Spies, Traitors, Leaks, Betrayal: America's "Enemies Foreign & Domestic"

Bill Federer

The Oath of military enlistment states:

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Who were some of the most famous "domestic" enemies?

In July of 1775, General Washington appointed Dr. Benjamin Church as the first surgeon general of the Continental Army.

Three months later, Washington discovered Dr. Benjamin Church had been spying for the British.

He wrote coded messages of the Continental Army's plans and leaked them to British officer, Major Crane.

When Dr. Church was exposed as the leaker, Washington informed the Continental Congress, October 5, 1775:

"I have now a painful tho' a Necessary Duty to perform respecting Doctor Church, Director General of the Hospital."

Another painful betrayal during the Revolution was that of Benedict Arnold.

Benedict Arnold was one of America's most popular leaders, renown for helping Ethan Allen capture Fort Ticonderoga in 1775.

Arnold fought courageously on Lake Champlain at the Battle of Valcour Island in 1776.

He fought in the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut and came to the rescue at the Siege of Fort Stanwix.

Benedict Arnold was considered the hero of the pivotal Battle of Saratoga in 1777, leading a daring flanking charge, though he disobeyed a direct order to do so.

Shot in the leg during the battle, his career was sidelined for a season.

For his courageous, patriotic service, Arnold was, at this time, even more popular than George Washington.

Philadelphia was the largest city in America, with a population of 43,000.

The next biggest cities were:

  • New York City, with 25,000;

  • Boston, with 16,000;

  • Charleston, with 12,000; and

  • Newport, Rhode Island, with 11,000.

A year earlier, rather than coming to the rescue of British General Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga, British General William Howe, possibly due to professional rivalry, abandoned Burgoyne, left New York, and sailed for Pennsylvania.

Howe defeated General Washington at the Battle of Brandywine, September 11, 1777, then marched into Philadelphia, being gloriously greeted by the large number of British Loyalists still in the city.

The British occupied the city for eight months, but gaining no strategic benefit from being there, they left Philadelphia in June of 1778.

Americans once again took control, with Benedict Arnold being appointed the military commander of Philadelphia.

As Philadelphia had a significant population of Quakers, who refused for religious reasons to take up arms in defense of America, citizens who were still loyal to Britain could blend in.

While military commander of Philadelphia, Benedict Arnold became captivated by Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a wealthy loyalist-leaning judge.

At the same time, Arnold was accused of using his position for his own financial benefit.

He had to endure a long and drawn out court-martial trial.

Arnold and Peggy were married in 1779.

Interestingly, during the trial, Arnold, vehemently accused his prosecutors of being disloyal to the patriot cause.

Arnold was eventually cleared of wrong-doing, but the ordeal, along with being passed over for promotion, confirmed to his loyalist-leaning wife, Peggy, that the Americans did not appreciate her husband.

Meanwhile, Arnold incurred much debt attempting to maintain his wife's upper-class lifestyle.

All this while, Peggy had maintained communication with a British spy, the young and handsome Major John Andre, who had stayed behind in Philadelphia posing as a civilian.

After a year of coaxing, Peggy finally convinced Benedict to meet with Andre.

That same year, 1779, the Continental Congress declared a Day of Public Prayer to Almighty God.

Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson observed this by signing a State Proclamation of Prayer:

"Congress ... hath thought proper ... to recommend to the several States ... a day of public and solemn Thanksgiving to Almighty God, for his mercies, and of Prayer, for the continuance of his favor ...

That He would go forth with our hosts and crown our arms with victory;

That He would grant to His church, the plentiful effusions of Divine Grace, and pour out His Holy Spirit on all Ministers of the Gospel;

That He would bless and prosper the means of education, and spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth ...

I do therefore ... issue this proclamation ... appointing ... a day of public and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God ...

Given under by hand ... this 11th day of November, in the year of our Lord, 1779 ... Thomas Jefferson."

The next spring, April 6, 1780, General Washington issued the order from his headquarters at Morristown, New Jersey:

"Congress having been pleased by their Proclamation of the 11th of last month to appoint Wednesday the 22nd instant to be set apart and observed as a day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer ... there should be no labor or recreations on that day."

Due to Arnold's heroic reputation, Washington had a blind spot when it came to suspecting Arnold's betrayal.

General Benedict Arnold lobbied General Washington to put him in charge of West Point, which Washington did on August 3, 1780.

The fort at West Point was America's largest and most important fort, designed by the Polish freedom fighter Tadeusz Kosciuszko.

West Point controlled the Hudson River Valley, which stretched from near Canada in the North to New York City in the south.

The Hudson River effectively divided colonial America in half, with the New England Colonies on the east and the Middle & Southern Colonies on the west.

The surrender of West Point would have split the country and possibly cost the Americans the War.

