Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, 8 November 1794

To George Washington

Head Quarters Rostraver Township1 [Pennsylvania]
November 8. 1794


Morgan2 with the whole of the light troops has crossed into Washington County. Dispositions of different corps are making to strike at once in the most disaffected scenes.

It appears evident that to wait for preliminary investigations to apprehend the guilty upon process would defeat the object & produce delay beyond the patience of the troops or the time allowed by the season for operation. With the advice of the district Atty3 the Commander in Chief4 has concluded to take hold of all who are worth the trouble in a more summary way, that is by the military arm & then to deliver them over to the disposition of the Judiciary. In the mean time all possible means are using to obtain evidence & accomplices will be turned against the others.

This step is directed by that principle of common law that every man may of right apprehend a Traitor.

I hope good objects will be found notwithstanding many have gone off. It is proved that Brackenridge did not subscribe ’till after the day & that he has been the worst of all scroundrels.5 The only question is how far the candour of the Government, owing to the use made of him by the Commissioners, might be compromitted?6

The Commander in Chief is taking measures with a good propect of success to engage a competent corps to be stationed in the Country—a Regiment of Infantry & four troops of horse. The plan is to engage them for 9 Months,7 but a suit of Cloathing must be allowed.

Being not very well I am obliged to be brief.

With the truest respect & attachment   I have the honor to be, Sir   Your obed ser

A Hamilton

The President of the UStates

ALS, The Andre deCoppet Collection, Princeton University Library; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

2Major General Daniel Morgan was in command of the Virginia militia.

3William Rawle.

4Henry Lee was in command of the militia army.

5The role of Hugh H. Brackenridge in the Whiskey Insurrection was equivocal. See “Deposition of Francis Mentges,” August 1, 1794, note 4.

H is at this point referring specifically to the fact that Brackenridge did not subscribe to the oath prescribed by the Federal commissioners until September 12, 1794, which was one day after the deadline. On September 11 Brackenridge was not in Pittsburgh, and when he returned the hours prescribed for signing the oath had passed.

On October 26, 1794, Brackenridge wrote the following letter, which was addressed to “Citizens of the Army advancing to the Western Country”:

“Serious intimations are given me, that I am considered by you, as greatly criminal in the late insurrection in this country; and that, though I might have shielded myself from the law, by taking advantage of the terms of the amnesty proposed by the commissioners, and sa[n]ctioned by the Proclamation of the President, yet that I shall not escape the resentment of individuals. It would seem to me totally improbable, that American soldiers would sully the glory of voluntary rising, by a single intemperate act. Nevertheless, as it would wound me … to be treated with indignity, by words, or looks, short of violence, I beg leave to suggest to you, that it is a maxim of reason, that a man ‘shall be presumed innocent, until the contrary is proved,’ and I give you a strong presumption of my innocence, viz. that though having the opportunity of relinquishing the country, I stand firm, and will surrender myself to the closest examination of the Judges, and put myself entirely on the merit or demerit of my conduct, through the whole of the unfortunate crisis” (The [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Gazette, November 12, 1794).

6The extent of Brackenridge’s cooperation with the Federal commissioners appointed by the President to meet with the insurgents can be traced in Brackenridge, Incidents description begins Hugh H. Brackenridge, Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania, in the Year 1794 (Philadelphia, 1795). description ends , I, 100–20; II, 11–44.

7Henry Lee’s plan of voluntary enlistment for nine months’ service in the Army is described in his general orders of November 9, 1794 (Baldwin, “Orders Issued by General Henry Lee,” description begins Leland D. Baldwin, ed., “Orders Issued by General Henry Lee during the Campaign against the Whiskey Insurrectionists,” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, XIX (June, 1936). description ends 103–04). Lee’s orders read in part as follows: “The flight of many of the ring leaders and promoters of the disturbances in this Country with other causes, renders it necessary that a Military force be stationed here during the winter, which must be ready to act before the Army returns, to effect this object in the best and most expeditious manner, the Commander in chief Proposes to raise by voluntary enlistment for the period of nine Months unless sooner discharged, One Regiment of Infantry Consisting of Ten Companies, one of which to be a Rifle Company, four troops of Cavalry … & one Company of Artillery.”

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