Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Henry Lee, 5 January 1795

From Henry Lee1

Shirley near Richmond
Jany 5th 95

My dear sir

I wrote to you the other day in reply to your ler. recd from Col. Carrington.2

The communications from my friends since my return go to tell me that I have become an object of the most virulent enmity of a certain political junto3 who affect to govern the U S & belch their venom on every Citizen not subservient to their will. Mr. Marshall4 says that my imagination cannot present to me in true colours their invention & circulation of tales to deprekate me.

Thus warned I am collecting defensive weapons least they may overcome by renewing their attack on me unprepared.

One point I wish to draw from you the Presidents opinion upon, merely for my own satisfaction & information.

He wrote to me as Governor of Virga. to take the field telling me that I should command the army.5

By referring to the constitution & the law the president has a right to require the service of the militia & is ex officio Commander in chief. The militia law passed by Congress6 is the law of organization & does not mention a state commander in chief, which is the governor.

It is therefore argued that the President cannot call on a Governor to take the field.

Farther the Presidents calling on me as Governor to command the army was not consistent with his prudence for if my command lasted only to the short day which closed my magistracy then7 a new commander might have been necessary in a critical moment, a change which wisdom would not permit in the arrangements.

Refer to the constitution of U. States & State & to the law of the first, then write to me at length as you know the reasons which swayed the P on the occasion. Burn my le[tte]r as it is intended merely for your own eye.

Adieu yours always


Should the reasoning of the Virga. assembly be just the law of Congress ought to be amended otherwise the command of the army will be filled by the state govts. sending into the field the oldest officer, & not by the C. Magistrate of the Union who is responsible to the people for the conduct of Militia called into the field by his order.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1After a distinguished career as commander of Lee’s Partizan Corps during the American Revolution, Lee had been a member of the Continental Congress from 1785 to 1788, a delegate to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, and governor of Virginia from 1792 to November 30, 1794.

2H’s letter to Lee has not been found; on December 31, 1794, Lee wrote to H: “I never got to Richmond until the 29th. when Col. [Edward] Carrington gave to me your letter of the 19th. Decr.”

Carrington, a veteran of the American Revolution, was a member of the Continental Congress from Virginia in 1785 and 1786. From 1789 to 1791 he was United States marshal in Virginia, and in 1791 he became supervisor of the revenue for the District of Virginia.

3Lee’s political opponents in Virginia criticized him for accepting the position of commander in chief of the militia army which had marched against the opponents of the excise tax in western Pennsylvania and for his absence from Virginia during the election campaign. On November 19, 1794, the Virginia House of Delegates adopted the following resolution: “Resolved, That the Executive be requested to furnish this House with all the information of which they are possessed, relating to the request made by the President of the United States, that Henry Lee, Esq., would take the command of the army raised for the purpose of suppressing the insurrection in the western counties of Pennsylvania, and of the time when the said Henry Lee notified the president of his acceptance thereof” (Calendar of Virginia State Papers, VII description begins Sherwin McRae and Raleigh Colston, eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts, from January 1, 1794, to May 16, 1795, VII (Richmond, 1888). description ends , 372).

4John Marshall, who at this time was practicing law in Richmond, was a member of the Virginia Executive Council.

6“An Act more effectually to provide for the National Defence by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the United States” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 271–74 [May 8, 1792]).

7In MS this word is “that.”

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