Anyone who studied the American Revolution understands that being called a "Benedict Arnold" is about as low as it gets. Prior to defecting to the British, Arnold was one of the most indispensable generals in Washington's army and led the patriots to a number of victories on the battlefield. Having shattered his thigh in battle at one point, Washington decided to name Arnold the military governor of Philadelphia, the nation's capital at the time, in the wake of the British exit from the city.

During his time there, Arnold sought the hand of the young Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a loyalist-leaning family who had a certain distaste for radical patriots. Trying to appease their interests while maintaining his loyalty to Washington, Arnold also drew the scorn of Philly radical patriot favorite Joseph Reed. As the president of Pennsylvania's Supreme Executive Council, Reed brought forth charges in an attempt to smear Arnold as a traitor before he committed treason, revealing the fractured politics of America at the time. As Smithsonian concludes, it was more the want of money than love for Peggy that drove Arnold to the other side.

Given the ultimate course of Arnold’s life, it is easy to assume that he had fully committed himself to treason by the time he sent out his first feelers to the British in early May 1779. But that was not the case. He still felt a genuine loyalty to Washington. On May 5, Arnold wrote his commander what can only be described as a hysterical letter. The apparent reason for it was the delay of his court-martial to June 1. But the letter was really about Arnold’s fear that he might actually do as his wife suggested. “If your Excellency thinks me criminal,” he wrote, “for heaven’s sake, let me be immediately tried and if found guilty executed.”

In his anguish on May 5, he offered Washington a warning: “Having made every sacrifice of fortune and blood, and become a cripple in the service of my country, I little expected to meet the ungrateful returns I have received of my countrymen, but as Congress have stamped ingratitude as a current coin I must take it. I wish your Excellency for your long and eminent services may not be paid of in the same coin.”

In the reference to money, Arnold unintentionally betrayed the real reason he had been moved to consider this course. If he handled the negotiations correctly, turning traitor could be extremely lucrative. Not only would he be able to walk away from his current financial obligations, he might command a figure from the British that would make him independently wealthy for life.

Head over to Smithsonian to read the full article.