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Guest Posts

List of Guest Posts: 

Shannon Sheridan, “He lives cover’d with Infamy”: The American Public’s Reaction to Benedict Arnold’s Treason

Abstract: When studying the American public's reaction to the treason of Benedict Arnold, historians propose two different reasons for the public’s outcry. One group claims that Americans reacted due to deeper, psychological motivations caused by fear that the treason signified a downfall of revolutionary virtue. The second set asserts that Americans created a national identity through a shared personal hatred for Arnold. Some historians do not even explore the stimulus behind the public's backlash. However, American reactions to the treason are significant in understanding a fundamental transformation of public sentiment during the American Revolution. My paper argues that the discovery of Arnold’s treason brought back some of the rage militaire that had been lost since 1775. In order to examine the motivating factors for that transformation, my paper explores a wide variety of newspaper articles and personal papers in which people expounded their views about the famous general’s treachery. Using those sources, I show that the public created a common villain to rally against. In addition, the public accredited the discovery of Arnold’s treason to divine intervention, thus making their revolutionary cause God ordained. Together, these two factors led to a renewal of revolutionary fervor lost since 1775.

Abstract: During the 1750s and 1760s, the people of the frontier counties of Pennsylvania, in particular Lancaster County, suffered a string of violent Native American raids.  After continually petitioning their legislature fruitlessly for protection, the people of Lancaster County resorted to extralegal means to achieve their protection.  Their government had failed them, and the people of Lancaster County, led by Lazarus Stewart, adopted the guise of a vigilante group known as the Paxton Boys to mete out their own brand of frontier justice against an enemy they felt could only be fought outside of the law.  Simultaneously, a conflict known as the Yankee-Pennamite War was being fought between Connecticut and Pennsylvania for control of the Pennsylvanian frontier.  Seeing their opportunity to legally attain safe land they could govern independently, the Paxton Boys allied with Connecticut, a colony whose views lined up with the vigilante’s, setting the tone of war and revolution in the valley.   


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