"The Politics of Retribution: Congressional Nullification of the Convention of Saratoga, 1777-1778"

August 24, 2018
Friday, September 14, 2018 - 3:00pm to 4:30pm
235 Dulles Hall
Cole Jones

Presenter: Cole Jones, Assistant Professor, Purdue University. 

Professor Jones shares this abstract: 
On October 17, 1777, in a field near Saratoga, New York, General John Burgoyne surrendered his army of nearly six thousand British and German troops to an American force under the command of General Horatio Gates.  Under the terms of the surrender agreement, known as the Convention of Saratoga, Gates permitted the Crown troops to depart for England with the sole proscription that they not take the field in America until formally exchanged for revolutionaries in British custody. These generous terms would permit the king’s ministry to employ Burgoyne’s men in Europe, freeing an equal number of fresh troops for the fight in America. Understandably, the Convention proved instantly unpopular with ardent revolutionaries throughout the continent.  Enraged by both real and exaggerated accounts of British abuse of American prisoners, revolutionary Americans demanded retribution.  On January 8, 1778, bowing to popular pressure, the Continental Congress resolved to nullify the Convention by tying the troops’ embarkation to several perquisites to which the British would never agree.
 
This paper analyzes Congress's efforts to dismantle the Convention of Saratoga. I argue that by repudiating Gates’s agreement, the delegates openly flouted the norms of the European culture of war that the revolutionary leadership had held sacrosanct since the commencement of hostilities.  Unlike prior acts of congressional retaliation, which were aimed at redressing specific examples of prisoner abuse on the part of the British thereby improving the plight of American prisoners in British hands, Congress's decision to invalidate the Convention was instead an acknowledgement that the rules by which the revolutionaries had conducted the war had changed.  The time had come for a new policy: a policy of retribution. By refusing to exchange the prisoners, even when it would have been militarily and politically advantageous, while simultaneously failing to provide for their support and subsistence, Congress set the Convention army on a march to its demise.  Once the delegates settled on suspending their embarkation, Congress had little option but to foist the prisoners upon state officials and local communities that were either incapable or unwilling to provide for the men.  Of the six thousand soldiers who surrendered at Saratoga, fewer than eight hundred would return to British lines at war's end.
 
Copies of Professor Cole’s paper will be available in 106 Dulles Hall, opposite the Receptionist’s Desk.  
 
The seminar is invited to John Brooke’s and Sara Balderston’s house, 1097 Wyandotte Road, Grandview,  6:00-8:00PM, for beer, pizza, etc., to celebrate Professor Cole’s paper and the beginning of the year!  Significant others welcome. Please RSVP to John Brooke [brooke.10@osu.edu] by Thursday evening, Sept. 13, if you, and others, plan to join us.  
 
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