Thomas Jefferson Papers

Memorandum from Henry Dearborn, with Jefferson’s Notes, on or before 28 May 1803

Memorandum from Henry Dearborn,
with Jefferson’s Notes

[on or before 28 May 1803]

the papers exhibited by Govr. Mercer relating to the demand made by the State of Maryland, on the U.S. for muskets &c, furnish no evidence of an ingagement on the part of the U.S. to be responsible for any other Arms &c except what should be furnished to the Virginia militia—the only question of consequence to be decided, is, whether the United States shall, (under all the circumstances of the case) account with the State of Maryland for the whole deficiency of Arms &c delivered to the Maryland, as well as the Virginia Militia.

[Notes by TJ:]

Notes. there can be no doubt we are bound to replace to Maryland the arms they furnished the Virginia militia.
whether we are bound to replace those furnished at our request to their own militia & lost, depends on the general question whether a state is bound to furnish arms, ammunition &c. as well as men?
if they are, as it is a duty which cannot be fulfilled by the states which have not armed their militia, it will fall unjustly on those which have armed them, & therefore can comply with their duty.
if the militia bring their state arms, they will be of different calibers, qualities &c.
on the whole it seems to me more convenient & equal that the US. should furnish arms to all.
and that it is advantageous to encourage the states to lend us in distress, by a ready replacement of what they lend.

MS (DLC); undated; in Dearborn’s hand, with notes by TJ at foot of text; endorsed by TJ as received from the War Department on 28 May and “Maryland arms” and so recorded in SJL.

Writing Maryland governor John F. mercer on 11 June, Dearborn informs him of his inability to find evidence of an engagement by the United States to replace any arms or equipment “excepting those deliver’d to the Militia of Virginia, the number of which cannot by me be ascertained from any document which has come to my Knowledge.” Maryland appears to have furnished 2,000 troops and 3,341 arms and accoutrements, so the number supplied to Virginia probably did not much exceed 1,000, most of which were presumably returned at the end of the campaign. Since the United States supplied 1,000 arms and 545 tents to Maryland, Dearborn believes a balance is “undoubtedly” due by the state to the United States, unless “the proper authority,” which Dearborn presumes to be Congress, decides that the United States should be held accountable for all the arms and accoutrements delivered to the Maryland and Virginia militias. In the latter case, Dearborn thinks “a small balance” will be due to Maryland after deducting the value of the tents. The military storekeeper can probably ascertain the number of arms supplied to the Virginia militia and the number returned. Dearborn finds it difficult to understand “how so great a proportion of the arms & accoutrements could have been lost in the course of two or three months” and deems the failure to hold each man accountable for returning the equipment he received to be “among the many extraordinary circumstances of the expedition.” Maryland’s claim involves a question of “considerable importance,” that is, whether the states or the federal government are to arm the militia when called into service. Therefore, Dearborn believes it best to let Congress decide and recommends that the claim be laid before them at their next session. The resolution of the issue, Dearborn feels, “will fix a principle by which the Executives of the General and the respective State Governments will in future be governed, relative to the arming the Militia when called into actual service” (FC in Lb in DNA: RG 107, MLS).

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