Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from George Washington, 9 August 1798

From George Washington1


Mount Vernon 9th. Augt. 1798.

My dear Sir,

By the same Post which brought me your favour,2 began in Philadelphia and ended in New York the 1st. instant, I received a letter from General Knox dated the 29th. Ulto, in answer to one I had written him on the 16th. of that month. In confidence, and as a proof of my frankness & friendship, I send both of them to you, together with my reply of this date; which, after reading be so good as to return to me.3

Giving you the perusal of this correspondence, supercedes the necessity of my going into further details on the subject of relative rank; except, if the Commissions are yet to issue, and it be practicable at this time, and consistent also, I should not be indisposed (so far as my agency in the business extends, if that would satisfy General Knox) to make him the Senior of General Pinckney. But as the President is absent4—and it might have been the understanding of the Senate that the latter should be first—the propriety of the change, unless it could be effected with the consent of Genl. Pinckney, might at least be questioned. Though, upon more mature reflection I do not see upon what principle he could object. I have a high opinion of General Pinckneys qualifications as an Officer, and his integrity as a Man, but under the impression I am that the Southern Hemisphere will be the grand theatre of action, I shall honestly confess that my primary object in gratifying him, is, that he may come forward with all his force.

Your opinion respecting the unfitness of a certain Gentleman for the Office he holds,5 accords with mine, and it is to be regretted, sorely, at this time, that these opinions are so well founded. I early discovered, after he entered upon the Duties of his Office, that his talents were unequal to great exertions, or deep resources. In truth they were not expected; for the fact is, it was a Hobson’s choice. But such is the case, and what is to be done?

I am held in the most profound ignorance of every step that has been taken since he left this place;6 and but for other letters which I have been obliged to have ready for this days Post, I should have written very seriously to him on several matters highly interesting to me, if I am to be called to the field; and that which you have mentioned among the rest. I am not, at this moment, made acquainted with a single step that is taken to appoint an Officer, or Recruit a man, or where the rendezvouses are. Numberless applications have been made to me, to be recommended for Commissions, and such as appeared to have merit I forwarded, but know nothing of the Result.

Let me hope that you will be able to devote a good deal of your time to the business of recruiting good men—and the choice of good Officers. It is all important. I will endeavour to impress him with the propriety of requiring your assistance in these matters; and of the necessity of making you the full allowance of Pay &ca. for these Services. By bringing you thus in contact, a thousand other matters will fall in of course. Delicacy—if matters become serious—must yield to expediency. The stake we play for, is too great to be trifled with.

Mr: Harper has been presented to my consideration before, as an Aid de Camp, but as I shall have no use for my Military family until matters are more matured, I am unwilling to be embarrassed by engagements. My Aids, as you well know, must be men of business; and ought to be Officers of experience. Many, very many young Gentlemen of the first families in the Country have offered their services; and all have received one answer, to the above effect. Indeed in the choice of my Aids a variety of considerations must combine—political, geographical &ca. as well as experience.

What is become of Walker?7 Colo. Heth8 has offered, and stands well in my estimation. No Foreigner9 wil be admitted as a member of my family, while I retain my present ideas; nor do I think they ought to be in any situation where they can come at secrets, & betray a trust.

Write me as often as you can, conveniently; believe me to be what I really am

Your sincere & Affecte friend

Go: Washington

Genl. Hamilton

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; ALS, letterpress copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.

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

3For the correspondence between Washington and Henry Knox, see Washington to H, July 14, 1798, notes 17, 18, and 20.

4Adams was at his house in Quincy, Massachusetts.

7Benjamin Walker, a native of London, had immigrated to America before the American Revolution and settled in New York City. During the war he served as an aide-de-camp to Baron von Steuben. In 1786 he was appointed commissioner to settle the accounts of the hospital, marine, and clothing departments. He was a director of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures, and from 1791 to 1797 he served as naval officer for New York. In May, 1795, Walker became a representative of the Pulteney Associates, which speculated in lands in the Genesee country in western New York. See Walker to H, September 15, 1793. In 1797 he moved to Utica, and in 1801 he was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican.

8William Heth, a Richmond Federalist, held the rank of colonel at the close of the American Revolution. He was collector of customs at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia. On July 18, 1798, Washington wrote to Heth: “Your favour of the 13th. Instant, with its enclosures, came duly to hand … I thank you … for the offer of becoming one of my Aides.… and altho’ I shall keep you constantly in mind, I do not care to be under any promises …” (ALS, letterpress copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

9This is a reference to Lewis Murarius who wrote to Washington on July 16, 1798, and asked to join his staff (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). See also Murarius to H, July 25, 1798; H to Washington, July 29–August 1, 1798, note 14.

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