To James McHenry
New York Sepr. 30th. 1799
Enquiry has been made of me by the Commandants of the several regiments1 with respect to the construction of the last resolution in the Appendix to the Articles of War.2 They wish to know whether this resolution gives a reward to parties of soldiers who may apprehend deserters. I would thank you for your opinion on the subject. Of the expediency of giving a reward to parties of soldiers that may be successful in the pursuit of deserters I have no doubt as it would make them zealous and active in the search, and would save expence by obviating the necessity of resorting to other means.3
With great respect I am Sir
Secretary of War
Df, in the handwriting of Thomas Y. How, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
2. This is a reference to Article 14 of the articles of war, which was called the “Administration of Justice” and printed as an appendix to the articles of war in the 1794 edition of Rules and Articles for the Better Government of the Troops, Raised, or to be raised, and kept in pay, by and at the expence of the United States of America. See H to Jonathan Dayton, August 6, 1798, note 11.
Article 14 reads in part: “That the Commanding Officer of any of the forces in the service of the United States shall, upon report made to him of any desertions in the troops under his orders, cause the most immediate and vigorous search to be made after the deserter or deserters, which may be conducted by a commissioned or non-commissioned officer, as the case shall require. That, if such search should prove ineffectual, the Officer Commanding the regiment or Corps to which the deserter or deserters belonged, shall insert, in the nearest gazette or newspaper, an advertisement, descriptive of the deserter or deserters, and offering a reward, not exceeding ten dollars, for each deserter who shall be apprehended and secured in any of the gaols of the neighboring States. That the charges of advertising deserters, the reasonable extra expenses incurred by the person conducting the pursuit, and the reward shall be paid by the Secretary at War, on the Certificate of the Commanding Officer of the troops” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , XXX, 322).
3. John Adams was also interested in the question of the payment of a reward for the capture of prisoners. On August 30, 1799, Adams wrote to McHenry to inquire into the refusal of William Simmons, the accountant to the War Department, to pay Hugh McAllister, a citizen, the reward for the capture of David Gill, a deserter from Captain Edward Miller’s company in the Second Regiment of Infantry (copy, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). See also the copy of a statement by McAllister, dated August 24, 1799, in the Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. As a result of the letters from H and Adams, McHenry wrote to Simmons on October 14, 1799, enclosing H’s letter and requesting that Simmons meet with John Steele, the comptroller of the Treasury, to determine the proper interpretation to be given to Article 14 of the articles of war (copy, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). In his response, dated October 16, Simmons wrote in part: “… I proceed to state what has been the prevailing custom in effecting settlements here when deserters have been pursued or apprehended. when detachments have been sent in pursuit of deserters agreeable to the directions contained in the last Resolution in the appendix to the articles of War—their reasonable expences & not the Premium has been allowed—whether they have been successful or not. That such pursuit proving ineffectual & the deserter being advertized the premium offered has in all cases been allowed whether the deserter has been apprehended by a Private citizen—a Soldier or a detachment of Soldiers. This is the rule which has heretofore governed, no difficulty has arisen relative thereto & my accots. passing at the Treasury proves that this construction of the Law was in conformity with that of the Offices of the Treasury” (LC, RG 217, Records of the General Accounting Office, Letter Books, Accountant’s Office, Vol. F, May 16, 1799–February 27, 1800, National Archives; copy, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). After McHenry informed Simmons on October 16 that the accountant’s letter did not answer the question of how to implement Article 14 of the articles of war (copy, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston), Simmons responded on October 21 that he had consulted Steele and that it would be easier to consider the capture of deserters on an individual basis than to establish a uniform rule (LC, RG 217, Records of the General Accounting Office, Letter Books, Accountant’s Office, Vol. F, May 16, 1799–February 27, 1800, National Archives; copy, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). In a letter to Adams on the same day, Simmons explained his reasons for rejecting McAllister’s claim (LC, RG 217, Records of the General Accounting Office, Letter Books, Accountant’s Office, Vol. F, May 16, 1799–February 27, 1800, National Archives; copy, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston). McHenry, who considered Simmons’s conduct insubordinate, enclosed copies of all the relevant documents in a letter to Adams on October 25, 1799. This letter concluded: “The Head of a Department is presumed to be charged with its superintendance throughout the subordinate branches, to be invested with authority to call for information from all persons employed in it, to be entitled to a respectful attention to his calls, and a sedulous endeavor to make the information given, as clear, explicit, and complete as possible. Unless this is the case, it is not possible that public business can be carried on, in an orderly, correct, expeditious or satisfactory manner, either to the Administrators, or those who apply them.
“Making only these general observations, it will be permitted to ask, whether in the opinion of the president, the answers of the Accountant to an application on my part, plain, explicit, and definite, and to questions necessary to be answered, for the government of the Military Officers of every description, are in manner respectful, and particularly the first one at all satisfactory—and also whether declining as the Accountant has done, stating the particulars applying to the claim of the Citizen, who complained of its refusal, to the Head of his Department, but reserving the same, for the president only, is not an instance of insubordination, incompatible with the due administration of the Department, with the public interest, and those of Individuals in any manner concerned in business connected with military concerns, and the insinuation that he will do so, because the representation was made by the direction of the president—a mere pretence, desultory and evasive?” (LS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).