Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Timothy Pickering, 18 July 1798

From Timothy Pickering1


Philadelphia July 18. 98

Dr Sir,

I have before me yours of yesterday. In the morning of yesterday Mc.Henry returned with Genl. Washington’s acceptance of the command of the armies, and a list, in the General’s own hand writing,2 in which the names of the Inspector General and Major Generals stand thus

Inspector General, Alexander Hamilton.
Major General, Charles C. Pinckney
ditto Henry Knox
Henry Lee } for the provisional army
Edwd. Hand

Then follow the names of old officers from whom to select brigadiers &c. and unfortunately, among those for brigadiers, was that of William S. Smith, the President’s son-in-law. It was concluded yesterday to nominate Mr. Dayton (the Speaker of the House) Adjutant General, with the rank of Brigadier Genl. But I believe the President has changed his mind, and will appoint Dayton 3d brigadier, & Smith 4th with the office of Adjutant Genl. Your nomination stands first, as above—thus—A. Hamilton of New York, Inspector Genl. with the rank of Major General.3 I deprecate the appointment of Smith,4 which will injure the President in two ways 1st. because he is the President’s son-in-law—for this will be contrasted with Genl. Washington’s caution to steer clear of his relations. 2d. because Smith is a bankrupt,5 and if I am rightly informed, with a ruined reputation.

I have not time now to add but that I am as ever Sincerely yours

T. P.

P.S. I wish the Senate, after passing on the Inspector General & Major General, may postpone all the Brigadiers, till next session, in autumn. Then perhaps a better arrangement may be made. Pardon me for repudiating exceedingly the idea of your being made subordinate to Knox.6 Nobody ever thought of such a thing.

Coll. Hamilton

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1For an explanation of the contents of this letter, see the introductory note to George Washington to H, July 14, 1798.

2See Washington to H, July 14, 1798, note 27.

3On July 18, 1798, John Adams submitted to the Senate his nominations for general officers for the Army. With only a few exceptions the President’s nominations followed Washington’s recommendations. See Washington to H, July 14, 1798; Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 292.

4Washington had included the name of William S. Smith, John Adams’s son-in-law, in two places on his list of proposed general officers—among the brigadier generals and again with Edward Hand and Jonathan Dayton as a possible choice for adjutant general. See Washington to H, July 14, 1798. When Adams presented his list to the Senate on July 18, 1798, he designated Smith as adjutant general with the rank of brigadier general. The Senate rejected Smith’s appointment (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 292, 293).

On May 25, 1800, after John Adams had dismissed him from the cabinet, Pickering wrote to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and assigned as one of the reasons for his dismissal his opposition in 1798 to Smith’s appointment. Pickering wrote: “Finding that Colo. Smith was to be nominated to the offices of brigadier & adjutant general; I went immediately to the Senate, called out some members of my acquaintance, told them of this intended nomination, expressed my opinion of Colo. Smith’s capacity and character … and urged them to put their negative upon him, if they regarded the public interest, or the public safety. When the nomination was sent to the Senate, the members manifested their disapprobation. The President’s true & honest friends wished to save him from the mortification of a negative; and three of them ([Uriah] Tracey, [Benjamin] Goodhue and [James] Hillhouse) waited upon him in the evening, and mentioned the objections to Colo. Smith—that he was not only a bankrupt—but a bankrupt with dishonour …” (LS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). See also Pickering to Timothy Williams, May 19, 1800 (ALS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston); Pickering to Timothy Pickering, Jr., June 27, 1800 (copy, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).

Index Entries