THE GREATEST GIFT

“The United States had been created through an act of disloyalty. No matter how eloquently the Declaration of Independence had attempted to justify the American rebellion, a residual guilt hovered over the circumstances of the country’s founding. Arnold changed all that. By threatening to destroy the newly created republic through, ironically, his own betrayal, Arnold gave this nation of traitors the greatest of gifts; a myth of creation. The American people had come to revere George Washington, but a hero alone was not sufficient to bring them together. Now they had the despised villain Benedict Arnold. They knew both what they were fighting for – and against. The story of American’s genesis could finally move beyond the break with the mother country and start to focus on the process by which thirteen former colonies could become a nation. As Arnold had demonstrated, the real enemy was not Great Britain, but those Americans who sought to undercut their fellow citizens commitment to one another. Whether it was Joseph Reed’s willingness to promote his state’s interests at the expenses of what was best for the country as a whole or Arnold’s decision to sell his loyalty to the highest bidder, the greatest danger to America’s future cam from self-serving opportunism masquerading as patriotism. At this fragile state in the country’s development, a way had to be found to strengthen rather than destroy the existing framework of government. The Continental Congress was far from perfect, but it offered a start to what could one day be a great nation. By turning traitor, Arnold had alerted the American people to how close they had all come to betraying the Revolution by putting their own interests ahead of their newborn country’s. Already the name Benedict Arnold was becoming a byword for that most hateful of crimes: treason against the people of the United States.”
Nathaniel Philbrick, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution

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