Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Caleb Swan, 15 January 1800

To Caleb Swan

New York Jany 15. 1800


The section of the Act of the 3 of March 1797, to which you refer in your letter of yesterday, is so obscurely and indefinitely worded, that it is impossible to give it a precise or even a very reasonable interpretation. On this ground it is that I have forborne to act upon it in my own case though Commanding a separate district.

But while I am at a loss for its true sense, I have thought that it would be too large a construction to apply it to occasional & variable commands like those Officers superintending recruiting rendezvouses or incampments and so I have answered when inquiry has been made of me.

I should say that the section applies only to such officers as exercise command in their own nature permanently separate or distinct. Fortified posts are of this description. Perhaps a separate territorial district will also give the right to the Commanding General. This would certainly be within the reason of the provision, which is no doubt an indemnification for extra expence arising from situation. Such a construction will comprehend General Pinckney & myself and by a liberal extension General Wilkinson if a part of the clause does not more directly embrace him.

But in a matter in which I am personally interested I should be unwilling that my opinion should govern. It seems to me a thing proper for the determination of the Secy of War after conference with the Secy of the Treasury & I would advise you to ask his direction. If you think fit you may communicate my Opinion.1

With consideration & esteem I am   Sir   Yr Obed ser

C. Swan Esqr.

ADf, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1On January 17, 1800, James McHenry wrote to Swan: “I have received your Letter dated this day, enclosing copies of a Letter from you to General Hamilton & his Answer.… when Officers who suppose themselves entitled to double rations under the Law, make application to the proper accounting Officers for the settlement of their subsistence accounts, in which double rations are charged, it is incumbent upon them to produce satisfactory proof that they were Commandants of Posts—that it is the duty of the Accounting Officers to settle or refuse such accounts when presented, and that from their decision an appeal lies to the Comptroller of the Treasury, who must finally & determinately decide all questions relative to such claims.…

“You will perceive, Sir, that I decline giving to you the instructions you request on the subject of double rations to the Commandants of separate posts, from a conception that it is not in my competency to give any.… Were I however to give an opinion … I should say my Sentiments coincided with those of General Hamilton expressed in his answer to your Letter.…” (LS, letterpress copy, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress.)

John Steele, the comptroller of the Treasury, expressed his opinion on double rations in a letter to McHenry on January 23, 1800. See William Simmons to Swan, May 20, 1800 (LC, RG 217, Records of the General Accounting Office, Letter Books, Accountant’s Office, Vol. G, February 28, 1800–June 11, 1801, National Archives).

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