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Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency
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PRESIDENTIAL SERIES > 4. BLOOD OF TYRANTS ~ September 2nd ~ September 8th ~~ CHAPTERS 10 - 12 ~ (71 - 98) No-Spoilers

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
I think that Ethan Allen was a bull in the china closet and I do think they (the British) would have killed him or tortured him until he died - he was baiting them right along - so I have to say - yes - Washington saved him - big time.

Funny that we never got the true story about Allen in school either (smile). This was an eye opener.


message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
My history teacher definitely left out the drunken raiding details when I was in class! (ROFL)


Bryan Craig What are your thoughts about GW reprimanding Putnam to disperse the mob in New York City?


Katy (kathy_h) Both sides were cruel in their treatment of prisoners during the war. As the commanders chose revenge, it was the prisoners who suffered. It was interesting to note that GW chose to use abuse a bit judiciously, "To abuse a prisoner in false retaliation would be a tactical error..." (page 88)

I was also unprepared for the number of prisoners that died from the Battle of Brooklyn (page 78). 1900 out of 2600. That is almost 75% or 3 out of 4 prisoners that died.


Katy (kathy_h) And the atrocities described in Chapter 12 -- well, just sick.


Bryan Craig So true, Kathy, the POWs are the ones that suffer the most.

My thought is that can you abuse anyone judiciously? It is hard to control your field commanders.


Peter Flom The author makes it pretty explicit that he thinks the episodes he depicts have relevance today; he does this right at the end of Chapter 12.

But I don't know if this is so.

Why is how Washington and others in his era treated prisoners relevant to how Bush or Obama or whoever comes next should treat prisoners?

I don't think it is.

It is, of course, always valuable to read history. But its lessons are, I think, often more oblique than the author seems to imply.

Mores were very different in the 18th century. We have, I hope, progressed. There is considerable evidence that we have (see

The Better Angels of Our Nature Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker by Steven Pinker Steven Pinker

We should be better than our enemies and better than our forefathers.


Jack | 49 comments This is the first book on the Revolution to discuss POWs from an American treatment view. We always here about British atrocities. I am surprised he did not cover Banastre Tarleton. We all know quite a bit about him so that may be the reason. We also know quite a bit about the Hessian treatment of surrendering troops. Overall, I did find it surprising to hear so much about Washington's treatment of British POWs. A very interesting aspect that I questioned the author about in the Q & A section. I find this book very interesting.


message 9: by Mary Ellen (last edited Sep 03, 2013 06:22PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mary Ellen | 184 comments I appreciate Washington's desire to protect his men from bad treatment, which motivated his desire to use retaliatory tactics in the treatment of prisoners. Or anyway, I understood it in theory. BUT I was pretty horrified when he picked one prisoner - arbitrarily, it seems - and said, whatever you guys do to Lee, I'm doing to him....

Having 75% of prisoners die sounds pretty bad. Were a high percentage of them wounded? No way to fight infection would lead to a lot of the wounded dying.


Bryan Craig From what I read, GW did not want the mob dispersed or did I misread it.


message 11: by Teri (new) - rated it 5 stars

Teri (teriboop) Like Mary Ellen, I am curious if Washington just arbitrarily picked a particular prisoner in his eye for an eye scenario. I would think he would be a bit calculated in who he picked, in order to get the attention of the British commanders. As the case with Asgill and the other 12 prisoners whose names went in a hat, I wonder if they were all prominent society men or it just happened that there were only 13 POWs at the time and they just happened to draw the name of the son of a baronet. Being a society man, his mother had the leverage with France to have him returned safely.

These chapters really have me thinking about the treatment of POWs throughout history, here in the US and in other countries. We still hear of US troops' mistreatment of prisoners that made the news not too many years ago (Abu Ghraib). I know, though, that there are cases of US treating POWs very well. Specifically, during WWII there were some US camps that foreign soldiers were taken good care of. Camp Carson (now Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, CO) housed German and Italian POWs and Camp Amache (aka Camp Granada) in Colorado that was a Japanese Internment Camp are two that I know of off the top of my head.

