Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Joseph H. Nicholson, 22 February 1803

From Joseph H. Nicholson

Feb. 22. 1803


I take the liberty to enclose you the Bill to reduce the Marine Corps, together with the Communication from the Secretary of the Navy to the Committee.

This communication exhibits an apparent necessity for the Continuance of the whole number of Lieutenants now in service, and may possibly induce some Difficulty in passing the Law—I wish therefore to know whether you have any Objection to my stating that “I have reason to believe three of the Frigates now in the Mediterranean, will return in the Course of two or three months, and that no relieving Squadron will be sent out (except the four small Vessels) unless there is reason to apprehend more extensive Hostility with the Barbary Powers”—These Facts you mentioned to me, but I conceived under an Injunction not to repeat them as coming from you with a View to the Reduction of the Marine Corps—If permitted to state them as above, I think we shall have no Difficulty.

Annexed to the Secretary’s Communication, you will find such a Distribution of the Officers and Privates, as I mean to make use of in discussing the Bill—

I have the Honor to be, Sir most respectfully Yr. Ob. Servt.

Joseph H. Nicholson

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 22 Feb. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) “A Bill To reduce the Marine Corps of the United States,” 18 Feb. 1803, limits the total officers to no more than one captain and twelve lieutenants but allows the president to increase the number of lieutenants if necessary to an amount not exceeding the total authorized by existing laws, repeals the 22 Apr. 1800 act fixing the rank and pay of the Marine Corps commandant, does not revive the rank of major, and grants three months’ pay to each officer discharged from the service by virtue of the act (Washington, D.C., 1803). (2) Robert Smith to Nicholson, 14 Feb. 1803, replying to Nicholson’s letter of 7 Feb. regarding the duties performed by the lieutenant colonel commandant of the Marine Corps; Smith states that the commandant is responsible for recruiting men and seeing that they are supplied with clothing and provisions, for distributing Marines agreeably to the requirements of the service, for keeping guards on ships in ordinary and at navy yards, and for overseeing discipline on shore and seeing that arms are kept in order; the commandant has to correspond with the secretary of the navy, marine officers, and others; he supervises the actions of the paymaster, although all requisitions and payments pass through the commandant and on his responsibility; all accounts of expenditures by the corps are settled with him; “From this detail,” Smith states, “the committee will be able to judge what rank the commanding officer of the marine corps, ought to bear,” and from his enclosed statement of the present distribution of officers and men, the committee may also “determine upon the expediency or inexpediency of reducing the marine corps” (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832-61, 38 vols. description ends , Naval Affairs, 1:110). (3) “Statement of the distribution and employment of the officers and privates of the marine corps” (same; see note at Smith to TJ, 8 Feb. 1803).

Nicholson’s committee submitted its bill to reduce the marine corps to the House of Representatives on 18 Feb. 1803. After discussion and amendments, the House passed the bill on 28 Feb., but the Senate withheld its concurrence and voted to postpone further discussion of it until the next session of Congress (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 4:352, 368, 371, 373, 383; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820-21, 5 vols. description ends , 3:277, 279, 281, 282; Robert Smith to TJ, 8 Feb. 1803).

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