Benedict Arnold should have been one of the great military heroes of the United States. Instead, circumstance and the jealousy of lesser men made him a traitor to the country he loved.
Malcolm doesn't condone Arnold's treason, but presents evidence--including newly discovered primary documents--to help us understand the man and his motivation. The evidence also seems to exonerate Arnold's wife, Peggy (Shippen), who has often been portrayed as a co-conspirator, from any role in his treachery.
It's important to remember only about a third of Americans favored the revolution. Another third remained loyal to the crown while the remainder took a wait and see position on the outcome. While we laud the founders, it's also important to remember these politicians remained at home, attending to their businesses, while their distrust of a standing army (a legacy from the British), desire to micro-manage every aspect of the war, and parsimony in paying the men and even providing for their welfare is a disgrace. Arnold was among many officers who paid men out of their own pockets to prevent them abandoning the task.
Arnold's heroic behavior at Montreal, on Lake Champlain and, particularly, at Saratoga is beyond question and gained him the admiration of George Washington, among others. It also inspired the enmity of lesser men, including Horatio Gates who cowered in his tent while Arnold led the troops to victory at Saratoga, a victory for which Gates claimed the credit. The jealousy of Gates and others led to the filing of false charges of profiteering and even cowardice which eroded his reputation and eventually led to a courts-martial. Though the trial failed to find him guilty of any wrong doing, the politicians demanded a censure and Washington bowed to their pressure--a slap in the face from a man he respected and which obviously contributed to Arnold's defection.
Arnold had abandoned his own business and neglected his family responsibilities, plunging himself into debt, to serve the country he loved. The serious injury suffered at Saratoga incapacitated him for active duty. Washington, apparently thinking it would give him time to heal, appointed him to a political post at Philadelphia for which he was ill-suited. Arnold's pleas for a naval command, a position for which he was qualified by experience as a ship owner and mariner, were ignored. Had this been granted, history might have a different slant on the man.
Arnold thought the war was lost and the only hope was reconciliation with Britain when he took the fatal steps that defamed his name and honor forever. It's easy to judge a person with the advantage of distance in time and under the influence of past opinions. We were not there, and it's important to review all the evidence and not blindly accept traditional views.