I just never considered POWs as far back as Revolutionary times and it's obvious that throughout history their treatment on each side of a war changes/depends on those who have control.


Phillip (philbertk) | 55 comments Both Allan and Asgill received special treatment that the average mistreated soldier was unlikely to receive.


Peter Flom Mary Ellen wrote: "I appreciate Washington's desire to protect his men from bad treatment, which motivated his desire to use retaliatory tactics in the treatment of prisoners. Or anyway, I understood it in theory. ..."

I don't know enough to know how bad 75% was, but it was surely less bad than it appears. People died a lot more in those days; what % of one's own troops died of disease etc.?


message 14: by G (new) - rated it 4 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments On page 96, Mr. Beirne wrote a sentence which jumped out at me. '... -we have given up on hopes that terrorists will treat our people with humanity.' In my opinion, it seems the world rather than progressing, is devolving back into barbarism.

He ends the paragraph by saying 'it is worth remembering Washingtons precedents as today's commander in chief grapples with must be done to defend the American people.'

If we abhor torture (and I personally am made ill by any kind of violence), and others use it against their own people, what is our role? That is not a lesson we learned from Washington.


message 15: by G (new) - rated it 4 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments On page 81 the author states that Major (General) Lee was not properly socialized. What does that mean? Is it because he grew up in the army? Did that lead him to his unedited behaviors? Interesting comment given that he was later court martialed for what could be considered treasonous actions.


Bryan Craig Christopher wrote: "Ah I botched my message when I wrote it. What I meant to write was that I think GW should have been smart to disperse the mob, given his experience with how quickly things get out of hand (such as ..."

Indeed, Christopher, I agree. I think this shows us the "civil war" aspect of this war.


Bryan Craig Teri wrote: "Like Mary Ellen, I am curious if Washington just arbitrarily picked a particular prisoner in his eye for an eye scenario. I would think he would be a bit calculated in who he picked, in order to g..."

Well said, Teri. So, in my neck of the woods, the POWs were treated pretty well. We had many German Hessians here in Central Virginia. They also were officers and I think officers might be treated better during this early American history.


Bryan Craig Peter wrote: "Mary Ellen wrote: "I appreciate Washington's desire to protect his men from bad treatment, which motivated his desire to use retaliatory tactics in the treatment of prisoners. Or anyway, I underst..."

I agree, Peter, disease was more of a killer than the bullet or cannon fire. I don't know what kind of records are out there that you can figure out who died of disease and others by mistreatment...


message 19: by Todd (new) - rated it 5 stars

Todd (todsisson) | 18 comments Teri wrote: "Like Mary Ellen, I am curious if Washington just arbitrarily picked a particular prisoner in his eye for an eye scenario. I would think he would be a bit calculated in who he picked, in order to g..."

Yeah, this is an interesting thought. Maybe it's because I've been raised to view Washington as a paragon of virtue, but it's hard to picture him actually following through on the execution of a 20 year old officer picked arbitrarily from among the British POWs.

Maybe Asgill was picked specifically because of the interest it would generate among the British elite.

Then again, I'm sure there were a lot of British officers from among the upper crust of England's society.


Bryan Craig G wrote: "On page 96, Mr. Beirne wrote a sentence which jumped out at me. '... -we have given up on hopes that terrorists will treat our people with humanity.' In my opinion, it seems the world rather than p..."

Some very big questions, G. You could argue we did use GW as a model where, at times, "the brutal realities of war compelled him [GW] to deviate from this lofty ideal." (p. 96) We did seem to deviate, like GW.

In the War on Terror, others in this country, including people in the Office of Legal Counsel, the office that authored the infamous "torture memo", said we had to rethink this whole treatment thing. Maybe this moral strain started from GW.


