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Lot 3: ARNOLD, BENEDICT. Letter Signed, "B Arnold," as Major General in the Continental Army, to Delaware Governor Caesar Rodney,
April 17, 2012
New York, NY, USALive Auction
Description: "MY CHARACTER HAS BEEN MOST CRUELLY AND UNJUSTLY ASPERSED" ARNOLD, BENEDICT. Letter Signed, "B Arnold," as Major General in the Continental Army, to Delaware Governor Caesar Rodney, hoping to have his recent acquittal proceedings read before the Delaware Legislature to help clear his good name. 1 page, folio, with integral address leaf addressed by Arnold; seal holes repaired with paper, remnants of prior mounting along center vertical fold on terminal page, evenly toned. Philadelphia, 20 March 1780
Arnold had been publicly accused of war profiteering and abuse of his powers as an American general the previous year. He demanded a court-martial to clear his name. The trial was not held for almost a year; in the meantime he began actively negotiating and sharing secrets with the British. By the time the trial cleared him of most charges in February 1780, he was a full-fledged undercover British agent.
This self-righteous letter (along with similar letters to other state governors) was intended to clear his name: "The president & council of the State of Pennsylvania having published . . . sundry resolutions of theirs . . . containing heavy charges, tending to prejudice the minds of my fellow citizens against me, previous to a trial, which with much difficulty I have at length obtained." Arnold transmits a copy of the court proceedings [not present], which he requests Governor Rodney "to lay before the Council & General Assembly; as I would wish to take off from the minds of those gentlemen every unfavorable impression which the unprecedented publication . . . may have made, and to convince them that my character has been most cruelly and unjustly aspersed."
The precise wording of Arnold's statement is quite clever and even honest in a sense. Arnold was keenly aware of his own guilt, so he doesn't actually claim that he has been slandered. He only wishes to convince the good men of Delaware that he has been slandered. Arnold would be publicly rebuked by George Washington just three weeks later, but the discovery of his treachery and his defection would not come for six more months.
Provenance: Birch's Lawrence Washington sale, 21 April 1891, lot 384; Parke-Bernet's Oliver R. Barrett sale, 30 October 1950, lot 59.