Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to James McHenry, 13 August 1799

To James McHenry

N. York Augt. 13th. 1799

My dear Sir

Every day must prove more and more to every body that it is impossible to serve two masters. I cannot be a general and a Practicer of the law at the same time without doing injustice to this Government and myself. Hence I am anxious to disentangle myself more completely than I have yet done from forensic pursuits. But to be able to do this I must call to my succour all the emoluments which I have a right to claim. Hitherto I have had neither Quarters nor fuel nor servants. The two last I shall take measures for myself. But the former I have some scruples about, and wish an instruction concerning it from you, which may be addressed as well to General Pinckney as to myself. On this article too I have no doubt of my right to order the person acting as Quarter Master to provide Quarters for me and my suite. Every commanding general has this right, and situated as I am, in a time of no active operations, with the force under my command dispersed to various points, I have no doubt that the strictest propriety accords with my personal station being where it is, and that in this station it is in every view fit that I should have provided at public expence for myself and suite a house as quarters suited to my rank and command. The procuring of a better one than I now occupy would be Strictly justifiable but it is not my wish to do it.1

How do you construe the 4th. Section of the Act of March 3d. 1797,2 respecting double rations, in reference to the Officers appointed under the act for augmenting the army?3 This Question has in cases foreign to the spirit of the provision come up from some of the Officers of the 12 additional regiments, and it will probably soon come up in others. It is important to the two major Generals as well as others and it ought to apply to them. Yet the law must not be strained but future provision made where the existing one is deficient.

You must not think me rapacious. I have not changed my character. But my Situation as commanding General exposes me to much additional expence in entertaining Officers occasionally in the City of N. York and citizens and foreigners who come to pay their respects to the commanding general and adding this consideration to the circumstance of a wife and 6 Children whose maintenance and education are to be taken care of.4


Secy. of War

Copy, in the handwriting of Ethan Brown, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1H lived at 26 Broadway, and his law office was at 69 Stone Street.

2Section 4 of “An Act to amend and repeal, in part, the Act intituled ‘An Act to ascertain and fix the Military Establishment of the United States’” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845); II (Boston, 1850). description ends 507–08) reads in part: “And be it further enacted, That from and after the thirtieth day of June next,… That to the brigadier, while commander in chief, and to each officer, while commanding a separate post, there shall be allowed twice the number of rations to which they would otherwise be entitled.”

3Section 3 of “An Act giving eventual authority to the President of the United States to augment the Army” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845); II (Boston, 1850). description ends 725–27 [March 2, 1799]) provided “That the officers, non-commissioned officers and privates of the troops, which may be organized and raised pursuant to this act, shall be entitled to the like pay, clothing, rations, forage and other emoluments,… as the officers, non-commissioned officers and privates of other troops of correspondent denominations, composing the army of the United States … Provided, that no officer … shall be entitled to any pay or other emolument until he shall be called into actual service.”

4An additional sentence to this letter, which has been crossed out, reads: “I shall stand in need of all I can fairly get from the public if I am essentially to renounce my profession.”

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