Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from George Washington, [14 July 1798]

From George Washington

Mount Vernon 14th. July 1798

My dear Sir,

(Private & confidential)

Your letter of the 8th. instant, was presented to me by the Secretary of War on the 11th.,58 and I have consented to embark once more on a boundless field of responsibility & trouble, with two reservations—first, that the principal Officers in the line, and of the Staff, shall be such as I can place confidence in; and, that I shall not be called into the field until the Army is in a situation to require my presence, or it becomes indispensible by the urgency of circumstances. Contributing in the meanwhile, every thing in my power to its efficient Organization, but nothing to the public expence until I am in a situation to incur expence myself.

It will be needless after giving you this information, and having indelibly engraved on my mind, the assurance contained in your letter of the 2d. of June, to add, that I rely upon you as a Coadjutor, and assistant in the turmoils I have consented to encounter.

I have communicated very fully with the Secretary of War on the several matters contained in the Powers vested in him by the President;59 who, as far as it appears by them, is well disposed to accomodate; But I must confess that, besides nominating me to the Command of the Armies without any previous consultation or notice,60 the whole of that business seems to me to stand upon such ground, as may render the Secretarys journey, & our consultation, of no avail.

Congress, it is said, would rise this week. What then has been done, or can the President do, with respect to appointments under that Bill, if it has been enacted?61 Be his inclinations what they may, unless a Law could, and has Passed, enabling him, in the recess of the Senate, to make appointments, conformably thereto, the nominations must have been made; & the business done here, with the Secretary is rendered nugatory.

By the pending Bill, if it passes to a Law, two Major Generals, and an Inspector Genl. with the Rank of Majr General and three Brigadiers are to be appointed. Presuming on its passing, I have given the following as my sentiments respecting the characters fit, & proper to be employed; in which the Secretary concurs.

Alexr. Hamilton. Inspector } Majr. Genls.
Chas. C. Pinckney
Henry Knox—or if either of the last mend. refuses
Henry Lee of Virginia
Henry Lee (if not Majr. Genl.) } Brigadiers
John Brooks62—Massachusetts
Willm. S. Smith63—N: York—or
John E. Howard64—Maryld.
Either Edward Hand—Pennsa. } Adjt. Genl.
Jonathan Dayton Jr.65 N. Jer
Willm. S. Smith to be
Edwd. Carrington66 Qr. Mr. Genl.
James Craik67 Directr. Hosl

And I have enumerated the most prominent characters that have occurred to my mind, from whom to select field Officers for the Regiments of Infantry, & that of Cavalry, which are proposed to be raised.68

And now, my dear Sir, with that candour which you always have, and I trust ever will experience from me, I shall express to you a difficulty which has arisen in my mind, relative to seniority between you & Genl. Pinckney; for with respect to my friend General Knox, whom I love & esteem, I have ranked him below you both. That you may know from whence this difficulty proceeds, it is proper I should observe, & give it as my decided opinion, that if the French should be so mad as to Invade this Country in expectation of making a serious impression, that their operations will commence in the States South of Maryland: 1. because they are the weakest; 2. because they will expect, from the tenor of the debates in Congress to find more friends there; 3. because there can be no doubt of their arming the Negros against us; and 4. because they would be more contiguous to their Islands, & to Louisiana & the Floridas, if they can obtain possession of them; & that this will be the case, if they are able to accomplish it, is, to my mind, a matter that admits of no doubt.

If these premises are just, the inference is obvious, that the services and influence of General Pinckney in the Southern States would be of the highest, and most interesting importance. Will he serve then, under one whom he will consider a Junr. Officer? and what would be the consequence if he should refuse, and his numerous, & powerful connections & acquaintances in those parts, get disgusted? You have no doubt heard that his Military reputation stands high in the Southern States; that he is viewed as a brave, intelligent and enterprising Officer; and, if report be true, that no Officer in the late American Army made Tactics, & the art of War so much his Study. To this account of him, may be added, that his character has received much celebrity by his conduct as Minister & Envoy at Paris.

