Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from James McHenry, 4 July 1796

From James McHenry

Philad. 4 July 1796

My dear Hamilton.

Wilkinson continues to heap charges upon Wayne; is condensing them into a consistent form, and I perceive will urge them in such a manner as may oblige the Executive, to determine whether a commander of the army can be tried by a court martial, or the affair examined by a court of inquiry, or if neither can be done by what authority the case is cognizable.1

Will you take the question into your consideration and help me with your opinion. I wish to be prepared, and will be extremely obliged to you if you will bestow a few thoughts upon it, and favour me with the result as soon as you can without interfering with professional engagements.

ADf, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress.

1Brigadier General James Wilkinson was second in command of the United States Army in the West under Major General Anthony Wayne. In the early summer of 1794 Wilkinson began a campaign to have Wayne’s conduct reviewed before a court-martial or court of inquiry (Henry Knox to Wayne, December 5, 1794 [Richard C. Knopf, Anthony Wayne: A Name in Arms; Soldier, Diplomat, Defender of Expansion Westward of a Nation; the Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence (Pittsburgh, 1960), 396]). On October 6, 1794, George Washington wrote to Secretary of State Edmund Randolph: “It is but too evident, that there is a faction in the Army of the United States; at the head of which I believe it is a certain Genl W—— has placed himself, and is attempting the ruin of Genl. Wayne …” (GW description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (Washington, 1931–1944). description ends , XXXIII, 521). Within two years enough material had accumulated for an inquiry to be held, and on July 1, 1796, the President, deciding that some action should be taken, wrote to McHenry: “It is my desire that the charges exhibited against General Wayne by Brigadier Wilkenson, with the letters of crimination on both sides, should be laid before the heads of Departments: and yours and their opinions reported to me on the measures necessary to be pursued to do justice to the Public; the accused; and the accuser; As also when, and by whom, the enquiry is to be made; with the preliminary steps necessary thereto” (GW description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington (Washington, 1931–1944). description ends , XXXV, 108). In addition to H’s opinion, McHenry also sought the advice of Attorney General Charles Lee, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, and William Vans Murray, member of the House of Representatives from Maryland (Steiner, James McHenry description begins Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland, 1907). description ends , 183). No report on Wilkinson’s charges was ever made, for Wayne died on December 15, 1796, before the investigation had been completed.

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