Alexander Hamilton Papers

Circular to the Commandants of Regiments, 5 November 1799

Circular to the Commandants of Regiments

New York Novr. 5. 1799


Cases have occurred in which officers, from a wish to see their men well equipt, have purchased articles for them that are not included in the general provision.1 These have been admitted in particular instances for special reasons as a public charge; but the Secretary of War has expressed an extreme relu⟨ctance⟩2 to give the practice his sanc⟨tion⟩ and has signified to me his desire that effectual measures be taken to prevent expectations of reimbursement from being entertained where expenditures have been incurred without proper authority.3

This naturally leads to a reflection on the emoluments of the American Soldiery. They certainly exceed those which are given in any other service, and every officer of experience will have had occasion to remark that this circumstance, as it respects the use most commonly made of the pay, has been attended with an injurious rather than a beneficial ⟨oper⟩ation. If the several commandants could obtain the consent of their regiments to an application of part of their pay in the purchase of articles of convenience not included in the public provision, they would remove various difficulties and render an essential service to the army.4

It is therefore my wish that you would circulate this idea as much as possible, and embrace every opportunity that may occur of promoting so important an object.

With great consideration   I am sir   yr obt. svt.

A Hamilton

DfS, in the handwriting of Thomas Y. How, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; Df, in the handwriting of Thomas Y. How, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; copy, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

1This is a reference to an unauthorized expenditure made by Lieutenant Colonel William C. Bentley, commandant of the Seventh Regiment of Infantry, for binding for hats to make them fit better. For the correspondence concerning Bentley’s expenditure, see Bentley to H, June 30, September 27, 1799; H to Bentley, July 10, September 13, 1799; H to James McHenry, October 23, 1799; McHenry to H, October 25, 1799 (all listed in the appendix to Volume XXIII).

2Material in broken brackets has been taken from the unsigned draft.

3McHenry to H, October 25, 1799 (listed in the appendix to Volume XXIII). In this letter McHenry referred to Bentley’s unauthorized expenditure and wrote: “… when it is recollected that your instructions to Col. Bentley were pointed and precise and as may be collected from his statement that he ordered the extra expence in question first, and informed you of it afterwards when it was too late to correct the procedure I feel considerable reluctance, to accord to it my Sanction. I trust every means in your power will be employed to prevent expectations in future of re-imbursements, where expenditures are incurred without proper authority.”

4H had made this suggestion to Bentley in his letter of October 30, 1799 (listed in the appendix to Volume XXIII).

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