Conspiracy against George Washington is one of the story lines on this season of AMC’s hit show, TURN. After watching the first two episodes, I recognized Ben Tallmadge’s frustration about George Washington’s seeming lack of concern about plots to replace him as commander-in-chief. Charles Lee, Horatio Gates and General Conway all wanted Washington’s job. Tallmadge’s outrage reminds me of a letter I wrote about from the Marquis de Lafayette to Washington in my book, Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War. In some ways Tallmadge’s character is a composite of Lafayette’s loyalty and desire to please Washington. Enjoy this excerpt and buy the book to learn more.
From his post in Albany, the Marquis de Lafayette also discovered that General Gates was not the only one weaving a web around General Washington. General Conway, an Irishman who had served in the French army, was central to the cabal.
“But the promotion of Conway is beyond all my expectations,” Lafayette continued in his letter to George Washington from his post in Albany in March 1778. He noted that Conway’s reputation for bravery and experience in thirty campaigns had impressed him at first. But he later learned the truth: The cabal was as cannibalistic as a black widow spider.
Lafayette realized that Conway had deceived him “by entertaining my imagination with ideas of glory and shining projects.” Conway had been promoted to inspector general and then was assigned as second-in-command to Lafayette in the Canadian expedition.
“I have inquired into [Conway’s] character, and found that he is an ambitious and dangerous man. He has done all in his power to draw off my confidence and affection from you. His desire was to engage me to leave this country,” Lafayette told Washington.
The plotters had tried to destroy confidence in Washington and elevate Gates through anonymous letters and underhanded appeals sent to members of Congress and men like Lafayette.
“Such disputes, if known to the enemy, may be attended with the worst consequences,” Lafayette wrote, noting that “slavery, dishonor, ruin, and the unhappiness of a whole nation” would result from the trifling wiles of a few men in Congress and the army. Lafayette was concerned the web would not only destroy Washington, but also the Revolution. Lafayette knew the first way to strike the web was to reassure Washington of his loyalty.
“My desire of deserving your approbation is strong; and, whenever you shall employ me, you can be certain of my trying every exertion in my power to succeed. I am now bound to your fate, and I shall follow it and sustain it, as well by my sword as by all the means in my power,” Lafayette promised Washington, adding that his youth may have made him too “warm” but his concern over the plot was great.
Lafayette struck another blow to shatter the web. He asked Congress to replace Conway with the Baron von Kalb as his second-in-command for the expedition. If the Marquis de Lafayette had his way, this plot would merely prove to be a vain conspiracy among men.
A shattered web, however, will merely return if you don’t catch the spider.
“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1).
Source of the letter: Marquis de Lafayette, “To Washington, March 1778,” in America, Vol. 3, 245–50.
Author Jane Hampton Cook is known for making history memorable and relevant to today’s news, current events, and modern-day life. A frequent guest on the Fox News Channel and other outlets, Jane is the author of eight books, including American Phoenix, America’s Star-Spangled Story, and Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War. Jane is also a former White House webmaster. She lives with her husband and three sons in Fairfax, Virginia.