George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 30 December 1794

From Henry Knox

Department of War December 30th 1794


I have the honor to submit to your view a note of Mr Rutherford of the Senate and my answer thereto containing principles of the solidity of which I am fully convinced.1 I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Sir Your obedient servant

H. Knox


1John Rutherfurd’s letter to Knox of 12 Dec. raised the claim of Staats Morris for an army promotion. Believing that Knox had “stated it as a rule laid down in his department, that all vacancies in the line of the Army occasioned by Officers declining to serve when appointed, were to be filled up by the appointment of persons not then in service,” Rutherfurd pointed to a half dozen instances in which officers of the line had been promoted in such cases. “Morris is the oldest Lieutenant in the service,” and in the creation of the corps of artillerists and engineers, “eight Captains were appointed over his head in the Corps to which he belongs, all from private life, and some of them Younger than himself, who have never been in service” (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 31 May [second letter], for GW’s initial nominations). Therefore, Rutherfurd “conceives Mr Morris is intitled to fill” one of the vacancies created by declinations among initial nominees (DLC:GW).

GW’s message to the Senate of 29 Dec., however, again passed over Morris. In his reply to Rutherfurd of 30 Dec., Knox explained “1. That upon the formation of a new Corps the President of the United States conceives he has a right to nominate whom he thinks proper for Offices whether belonging to the line of the Army or not.

“2. That this right continues until the new Corps is completely filled by the acceptances of the Officers who have been nominated to the Senate or who during the recess of the Senate have been temporarily appointed by the President. An offer of an appointment never has been considered as filling an office.”

Moreover, even if an appointee “had accepted and then resigned … the eldest Lieutenant is Lieutenant Nicoll and not Lieutenant Morris.” Thus, “Lieutenant Morris’s right has not been given to another” (DLC:GW).

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