Every post is honorable in which a man can serve his country
When George Washington wrote these lines of instruction to Benedict Arnold, they were organizing an assault on Quebec. The hope was that once military facilities at Montreal and Quebec city were captured, Canada’s French-speaking colonists would join the revolutionary cause. Washington wanted invasion plans, and Arnold bounced back from personal disappointment and offered to lead a second force, in coordination with another general’s. The expedition would be grueling, tricky and dangerous, and despite Arnold’s dedication it would fail.
In his instructions to Arnold, Washington included several encouragements for Arnold to treat others with “deference and respect.” Though years away from disloyalty, Arnold already had a chip on his shoulder from years of his accomplishments not being recognized.
Benedict Arnold had been one of the revolutionary army’s best leaders. He was brave, smart, energetic and a good tactician, but he didn’t weather well under criticism and he resented being passed over for promotion. From what I’ve read, when others took credit for their part in his accomplishments, he felt as if he had to compete with them for kudos, instead of being happy to share the limelight.
Imagine being a leader who is doing their best work, work which helps others to succeed. Others are happy with their success, but what about you? Pushing others to recognize you as a source of their success requires that they don’t credit their own abilities as strongly. Why would someone trust a leader who is not firmly behind the success of others?
Reading this communique, I can imagine Washington hoping that with support Benedict Arnold would grow into the kind of leadership that Washington himself was known for.
In case of an Union with General Schuyler, or if he should be in Canada upon your Arrival there, you are by no Means to consider yourself as upon a seperate and independent Command; but are to put yourself under him and follow his Directions. Upon this Occasion, and all others, I recommend most earnestly to avoid all Contention about Rank. In such a Cause every Post is honourable in which a Man can serve his Country.
If Lord Chatham’s Son should be in Canada and in any Way fall in your Power, you are enjoined to treat him with all possible Deference and Respect. You cannot err in paying too much Honour to the Son of so illustrious a Character and so true a Friend to America. Any other Prisoners who may fall into your Hands, you will treat with as much Humanity and kindness, as may be consistent with your own Safety and the publick Interest. Be very particular in restraining not only your own Troops, but the Indians from all Acts of Cruelty and Insult, which will disgrace the American Arms, and irritate our Fellow Subjects against us.
General George Washington, issued 14 September 1775
If you’re interested in designs based on Revolutionary War notables, check out designs with this quote by Thomas Jefferson – It is part of the American character to consider nothing as desperate – to surmount every difficulty by resolution and contrivance.
Resources: Quebec, George Washington and Benedict Arnold
The Writings of George Washington – Google Books has a complete scan of an 1889 publication that includes this quote.
Resources for Teachers – the Massachusetts Commonwealth Museum has good quality lesson plans for the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, among which is the excellent George Washington in Massachusetts: A Thematic Unit Using Primary Sources (PDF, 721k)
Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold’s March to Quebec, 1775 – an account of the march on Quebec
George Washington and Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Two Patriots – highly recommended by readers.