George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 15 June 1799

From Alexander Hamilton


Dear SirNew York June 15. 1799

I wrote to you a few days since chiefly to inform you of the progress of the measures respecting the recruiting service & that the symptoms with regard to it were sufficiently promising.1 The accounts continue favourable.

I have just received a letter from General Wilkinson dated the 13 of April, in which he assures me that he will set out in the ensuing month for the seat of Government. The interview with him will be useful.2

It strikes me forcibly that it will be both right and expedient to advance this Gentleman to the grade of Major General—He has been long steadily in service and long a Brigadier. This in a so considerable an extension of the military establishment gives him a pretension to promotion.

I am aware that some doubts have been entertained of him, and that his character on certain sides gives room for doubts. Yet he is at present in the service—is a man of more than ordinary talent—of courage and enterprise—has discovered upon various occasions a good zeal—has embraced military pursuits as a profession and will naturally find his interest as an ambitious man in deserving the favour of the Government; while he will be apt to become disgusted, if neglected, and through disgust may be rendered really what he is now only suspected to be—Under such circumstances, it seems to me good policy to avoid all just ground of discontent and to make it the interest of the individual to pursue his duty.3

If you should be also of this opinion, I submit to your consideration whether it would not be adviseable for you to express it in a private letter to the Secretary of War.4 With great respect & Affection I have the honor to be Dr Sir Your obed. servt

A. Hamilton

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, DLC: Hamilton Papers.

2Hamilton is referring to James Wilkinson’s letter of 15 April, not 13 April. For Wilkinson’s letter, see Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 23:45–49.

3Wilkinson’s commercial ventures and land speculations in the West in the years following the Revolution met with little success but gave him a reputation for tricky dealings. He returned to the army in 1792 and feuded with his superior, Anthony Wayne. He became the senior officer of the army at Wayne’s death late in 1796.

4GW wrote Hamilton on 25 June agreeing that “policy dictates the expediency of promoting Brigadier Wilkinson to the Rank of Majr General.” On the same day GW sent the secretary of war copies of both this letter from Hamilton regarding Wilkinson and his reply to it of 25 June.

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