Whom Can We Trust Now? The Portrayal of Benedict Arnold in American History


  • Julie Courtwright Wichita State University


Benedict Arnold, George Washington, John André, American Revolution, treason, patriotism, false allegation, false accusations, biographical analysis


"Whom can we trust now?" asked General George Washington, commander in chief of the American Revolution, shortly after learning of the treason committed by the most brilliant soldier of the Revolution, Benedict Arnold. Arnold was Washington's friend, his trusted comrade in the fight for independence. He had lent his considerable talents for leadership to the American cause time and time again since the onset of hostilities with Great Britain, making him one of the colonial army's most valuable officers. In fact, the commander in chief frequently commended Arnold for his "enterprising and persevering spirit" and relied on him for advice and support during the conflict.1 After Arnold defected to the British, however, Washington was hurt and angry at his friend's betrayal. He was not the only one. Patriots across America lashed out in fury in reaction to Arnold's treason. Their trust had been broken, and to the present day, Americans have difficulty seeing beyond the word traitor when Benedict Arnold's name is mentioned. In the years since Arnold's death, many biographies and articles have been written about him. The tone and perspective of these writings have changed as cultures and attitudes of historians have changed. While examining the historiography of Benedict Arnold, the phrase "whom can we trust now" takes on a whole new meaning. To gain an accurate understanding of who Arnold truly was, scholars must not only study his life, but the forces that shaped his interpreters.