Prince was in American hands. Despite this the fighting wasn’t over. The locals would fight guerilla war against the Americans. When Port-au-Prince fell to the Americans a slave rebellion ignited. There were those who wanted to side with the slaves against the French colonials, but out of fear of such activity spreading to the southern states, the Americans were forced to fight both the colonials and the slaves. Americans would see fighting in St. Dominique until the end of the war.
The British, who in negotiations between itself and the US, was allotted any French territory other then St. Dominique that they could capture. They would successfully acquire Dominica, Saint Martin, Martinique, and French Guiana. On land the Americans would eventually capture St. Augustine in Florida, the main Spanish fortification in the colony.
This lead eventually to the capture of both east and west Florida by American volunteers mostly western Frontiersmen. The British attempted to invade Spanish controlled Cuba, but it would be unsuccessful.
Though the war would turn out positively in the Caribbean theater, the European theater would turn in favor of the French. The war in the Caribbean would end in August of 1800 with the treaty of Havana, two years before the war in Europe ended. In the treaty the Spanish would cede east and west Florida to the United States. The French would cede St. Dominique to the United States, and cede Dominica, Saint Martin, Martinique, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and French Guiana to Great Britain. This peace would take the United States out of the war. President Arnold was seen as a national hero, the best possible heir to Washington’s legacy.
By the end of the Franco-American War the Federalist Party had solidified itself and its platform. The Federalist plat form was Pro-Banking, Pro-Industrialization, Pro-tariff, Pro-Military, and Pro-Expansion. In particular after the war the Pro-Military and Pro-Expansion planks were emphasized. The Election of 1800 would be a complete victory for Benedict Arnold, winning the entire electoral college, something Washington was only able to do his first time. Arnold and the Federalists gained popularity, however this did not dissuade challenges from the anti-federalists. 20 of the 34 Senators were from the Federalist Party, while 68 of the 107 members of the house representatives were from the Federalist Party.
The American victory in the war gave birth to a new sense of national pride. This time became known as the Era of Pride. People felt pride in their country, having been able to defeat a foreign power, relatively, by themselves. For the next 20 years there would be a drastic population growth in the US.The French were not the only foreign antagonists to the US. There were also the Barbary Pirates of North Africa. The Treaty of London that created a formal alliance between the United States and Great Britain, included British protection of American ships at sea, in particular from the French and the Barbary Pirates. Though the British were the protectors of American seamen, President Arnold still wanted to take the Barbary Pirates down a few pegs. Congress would pass the Naval Act of 1802, approving the construction of 5 more ships, adding to the navy of 6 ships when the bill was signed.
In 1803, the American Ambassador to Algiers, James Monroe, was kidnapped by pirates and held for ransom. The British simply wanted to pay the ransom and avoid fighting, but the Americans still living in the high of their victory against France did not want to succumb to the barbarity of pirates. Congress approved a rescue mission of James Monroe and other Americans held by the Barbary Pirates. 3 of the 6 ships of the US navy arrived at Tripoli on July 7th, 1803. The USS United States, USS Constellation, and the USS President sent a messenger to Yusuf Karamanli, the Pasha of Tripoli. The message said for Karamanli to surrender the pirates who had taken James Monroe hostage and to release any American or British citizen held in captivity over to the Americans. Yusuf refused. On July 9th the three ships bombarded Tripoli. After several hours of bombing, 300 Marines backed up by 500 American volunteers, and another 400 mercenaries, stormed the city. It was a desperate battle, they managed to save James Monroe and several dozen other American and British citizens. It is famed that they managed to destroy half of the ships in the harbor at Tripoli.
The Indiana Territory would be established in 1800. In 1801 after the Franco-American war, the United States acquired three new territories: Saint Dominique, East Florida, and West Florida. These new territories were incorporated into the United States as territories. The Enabling Act of 1802 would allow for the creation of the Ohio territory from the Northwest Territory. Ohio would receive statehood in 1803, making it the 17th state. The Issue of slavery was a contentious one that if prodded to hard could split the union apart. The land south of the Ohio River had been set aside for expansion of slavery, while the Northwest Territory was off limits to slavery. The Constitution banned the slave trade in 1803. Despite this slavery was losing room to grow. Slavery was only allowed to expand south of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi.
Benedict Arnold left the presidency in March of 1805 after President John Adams was elected over James Madison of Virginia. Adams having rejoined with the Federalists was able to keep the Federalists in power after the 1804 election. In January 1805 Arnold’s health began to decline. Gout, from which he had suffered since 1775, attacked his unwounded leg to the point where he was unable to do any significant travel; the other ached constantly, and he walked only with a cane. His physicians diagnosed him as having dropsy, and a visit to the countryside only temporarily improved his condition. He died after four days of delirium, on June 14, 1805, at the age of 64. When he was on his deathbed he had asked for his Revolutionary War uniform to be layed out. The old General proceeded to put on his uniform, lie down in his bed as was quoted, “Let me die here in this old uniform in which I fought all of my battles.” Saying these words the great American passed away into infamy.
In our counterfactual history we find that the Federalist Party would put forth our first three presidents. The eventual presidencies of both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison might have come later. For sure though we can be certain that with a President Arnold the United States of America would become just a little more militaristic and function a strong executive branch. In doing my research in creating various alternatives I would eventually see a rise of the Jeffersonian Republicans coming just a bit later. Our young American nation would have had 24 years of Federalist leaders before giving way to the Republicans.
In our original history Thomas Jefferson becomes president by defeating John Adams in his bid for reelection in 1800. This comes after 12 years of the Federalist party in control of our government. In our counterfactual history we would see a second term for Adams postponing Jefferson in all probability until 1808. One thing is for sure and that is had Benedict Arnold served faithfully throughout the Revolutionary war he would have succeeded Washington. From a military and then subsequently political point of view only Arnold could have succeeded George Washington.