Bryan Craig Todd wrote: "Teri wrote: "Like Mary Ellen, I am curious if Washington just arbitrarily picked a particular prisoner in his eye for an eye scenario. I would think he would be a bit calculated in who he picked, ..."

Good answers, Todd. Maybe we are not seeing the sanitized version of GW and it makes sense to pick someone with big impact.


David (nusandman) | 111 comments Among the atrocities described in these chapters, I found it interesting that General Lee somehow avoided nearly any of this. To me it seemed he might have been worthy of traitorous accusations based upon what I read.


Bryan Craig Lee was a real piece of work, raw ambition at any cost.


Bryan Craig What are your thoughts about Congress' resolution on allowing prisoner mistreatment where, in the last chapter, they had the higher ground?


message 25: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 03, 2013 08:15PM) (new)

I believe Washington's actions saved Allen. I would have done the same. Taking a firm and direct stance, making myself clear - I hope I would have be taken very seriously. Luckily in Washington's case Allen was released before he had to follow through on his stance. 


message 26: by Mark (last edited Sep 04, 2013 09:05AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Mortensen I’m always in awe the way Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and I appreciated Logan’s bit of history surrounding July 2nd.

Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson


message 27: by Katy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) Mark wrote: "I’m always in awe the way Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and I appreciated Logan’s bit of history surrounding July 2nd."

I agree with you, Mark. Each of the founding fathers (and mothers) had their human faults, but I am impressed by what they did accomplish. It seems a miracle that the US prevailed over the British Empire in the Revolution. And Thomas Jefferson and his pen -- amazing.

Be sure to cite authors.
Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson


Bryan Craig Jim wrote: "I was less impressed however with Washington's attitude toward the treatment of Loyalists (and particularly his reprimand of General Putnam for trying to put an end to one mob action). This shows a bad side of Washington that cannot be justified by either the quid pro quo concerning the treatment of prisoners or the fact that "somethings just happen in war." ..."

Yeah, I see a struggle in GW here with the moral vs. practical. Many times he does take the higher ground, but not always. You here about GW's temper, and I wonder if part of the actions where he allows retaliation are related. Just a random thought.


Bryan Craig Christopher wrote: "I suppose Congress' resolution shows the oft-overlooked pragmatic side to the Founders and that period of history. It wasn't all about Enlightenment ideals and I wonder how many of the Congressmen ..."

Well said, Christopher. I'm interested in GW's relationship with Congress. They have different positions and see different things, but have one goal: win the war.


Logan Beirne | 140 comments Bentley wrote: "My history teacher definitely left out the drunken raiding details when I was in class! (ROFL)"

I love it, Bentley! A little secret about me: I am fascinated by what everyone is drinking and where they were sleeping. These are the types of details history books so often leave out but, as we are seeing, they end up having a huge impact on the outcome of history. Plus, they are entertaining and make it easier to put yourself into the scene. Too many readers see history as boring and dry but I wanted to make it engaging and highly relevant to today.


Bryan Craig Logan, it sounds you are a fan of the "Washington slept here" signs, lol. You make a great point about socialization and many plans begin and end in a tavern.


message 32: by Logan (last edited Sep 05, 2013 10:28PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Logan Beirne | 140 comments Peter wrote: "The author makes it pretty explicit that he thinks the episodes he depicts have relevance today; he does this right at the end of Chapter 12.

But I don't know if this is so.

Why is how Washingto..."


Peter, I appreciate your thoughts. I rewrote that section a few times because it seems no matter how nuanced I tried to make the argument, people were still reading it as me saying "There was torture in the Revolution so the President should torture now" - that is most definitely not what I was saying.

Christopher summed it up quite well when he said, "while circumstances are quite different, the question of what to do with prisoners has a basis in American history and perhaps we can glean some answers to our own problems by studying our history and how those decisions played out."

