Book Club: The plot to assassinate Washington
IN THE FIRST CONSPIRACY, THRILLER WRITER BRAD MELTZER UNCOVERS A REAL-LIFE STORY TOO GOOD TO TURN INTO FICTION
Who was trying to kill George Washington?
At the start of the Revolutionary War, the governor and the mayor of New York, both British loyalists, successfully turned some of Washington’s personal guards against him. They were ready to strike, but Washington found out. The conspirators were arrested and interrogated in secret. Then Washington gathered 20,000 troops and citizens in an open field and had one ringleader hanged for all to see. That sent a clear message to the Loyalists, without revealing the plot.
How was the plot discovered?
The New York Provincial Congress had established the Committee on Conspiracies, a top-secret team of civilians with a mission to gather information about the enemy and detect and thwart the enemy’s intelligence operations. As the plot against Washington got bigger, people started to talk, and this little committee—led by John Jay— wound up bringing the whole thing down. It was the beginning of America’s counterintelligence efforts.
This isn’t the Revolution we get in high school.
When we think about the Revolution, we think about the colonists here who are fighting the British coming from over there. In reality, there were lots of people in the Colonies who took the side of the British, and lots of people from England who joined the colonial side. Some people changed allegiances back and forth. This created an environment of distrust and fear. It also led to lots of double-crossing and espionage.
Why don’t we know this story?
The assassination plot is hidden history. When the British were coming, the last thing Washington wanted to say was, “Hey, everyone, my own men just turned on me.” That is not the picture of leadership you want when you are in charge of the military. It’s clear to me that he didn’t want anyone to know this story.