The True George Washington: Enemies: Benjamin Rush

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

Benjamin Rush

A very minor but most malignant enemy was Dr. Benjamin Rush. In 1774 Washington dined with him in Philadelphia, which implied friendship. Very early in the war, however, an attempt was made to remove the director-general of hospitals, in which, so John Armstrong claimed, "Morgan was the ostensible?Rush the real prosecutor of Shippen?the former acting from revenge,... the latter from a desire to obtain the directorship. In approving the sentence of the court, Washington stigmatized the prosecution as one originating in bad motives, which made Rush his enemy and defamer as long as he lived." Certain it is he wrote savage letters of criticism about his commander-in-chief of which the following extract is a sample:

"I have heard several officers who have served under General Gates compare his army to a well regulated family. The same gentlemen have compared Gen'l Washington's imitation of an army to an unformed mob. Look at the characters of both! The one on the pinnacle of military glory?exulting in the success of schemes planned with wisdom, & executed with vigor and bravery?and above all see a country saved by his exertions. See the other outgeneral'd and twice heated?obliged to witness the march of a body of men only half their number thro' 140 Miles of a thick settled country? forced to give up a city the capitol of a state & after all outwitted by the same army in a retreat."

Had Rush written only this, there would be no grounds for questioning his methods; but, not content with spreading his opinions among his friends, he took to anonymous letter-writing, and sent an unsigned letter abusing Washington to the governor of Virginia (and probably to others), with the request that the letter should be burned. Instead of this, Henry sent it to Washington, who recognized at once the handwriting, and wrote to Henry that Rush "has been elaborate and studied in his professions of regard to me, and long since the letter to you." An amusing sequel to this incident is to be found in Rush moving heaven and earth on the publication of Marshall's "Life of Washington" to prevent his name from appearing as one of the commander-in-chief's enemies.

After the collapse of the attempt Washington wrote to a friend, "I thank you sincerely for the part you acted at York respecting C?-y, and believe with you that matters have and will turn out very different to what that party expected. G?-s has involved himself in his letters to me in the most absurd contradictions. M?- has brought himself into a scrape that he does not know how to get out of with a gentleman of this State, and C?-, as you know is sent upon an expedition which all the world knew, and the event has proved, was not practicable. In a word, I have a good deal of reason to believe that the machination of this junta will recoil upon their own heads, and be a means of bringing some matters to light which, by getting me out of the way, some of them thought to conceal."

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