James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Alexander Smyth, 15 December 1813

From Alexander Smyth

Wythe County Va. 15 Decr 1813.


Beleiving that time has thrown so much light on my conduct as an officer of the army during the last year, that righteous men will acknowledge that I did my duty with zeal, and in the best manner possible under such circumstances; I proceed to do an act of justice to you, and to myself.1

I declare that it was no part of my intention when I issued a proclamation inviting volunteers to join me, to do you any injury, or give you any offence.2 I knew that Gen Van Rennselaer had been ordered into Service by the Governor of NYork, and that the appointment of Genl Hull had been urged by the Secretary of War; having heard a conversation pass between him and Genl Bradley, wherein the Secretary sought to remove objections of the Senate to that appointment.

With what motive should I injure or offend you? It has so happened, that all that you have said or written during the last twenty seven years, so far as it has come to my knowledge, has commanded my approbation. Candor requires that after such a declaration as this, I should add, that my opinions of some men must, I presume have differed from yours.

Therefore, whatever I have said or done displeasing to you, I beg you to overlook, and freely to pardon. With the highest respect yr. Most Obt.

Alexander Smyth

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers).

1For Smyth’s abortive Niagara Peninsula campaign of 1812 and his subsequent attempts to defend his conduct, see PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (7 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 5:504 n. 2, 647 nn. 3–4, 6:4 n. 2, 20, 21 n. 3. In December 1813 he petitioned Congress to revise “An Act for the better organization of the general staff of the Army of the United States,” 3 Mar. 1813, so as to specify that the act’s elimination of his position as inspector general did not deprive him of his rank as brigadier general (Annals of Congress, description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends 13th Cong., 2d sess., 805–7; U.S. Statutes at Large, description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends 2:819–20). Congress took no action on the petition.

2Smyth’s proclamation of 10 Nov. 1812, which he referred to here, asserted that the U.S. generals responsible for the military fiascos at Detroit and Queenston (Brig. Gen. William Hull and New York militia Maj. Gen. Stephen Van Rensselaer, respectively) were “popular men, ‘destitute alike of theory and experience’ in the art of war,” and that their accession to command had been “unfortunate” (Severance, “The Case of Alexander Smyth,” Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society 18 [1914]: 226–27). The criticism of JM’s selection of military leaders was implicit.

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