James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Henry Dearborn, 3 July 1812

From Henry Dearborn

Boston July 3d. 1812


Notwithstanding all the objections that have been made to gunboats, they are now call’d for, and I am fully persuaded that they may afford more security and protection to our extensive Seacoast than can be given by any other means we possess. There ought to be at least from sixty to seventy, on the Coast of New England, we have, a great number of ports & harbours with Towns & vilages, possessing a conciderable property in vessels, as well as other property. Many of them have no fortifications, and in those that have fortifications, gunboats are necessary to aid the garrisons, and without the aid of gunboats, our coast cannot be protected in the manner it ought to be, and I most ardently hope that no time will be lost in giving that kind of protection which is expected, and which can be afforded. I have not heard of any measures being yet taken for puting the gunboats in motion on this part of the Coast. I have taken the liberty of expressing my sentiments freely & candidly, from a conviction of the urgency of the case, and of the necessaty of some immediate measures being taken for the better protection of the Citizans & their property. I am with great respect Sir your Obedt Servt.

H. Dearborn

P. S govr Strong will not turn out the Militia.1

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Dearborn’s concern that the Massachusetts militia would not be placed at his disposal had been building for several days (see Unidentified Correspondent to JM, post 1 July 1812, n. 1). His worries were well founded, as Strong refused to comply with Dearborn’s requests throughout the summer of 1812 on the grounds that the requisitions were unconstitutional. He first indicated his intention to ignore requests for militia detachments on 26 June, when he acknowledged Dearborn’s repeated pleas only with the claim that few returns had “come to hand” in response to then governor Gerry’s 25 Apr. 1812 request for detached militia. Eustis wrote to Strong on 21 July to encourage his speedy compliance with Dearborn’s requests, but the governor replied on 5 Aug. that the people of Massachusetts “appear to be under no apprehension of an invasion” and that although several seacoast communities had requested arms and ammunition, they did not desire that the militia be called out for their defense. Strong’s decision to withhold the militia rested on the constitutional provision that it could be called into national service only to enforce federal laws, to suppress insurrection, or to repel invasion—exigencies which he believed did not exist at that time. Strong reported that he had called a meeting of the council to request their advice on the subject. The council had subsequently advised that they were “unable … to perceive that any exigency exists, which can render it advisable to comply with the said requisition.” The council suggested that Strong seek the opinion of the Massachusetts Supreme Court on the questions of who was constitutionally empowered to decide whether such exigencies existed and whether the militia, once called into national service, “can be lawfully commanded by any officer but of the militia, except by the President of the United States.” Strong enclosed the written opinion of the court that the president could assume command of the militia only after it had been called into national service by state governors and that the governors were empowered to decide whether the exigencies specified in the U.S. Constitution existed to necessitate the detachment of militia into national service. It was the court’s opinion that militia companies were to be commanded by officers appointed by the states and that the Constitution offered no provision for their command by regular army officers (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Military Affairs, 1:322–24).

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