Benedict Arnold swore his loyalty, and we have proof

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Nov. 14 2012 8:00 AM

When Benedict Arnold Swore To Be True

The National Archives has in its collection four books full of loyalty oaths signed by officers of George Washington’s Continental Army. Later events invested this one, signed by Benedict Arnold on May 30, 1778, with a particular poignancy.

Benedict Arnold’s name is infamous now, but at the beginning of the conflict he was a true Son of Liberty who had used his own money to train Continental troops and gained respect for his contributions to the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and the victory at the Battle of Saratoga.

When he swore this oath, Arnold teetered somewhere between his early loyalty and bitter dissatisfaction. He had suffered a painful injury, become disgruntled with what he saw as the Congress’ skimpy financial support for the Army, and felt that he had been passed over unjustly for promotions and glory.


Because of the particular circumstances of this war, in which loyalists to the Crown could pass as Continental officers, leaders worried about traitors in their ranks. By asking officers to sign loyalty oaths, the command hoped to force the issue with suspected sympathizers.

After the Continental Congress approved this particular oath, the printed pages were brought to the Army’s camp at Valley Forge. There, each officer read the oath out loud, while another witnessed. (Washington witnessed many of these oaths, but in Arnold’s case, the witness was Henry Knox, later to become the first Secretary of War.)

The document came with a blank space in the middle of the text, where the officers were given the option to insert “swear” or “affirm.” Members of some religious sects (Quakers, for example) refused to “swear.” Later versions of American military loyalty oaths, such as the ones sworn to by present-day members of the US Armed Forces, include the promise to uphold the Constitution; for obvious chronological reasons, Arnold’s omits this detail.

Arnold’s acts of treason didn’t come until two years after he spoke these words and signed his name, when, as a Major General, he plotted to betray his command at West Point to the British.

Thanks to Trevor Plante of the National Archives.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:03 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Ubiquity of Gotham
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.