In this bizarro campaign year of 2016, both candidates for the Presidency are being accused of just about everything horrible under the sun.
Of course, in Hillary Clinton’s case, they are completely right.
But Donald Trump is still a bit of an unknown quantity, despite his massive life- long effort to project himself to the pinnacle of American consciousness. So we don’t know whether he is guilty of all the awful things of which he is being accused. We do know, however, that throughout our history, even praiseworthy people, both public and private, have done some nasty things, some of which they have regretted, and some of which they have not.
Take the case of that most perfect and circumspect of men, General George Washington, the greatest of our Founding Fathers. He of the “I cannot tell a lie” moral fortitude, of the voluntary leaving of the Presidency after two terms, both of which he was elected unanimously, of the manumission of all of the slaves he had inherited and come to own, and of the steadfast 40-year devotion to his wife, made a rather stunning decision towards the end of the American Revolutionary War. This decision, which could have tarnished the first American President’s sterling reputation forever, this ‘terrible’ act, was what, you may ask?
In 1781, the great General George Washington put his personal stamp of approval on a plot to kidnap the 17 year-old son of the King of England.
The King of England at the time of the American Revolution was George III (1738-1820), who ascended to the British throne in 1760. During his rather turbulent 59-year reign, he fathered 15 legitimate children, the third of whom was his son Prince William Henry, who was also third in line to the throne.
Prince William served in the Royal Navy as a youth, and was actually the “first of royal lineage” to visit America. Then a seventeen-year-old midshipman on the HMS Prince George, the prince, after landing in New York City in September, 1781, “quickly endeared himself to locals with his boyish charm”
Equally quickly an American plot was developed to kidnap the Prince and the Admiral of his ship, Lord Digby, by Colonel Matthias Ogden of the 1st New Jersey Continentals, whose regiment was then based in New Jersey. Ogden, who was raised in the same Elizabethtown household as Aaron Burr, had previously demonstrated his courage and creativity during a Revolutionary War battle in Quebec in 1775.
Ogden’s rather outrageous idea, was taken to General Washington, and it seemed to have actually ‘captivated’ the commander-in-chief:
“The spirit and enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters, and bringing off, Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause, and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your own judgment should direct,” Washington wrote on March 28, 1782.
The general did warn “against offering insult or indignity to the persons of the Prince, or Admiral, should you be so fortunate as to capture them,” and recommended that Ogden “impress the propriety of such conduct upon the party you command.”
During the planning of the very complicated and thoroughly thought out plot (even down to the kinds of axes that would be used to chop down the door to secure the Prince and the Admiral) to kidnap this high level group, Ogden did not reveal to his commander one important fact. That was that downtown New York City was packed with more than 1,500 British and Hessian soldiers, not to mention Loyalist irregulars and sailors on temporary leave in the port.
As any man caught in disguise would risk being hanged as a spy if caught by these troops, the elaborate plans became even more so, with British sailors’ garb being acquired for the kidnappers to wear. In the end, none of the planning mattered, as the operation to kidnap the prince and the admiral was never attempted.
Washington received the following report, dated March 23, 1782, from Ogden, who was then in New York City:
“Great seems to be their apprehensions here. About a fortnight ago a number of flat-boats were discovered by a sentinel from the bank of the river (Hudson), which are said to have been intended to fire the suburbs, and in the height of the conflagration to make a descent on the lower part of the city, and wrest from our embraces his excellency Sir H. Clinton, Prince William Henry, and several other illustrious personages—since which great precautions have been taken for the security of those gentlemen, by augmenting the guards, and to render their persons as little exposed as possible.”
Washington then responded to Ogden. “I received information that the sentries at the doors of Sir Henry Clinton’s quarters were doubled at eight o’clock every night from the apprehension of an attempt to surprise him in them.” The General continued: “If this be true, it is more than probable the same precaution extends to other personages in the City of New York, a circumstance I thought it proper for you to be advertised of.”
It is highly likely that the precautions taken by British forces convinced Ogden to abort the mission.
It is not known why Washington agreed to this nefarious plot, though it is thought that the General had wanted some high level officers and/or individuals for exchange of either captured Americans of equal rank, or to achieve the release of numerous other American prisoners held aboard the Jersey, the notorious British prison ship in American waters just off Brooklyn, whose squalid and inhumane conditions were well known to the citizenry of both countries.
Having survived his American experience, Prince William Henry did in fact succeed to the British throne, in 1830, when he was 64 years old. In 1831, the King was shown, by the American Ambassador at the time, a copy of Washington’s March 23, 1782, letter written to Colonel Ogden, to which the sovereign remarked, “I am obliged to General Washington for his humanity, but I’m damned glad I did not give him an opportunity of exercising it towards me!”
The correspondence was published in England’s Athenaeum magazine later that year and created quite a stir among His Royal Highness’s subjects. Another British biographer of the king was not so charitable, however, writing of Washington: “the part in which he took in the kidnapping of Prince William will always stand in record against him, as one of the most despicable acts of his life.”
So good people sometimes do bad things, even if the best of intentions are involved. So even if Donald Trump trashed John McCain for getting caught in the Vietnam conflict, which everyone knew was a joke; even if he ridiculed a handicapped person, which was just tacky though hardly a bad thing; and even if he characterized certain body-challenged females as carrying an excess of pounds, which was accurate in most cases, the Republican candidate can certainly not be accused of doing a bad thing.
The only bad thing that Donald Trump can do in this crazy election year is to lose.
About The Author:
Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects.. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.