Under this view of the subject, my wish to put you first, and my fear of loosing him, is not a little embarrassing. But why? for after all it rests with the President to use his pleasure. I shall only add therefore, that as the welfare of the country is the object, I persuade myself, we all have in view, I shall sanguinely hope that smaller matters will yield to measures which have a tendency to promote it. I wish devoutly that either of you, or any other fit character had been nominated in my place; for no one can make a greater sacrafice—at least of inclination, than will

Your ever Affectionate

Go: Washington69

Alexander Hamilton Esqr.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; ALS, letterpress copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; copy, in James McHenry’s handwriting, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress.

58On July 6, 1798, Adams asked McHenry to “embrace the first opportunity to sett out on your Journey to Mount Vernon, and wait on general Washington with the Commission of Lt. General and Commander in Chief of the armies of the United States.… His advice in the formation of a List of Officers would be extremely desirable to me …” (LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). McHenry reached Mount Vernon on July 11, where he remained until July 13, and on July 17 he arrived in Philadelphia. See H to Washington, July 8, 1798, note 1.

59This is a reference to a series of questions which McHenry asked and Washington answered. See note 27.

61“An Act to augment the Army of the United States, and for other purposes” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 604–05) authorized the President during the recess of the Senate “to appoint all regimental officers … and … to make appointments to fill any vacancies in the army.…”

62Dr. John Brooks held the rank of lieutenant colonel at the end of the American Revolution. He served from 1792 to 1796 in the United States Army as a brigadier general.

63Smith, John Adams’s son-in-law, held the rank of lieutenant colonel at the end of the Revolution. After a brief tour of Europe with Francisco de Miranda, he returned to America and successively held the offices of United States marshal for New York and supervisor of the revenue for the District of New York. For his land speculations and financial difficulties, see Benjamin Walker to H, October 4, 1796, note 1. Although Adams nominated Smith as adjutant general with the rank of brigadier general on July 18, 1798, the Senate rejected the nomination. On January 8, 1799, he was appointed a lieutenant colonel of the Twelfth Regiment of Infantry (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 292, 293, 299, 303).

64At the close of the American Revolution, Howard held the rank of lieutenant colonel. Following the Revolution he held various offices. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1784 to 1788, governor of Maryland from 1788 to 1791, member of the Maryland Senate from 1791 to 1795, and United States Senator from 1796 to 1803.

65Dayton was a captain at the close of the Revolution. After the war he studied law and entered politics. He served in the Federal Constitutional Convention, in the New Jersey Assembly in 1786, 1787, and 1790, and was a Federalist member of the House of Representatives from 1791 to 1799. He was speaker of the House from March 4, 1795, to March 3, 1799. On July 19, 1798, the Senate confirmed his appointment as brigadier general (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 292, 293). Dayton, however, declined the appointment (Godfrey, “Provisional Army,” description begins Charles E. Godfrey, “Organization of the Provisional Army of the United States in the Anticipated War with France, 1798–1800,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XXXVIII (1914: Reprinted, New York, 1965). Godfrey confuses the Provisional Army with the Additional Army. description ends 133–34).

66At the close of the Revolution, Carrington held the rank of lieutenant colonel. During the Washington Administration, Carrington held the offices of United States marshal and supervisor of the revenue in Virginia. Washington asked Carrington to serve as quartermaster general (Washington to Carrington, July 15, August 5, 1798 [ALS, letterpress copies, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress]). Carrington declined the appointment unless Washington assumed active command in the field (Carrington to Washington, August 14, 1798 [ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress]).

67Craik had been chief physician and surgeon of the Continental Army. Following the war he remained as Washington’s personal physician. On July 19, 1798, Craik was appointed physician general of the Provisional Army.

68ALS, letterpress copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

69At the end of the copy of this letter in the James McHenry Papers, McHenry wrote: “The General gave me the letter of which this is a copy open, at my instance, that I might take a copy of it. James McHenry.”

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