George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 8 March 1794

From Alexander Hamilton

[Philadelphia] March 8th 1794.

The present situation of the United States is undoubtedly critical and demands measures vigorous though prudent. We ought to be in a respectable military posture, because war may come upon us, whether we choose it or not and because to be in a condition to defend ourselves and annoy any who may attack us will be the best method of securing our peace. If it is known that our principal maritime points are out of the reach of any but formal serious operations—and that the Government has an efficient active force in its disposal for defence or Offence on an emergency—there will be much less temptation to attack us and much more hesitation to provoke us.

It seems then adviseable

1. to fortify the principal ports in the several States (say one in each State) so as to be able to resist a merely maritime attack or anything but a regular seige.1

2. to raise 20,000 Auxiliary Troops upon a plan something like the following (vizt)—To be divided into 10 Regiments—Each Regiment to consist of two Batallions and of the following Officers & men-–1 Colonel 2 Majors 10 Captains 20 Lieutenants 2 Lieutenants & Adjutants 2 Serjeant Majors 40 Sergeants 4 Musicians & 1000 rank & file. These Troops to be engaged upon the following terms—to be inlisted for two years, but upon condition, that if a war should break out with any European Power, they shall be obliged to serve 4 years from the commencement of such war upon the same terms as the Troops of the establishment—To receive as a bounty Cloaths with 12 Dollars per Man—To be under an obligation to meet 40 days in the year and 30 of these days to encamp—when Assembled to be paid Officers & men as the Troops of the establishment and to have the same subsistence & rations. To be furnished with arms & accoutrements by the United States, to be surrendered at the expiration of their term of service.

The Officers in time of war to rank & rise with the Officers of the Military establishment—The arrangement to cease ipso facto—at the expiration of a certain term (about two years.)

The expence of these operations would be—

For the Fortifications Drs 150,000
For the Auxiliary troops per annum   350,000
  Drs 500,000

In addition to this, the Legislature ought to vest the President of the United States with a power to lay an embargo partial or general and to arrest the exportation of commodities partially or generally.

It may also deserve consideration whether the Executive ought not to take measures to form some concert of the Neutral Powers for common Defence.2

Mr Hamilton presents his respects to the President, submits to him some reveries which have occupied his imagination. It may be interesting for the President to consider whether some such plan is not demanded by the conjuncture of affairs & if so, whether there ought not to be some executive impulse. Many persons look to the President for the suggestion of measures corresponding with the exigency of Affairs. As far as this idea may be founded, many important & delicate ideas are involved in the consideration.

The pains taken to preserve peace, include a proportional responsibility that equal pains be taken to be prepared for war.

Copy, DLC: Hamilton Papers. Hamilton’s docket reads, “Thoughts submitted to The President March 8. 1794.”

1On federal legislation to fortify the U.S. coastline, which was passed later this month, see “An Act to provide for the Defence of certain Ports and Harbors in the United States,” 20 March 1794 (Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends . 1:345–46).

2Many of Hamilton’s suggestions were incorporated in the eight resolutions made by Massachusetts congressman Theodore Sedgwick on 12 March (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 3d Cong., 1st sess., 500–501). For information that Secretary of War Henry Knox submitted to the House of Representatives concerning U.S. defensive measures and military preparedness, see his reports on: Fortifications, 28 Feb.; Arsenals and Armories, 5 March; Militia, 24 March; and Increasing the Army, and Calling into Service 80,000 Militia, 27 March (ASP, Military Affairs description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:61–67). See also the joint resolution of Congress, which GW approved on 26 March, imposing a thirty-day embargo “on all ships and vessels in the ports of the United States” (Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends . 1:400).

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