Two centuries after Benedict Arnold’s death, the most infamous man in American history remains a two-dimensional caricature in the minds of most Americans: wicked, self-serving and greedy, his name synonymous with traitor. Numerous books now portray his lovely young wife Peggy as equally evil, an Eve enticing her husband to betray his country. Yet how to reconcile these assumptions with the fact it was Arnold’s exploits that led to our independence. He was a brilliant commander, arguably the best officer on either side. He repeatedly risked his life on the battlefield, sacrificed his fortune and was grievously wounded fighting for the patriot cause. The evidence for Peggy’s complicity in treason is flimsy at best and contradicted by her own actions.
The Tragedy of Benedict Arnold is an exciting book because Arnold’s military exploits were thrilling. The story behind his eventual treason exposes a man at his wit’s end desperate to maintain his honor and reputation against a slew of enemies, caught in the violent animosities that split the patriot cause, until switching sides, he lost that honor forever. The book sheds new light on this conflicted man and the nuanced and complicated time in which he lived.
Speaker: Joyce Lee Malcolm
Joyce Lee Malcolm is an historian and constitutional scholar specializing in British and Colonial American History. She focuses on the development of individual rights and on war and society. Malcolm is Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University and the author of eight books and numerous articles. Her latest book, The Tragedy of Benedict Arnold: An American Life, published by Pegasus Press on May 1, 2018, was praised in The Washington Post as “a fine biography, the best in recent memory.”
To Keep and Bear Arms: The Origins of an Anglo-American Right, published by Harvard University Press, was cited several times in the Supreme Court’s landmark Second Amendment case District of Columbia versus Heller. Guns and Violence: The English Experience, also published by Harvard Press, tracks English laws on self-defense and firearms for their impact on crime in England. Her book Peter’s War: A New England Slave Boy and the American Revolution, published by Yale University Press, tells the dramatic story of a Massachusetts boy sold as a toddler to a childless white couple who later fought for the patriot cause. Malcolm’s essays have been published in the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The London Telegraph, The Boston Globe, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.