Regarding the question of "can the President torture?", this history impacts judges today in interpreting the Constitution. Whether we like that or not, that is just the way the judiciary works. Some justices/judges place more weight on history than others, but almost all see this history as a starting point for the powers bestowed the Presidency.

Regarding the different question of "should the President torture?", I think these chapters lay out some policy arguments - in Washington's own words - for why we should not.

I am definitely not saying anything as simplistic as, "Washington did X, so therefore we could/should do X today." Instead, I lay out the history to inform our current debate. I deliberately keep my personal politics out of the equation - between you and me (and I guess this whole board!), I am persuaded by the modern and historical policy arguments against torture.

This history is what it is and I think we can learn a lot from it.


Logan Beirne | 140 comments Mark wrote: "I’m always in awe the way Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and I appreciated Logan’s bit of history surrounding July 2nd.

Thomas JeffersonThomas Jefferson"


Thank you, Mark. I love that Adams' quote:

"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

John Adams John Adams


message 34: by Bryan (last edited Sep 04, 2013 11:12AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bryan Craig Very elegant, thank-you Logan.

I'm reminded of Congressional oversight into the tribunal system by Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, which was a necessary thing in my opinion. I think Congress did not feel it had "skin in the game" but it had to now.

It follows the interplay of GW and the Continental Congress. They issue resolutions and GW and members of Congress write back and forth about changing situations. It is a good historical example.


Logan Beirne | 140 comments Christopher wrote: "I suppose Congress' resolution shows the oft-overlooked pragmatic side to the Founders and that period of history. It wasn't all about Enlightenment ideals and I wonder how many of the Congressmen ..."

Christopher, I completely agree on this. When I started researching these issues, what I found was not what I had expected. History books tend to only look at the few words in the Congressional resolutions but overlook the more pragmatic side demonstrated by their actions. I was surprised!


message 36: by Tomi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tomi | 161 comments After reading about the actions of Loyalist Cunningham, I am not as horrified (?? - not sure how to describe my feelings! If only we were doing this in person and I could wave my hands around...) about what happened to Beebe. Perhaps the locals who attacked Beebe had some experiences with Loyalists similar to Cunningham and were taking out their anger on Beebe? Shows that neither side was perfect...


Bryan Craig Indeed Tomi, both sides made bad choices


message 38: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark (mwl1) It is interesting to read about the violence that took place between the loyalists and the patriots. I imagine a large part of this was because the transitions between governing bodies made it difficult to create and enforce laws to protect citizens (both loyalist and patriots).

While we are not as violent today as some of the examples that we read about, I don't think I agree with Jim's statement that we now have a higher sense of right and wrong. There are plenty of people in politics today that seem to demonstrate an inferior sense of right and wrong to Washington. The difference to me is that violence is not tolerated because we have a government that is willing and able to enforce laws protecting individuals from violence (in most cases). It seems to me that many people today are just as passionate about whatever cause motivates them as some of the patriots/loyalists were about the revolutionary cause in their day. The difference I see is that passion does not lead to violence as easy today.


message 39: by G (new) - rated it 4 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Mark wrote: "It is interesting to read about the violence that took place between the loyalists and the patriots. I imagine a large part of this was because the transitions between governing bodies made it dif..."

Mark I agree. It's because of the judicial consequences of a violent act, as initially adapted by the Founders from the British legal system, which stems the violence today. In countries without the power of a 'neutral' governmental system (I use the term advisedly), violence still exists between opposing groups. I hadn't thought of it quite that way, so thanks,


Bryan Craig Very interesting point, Mark. The rule of law is much different that it is today, the enforcement/protection against violence like this is more uniform and institutionalized.

We know from history that this was not always the case. One big case in point is that blacks in the South did not have any justice or protection.

You really begin to get a sense from this book that GW was an important moral compass for many people. I think his reach to local areas might have been limited, but nevertheless, he was crucial.


