Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to James McHenry, 3 July 1799

To James McHenry

New York July 3d. 1799


I transmit you the proceedings of a Court Martial in the case of Joseph Perkins, who is sentenced to death for desertion aggravated by very atrocious circumstances.1

I see nothing to occasion a doubt as to the regularity of the proceedings or the propriety of the sentence.

I observe indeed that in this as in a former instance2 the articles on which the sentence is founded are not specified. But neither principle nor usage requires that they should be. It is enough that the Military Code does authorise such a punishment for such a crime. The Court need not lay its finger upon the particular clauses. To require a nice detail of this sort would be to fetter and clog the operation of Military Justice by the subtil forms of special pleading.

I will only add that every day brings fresh proof of the necessity of severe examples to check a wanton spirit of desertion, which if not checked will render the inlistments of soldiers a mere waste of the public Treasure.

I entreat that a prompt decision may be obtained.

With great respect   I have the honor to be   Sir   Your Obed ser

The Secy of War

ADf, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Perkins had been tried twice. For the first court-martial, which both H and McHenry believed was illegal, see McHenry to H, May 29, 1799, note 2. See also H to McHenry, May 30, 1799; “General Orders,” June 13, 1799. On June 25, 1799, a second court-martial ordered by H (H to George Ingersoll, May 29, 1799 [listed in the appendix to this volume]) tried Perkins and found him guilty. The proceedings of this court-martial were published in The New-York Gazette and General Advertiser, July 26, 1799. On July 19, 1799, McHenry wrote to H that the President had confirmed the sentence (letter listed in the appendix to this volume), and on July 20, 1799, H ordered that the sentence be carried out (“General Orders,” July 20, 1799). For an account of the execution, see The New-York Gazette and General Advertiser, July 26, 1799.

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