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Posted on Oct 23, 2004 in Armchair Reading

The Foiled Plot to Remove General Washington

By Sue Chehrenegar

General Gates realized that the removal of Washington could possibly put the Chair of the Board of War in that most powerful position.  In light of that realization, he had invited the senders of the written complaint to a dinner at his home.  The dinner was scheduled for January 30, 1778, a night when Marquis de Lafayette would also be at the home of General Gates.

Together Gates and the conspirators against Washington failed to foresee the problems that would be created by their conniving and planning.  No one expected that Lafayette, responding to the guests’ jovial air and the many different toasts made at that dinner,  would then rise and propose a toast to General George Washington.

Lafayette’s toast was followed by a sudden silence.  As Lafayette eased down in his seat, he noticed that the faces of those around him had a strange and ruddy glow, a coloring that one might misinterpret as blush.  Meanwhile, those who had been drinking heavily now appeared slow to drink to this new toast. Each either touched their lips to the contents in their glass or else lowered their glass, never tasting its contents.


Lafayette did not then know that he had forced those old politicians to re-think the group’s planned course of action. In fact, the red glow on their faces had been produced by a sudden surge of shame.  Compelled to honor a toast to a man whom they hoped to remove from power, the diners at the Gates’ house were then having second thoughts about their original intentions.

The statesmen and officers at that dinner did not know how to proceed.  Their actions had already pulled Lafayette away from Valley Forge, handing over to him all responsibility for the coming invasion of Canada.  They had thus removed from eastern Pennsylvania the senior officer who would be most apt to object to the removal of George Washington. 

George Washington

George Washington
Gilbert Stuart
(Vaughan portrait), 1795
Andrew W. Mellon Collection

The members of that plot, the “Conway Cabal,” wanted to end the maneuvers they had initiated.  There was one problem.  They did not know how to reverse or change their plans without disclosing to others the fact that such a plot had ever existed. The end of the Cabal began when General Washington sent instructions to a confused Lafayette, instructions that Lafayette should cooperate with the Congress’s plans.

After the “fiasco” at the dinner, General Gates tried to expedite the removal of General Washington.  Gates had Lafayette sent up to Albany, New York, the intended site of the invasion, before the army in Albany had received the training and the supplies that it would need. Lacking good equipment and suitable manpower, the Marquis de Lafayette sent Congress a letter detailing his needs.

The arrival in York of the letter from Lafayette coincided with the receipt, via the existing communication “system,” that General Washington had defeated the British and Hessians at Trenton. The citizens of York and the delegates at the Courthouse heard about Washington’s daring crossing of the Delaware River.  Such news created a growing support for the existing Commander of the Continental Army.

The letter from Lafayette gave the Congress the go-ahead to call for a termination of the planned invasion of Canada.  In March of 1778 Lafayette was called-back to Pennsylvania.  The plan to remove General Washington had failed, and George Washington served as an American leader until well-after the Revolution.

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