Robyn (rplouse) | 73 comments I've read all of the debate about which society was more moral - Washington's or ours - in this thread. I think that we like to think we've advanced ethically and morally, but I'm not so sure we are all that different. Recent events have shown that segments of the population don't have the same standards we'd like to think we have as a society. I think that during the revolution it was the same. Some folks didn't consider their behavior to be wrong. I agree with GW's vision of the world as he wanted it to be, but I don't think he had complete control over the situation. Neither did Howe.

Logan - you quoted Washington's remarks about telling the British that prisoners would be treated the same as the Americans were hearing their prisoners were treated, but didn't really say what the Americans actually did. With the communication available at the time, how did Washington get "timely" (according to current technology) updates and how did he know he could believe what he heard? I don't think this communication dilemma has gone away today, even with all of our technology.


message 42: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 05, 2013 07:38AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Robyn, you might want to take the last paragraph and place that on the Q&A thread like this: (then you can delete that paragraph from message 53) - good question for that thread.

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1...

Question: Logan - you quoted Washington's remarks about telling the British that prisoners would be treated the same as the Americans were hearing their prisoners were treated, but didn't really say what the Americans actually did. With the communication available at the time, how did Washington get "timely" (according to current technology) updates and how did he know he could believe what he heard? I don't think this communication dilemma has gone away today, even with all of our technology.


Bryan Craig Thanks, Bentley, I am on the same page. This would be a great question to ask Logan, so please do so Robyn.

To the first part of your post, I think we have advanced legally in many ways since GW's time. I hear what you are saying ethically. I think ethics are built upon people's choices. We answer the basic question: what I ought to do? And many people and collectively, policy makers, regardless of the time period, slip.

I agree that GW did not have control over everything and I think bad moral choices are easier to make if no one is looking or cares.


Bryan Craig Do you think Lee supplied intelligence to the British?


Bryan Craig I get the same feeling Jodi, I think he would spill secrets just to undermine GW.


Robyn (rplouse) | 73 comments I also think it was interesting and a little funny that the British went to so much trouble to capture Charles Lee and then seemed sorry to have to keep him.


message 47: by Logan (last edited Sep 05, 2013 10:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Logan Beirne | 140 comments Robyn wrote: "I've read all of the debate about which society was more moral - Washington's or ours - in this thread. I think that we like to think we've advanced ethically and morally, but I'm not so sure we ar..."

Hi Robyn, you are very right - false information was rampant. Washington received intelligence from a variety of sources - from released/escaped prisoners, defectors, and his extensive spy network. However, his intelligence was not 100% accurate (just like today's!).

Washington was appropriately skeptical of the reports and often sent for confirmation. In fact, he often asks the British officers, who sometimes confirmed (if only by inference) his fears.

It is not always clear precisely how the Americans responded since they did not necessarily advertise some of the things they did. I relied on accounts from both the British and American sides to provide insight into the actions. If a particular episode lacked credible evidence, I deliberately left out the specifics since I did not want to speculate.

It took a lot of digging to gather the evidence needed to write these pages! I am getting tired again just remembering it.


Logan Beirne | 140 comments G wrote: "On page 81 the author states that Major (General) Lee was not properly socialized. What does that mean? Is it because he grew up in the army? Did that lead him to his unedited behaviors? Interestin..."

Yes, G - that is precisely it!


Logan Beirne | 140 comments G wrote: "On page 96, Mr. Beirne wrote a sentence which jumped out at me. '... -we have given up on hopes that terrorists will treat our people with humanity.' In my opinion, it seems the world rather than p..."

G, I deliberately left if open to enable the reader to think about these very important issues - and spark conversations just like this one!

Based on your reading, what do you think Washington's precedents suggest?


Logan Beirne | 140 comments Bryan wrote: "Very elegant, thank-you Logan.

I'm reminded of Congressional oversight into the tribunal system by Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, which was a necessary thing in my opinion. I think Congress did not feel it..."


Excellent point, Bryan! Justice Thomas's dissent in Hamdan mentions GW.


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