By August 30, 1780, Benedict Arnold not only agreed to betray West Point, but to do so on the very day General Washington would arrive to inspect it.

This way Washington would be captured.

In return, Benedict Arnold would be paid 20,000 British pounds, the equivalent of one million dollars today.

Arnold intentionally weakened West Point's defenses by neglecting repairs and removing supplies, all the while complaining to General Washington of shortages.

The trap was set.

General George Washington and Major-General Lafayette set out on their way to West Point to examine its defenses

On September 19, 1780, British General Henry Clinton left Charleston, South Carolina, and put his troops in position to capture West Point.

On September 23, 1780, Arnold met with British spy Major John Andre to arranged the final details of the fort's surrender.

Talking too long, Andre missed the rendezvous with a British boat waiting in the Hudson River.

This was due in part to some Americans, by chance, spotting the idle British boat and firing shots at it, causing it to retreat down river.

Arnold then had Andre dress as a civilian and take the risky route back to the British lines by land.

This was a fateful decision, for the accepted rules of warfare were, that if a combatant was captured in uniform, he was afforded certain treatment as a prisoner of war, but if the combatant was captured dressed as a civilian, he was considered a spy, for which the penalty was immediate hanging.

Historians question why Arnold did not take more precaution to keep Andre from being caught.

It is suspected that Arnold may have been blinded by jealousy.

Arnold seemed to harbor resentment toward the younger and more handsome Andre for maintaining a such a close relationship with his wife, Peggy.

Andre departed from Arnold, and hiked across the American controlled territory, and no-man's land.

He almost made it to the British lines when, providentially, some random American sentries spotted him in the woods and decided to stop him for questioning.

Trying to talk his way out of why he was there, the sentries were unconvinced.

They searched him once and again.

They almost let him go when they decided to make him take off his boot.

There, hidden in Andre's sagging stocking, they found the folded up map of West Point.

The American sentries arrested Andre and immediately sent word to General Benedict Arnold.

Arnold was anxiously waiting at West Point for the arrival of General Washington, supposedly to have breakfast, but where he intended to capture him.

Major James McHenry, for whom Fort McHenry was later named, rode ahead to let Arnold know that Washington was on his way, but had been delayed.

By the time Major McHenry arrived at West Point, Benedict Arnold had realized his plot was discovered.

He left his wife and child, and fled to the waiting British ship, HMS Vulture.

His wife, Peggy, feigned insanity to avoid being questioned by Washington.

Washington offered to do a prisoner exchange with the British.

He would return John Andre to the British in exchange for Benedict Arnold being returned to the Americans.

The British refused.

Since the British earlier hanged the captured 21-year-old American spy, Nathan Hale, General Washington insisted that the same fate be administered to the captured British spy Andre.

Major John Andre was hung on October 2, 1780.

Benedict Arnold fulfilled his betrayal by joining the British ranks.

He led attacks where he fought and killed Americans, even burning the city of New London, Connecticut, in 1781.

The day after Arnold's plot was thwarted, American General Nathaniel Greene reported September 26, 1780:

"Treason of the blackest dye was yesterday discovered!

General Arnold who commanded at West Point, was about to ... give the American cause a deadly wound if not fatal stab.

Happily the treason had been timely discovered to prevent the fatal misfortune.

The providential train of circumstances which led to its discovery affords the most convincing proof that the Liberties of America are the object of divine Protection."

On May 8, 1783, Yale President Ezra Stiles stated:

"A providential miracle at the last minute detected the treacherous scheme of traitor Benedict Arnold, which would have delivered the American army, including George Washington himself, into the hands of the enemy."

The Continental Congress issued a Day of Thanksgiving, October 18, 1780:

"In the late remarkable interposition of His watchful providence, in the rescuing the person of our Commander-in-Chief and the army from imminent dangers, at the moment when treason was ripened for execution ...

It is therefore recommended ... a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer ... to confess our unworthiness ... and to offer fervent supplications to the God of all grace ... to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth."

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point has plaques hanging in the Old Cadet Chapel commemorating the name of every general of the Revolutionary War, except one.

Arnold's plaque simply reads:

"Major General


Born 1740."

Academy historian at West Point Steven Grove explained:

"We wanted to commemorate all the war generals, so we have a plaque for him, but he disgraced his uniform, so we don't put his name up there."

John Jay, who was later appointed by George Washington as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, stated September 8, 1777:

"This glorious revolution ... is distinguished by so many marks of the Divine favor and interposition ... in a manner so singular, and I may say miraculous, that when future ages shall read its history they will be tempted to consider a great part of it as fabulous (exaggerated) ...

Will it not appear extraordinary ... like the emancipation of the Jews from Egyptian servitude."


American History