Nathanael Greene & the Formation of the American Republic

Production of a Patriot: The Rest

For most of the next year, an economic boom calmed the situation until Parliament attempted to assist the cash-strapped East India Company by giving the company a monopoly on tea in the colonies.  This cut the colonial merchants out of tea transactions.  In what became known as the Boston Tea Party, a mob of Bostonians broke open a massive shipment of tea and emptied it into Boston Harbor.  In 1774, an irate Parliament passed a series of laws designed to punish Boston and deter other colonies from further rebellion.  In the colonies, these laws became known as the Intolerable Acts.  Among them was the Boston Port Act, which simply closed the city’s harbor.  For a port city, this was a devastating economic punishment.  Without access to the sea, Boston’s economy was crippled.  As winter began, the citizens of Massachusetts would be hard pressed to buy food as the supply plummeted and prices soared.

If there was any chance of the British retaining Greene’s service in the impending struggle, Parliament lost it with the Intolerable Acts.  Greene, whose letters only two years ago never mentioned politics, now employed “language that Samuel Adams would have enjoyed.”9  Nathanael was now an unabashed patriot.  Greene backed up his rhetoric with action.  He helped lead a drive to collect money in his area and signed petitions denouncing the Intolerable Acts.  His personal donation was the second greatest collected for donation to the citizens of Boston.10

There is one more element to Nathanael Greene’s evolution as a patriot that might be argued.  In his analysis of colonial political philosophy, Bernard Bailyn makes a strong case that the idea of conspiracies had so completely permeated colonial political thinking that there was little doubt in colonial minds that Parliament was purposefully and methodically stripping them of their rights.11  While there is no literature suggesting Nathanael was a propagator of these theories, later events would suggest he was prone to believing conspiracy theories.

During the Continental Army’s winter at Valley Forge, criticism of George Washington reached its zenith.  Generals Thomas Conway and Thomas Mifflin criticized the Commander-in-Chief’s military decisions, and were joined by politicians such as John Adams, Richard Henry Lee, and Benjamin Rush.  They hoped to replace him with the “hero” of Saratoga, Horatio Gates.  This movement, which eventually became known as the Conway Cabal, caught Washington between a revived Board of War, filled with political enemies, and Thomas Conway, who was the new Inspector General of the Army.12

Although historians still do not agree whether or not the Conway Cabal was a full-fledged conspiracy, there was little doubt in Greene’s mind.13  He took up a ferocious letter-writing campaign attacking all three disaffected generals.  He knew that if his beloved mentor Washington was replaced, his own replacement would not be far behind.  Eventually, the conspiracy collapsed, and Washington emerged from the event stronger than ever.  In the rash criticisms of his fellow generals, Greene showed that he was rather susceptible to conspiracy theory, and probably believed everything that the Declaration of Independence later suggested about the King’s schemes.

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