Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Harrison Gray Otis, 21 December 1798

From Harrison Gray Otis

Phila Decr 21. 1798


I was very solicitous while you was in this city for the indulgence of an interview with you that would have enabled me to learn your opinion in relation to such defensive measures as ought now to be adopted by Congress, and I called upon you once with that view, but being then disappointed and perceiving afterwards the pressing nature of your immediate avocations, I chose rather to forego the advantage of your sentiments than invade the little leisure which you appeared able to command. Being since appointed Chairman of a committee to consider the policy of extending our internal means of defence,1 the great confidence which I feel in the correctness of your political opinions, and your permission on a former occasion to avail myself of them induce me to request that I may be honored with your general ideas upon this subject, if you can without inconvenience devote an hour to my instruction. In particular; Is it advisable to augment the present permanent army under all circumstances; if not, would it be eligible to reduce the number of men in each regiment with a view to economy and to an application of the money saved to the extension of the naval armament; or are there any prominent defects in the military establishment which demand a reform. Will there be any utility in reviving the section of the act which establishes the provisional army,2 or the act providing for the draft of eighty thousand militia.3 Does good policy require very liberal grants of money for fortifications? Is it expedient to continue the act prohibiting intercourse with France and her acknowledged dominions.4 If so, as the act now stands, may commerce be carried on between the United States, and any part of the French Dominions that shall withdraw from its allegiance to the Parent Country; or if this be doubtful, would it be politic to grant an express permission to the President to open the trade with any part of the French Dominions when in his opinion the public good would admit or require it.

Shall the President be authorized to attack, capture & hold all or any of the French West India Islands as an indemnity for the spoliations committed on our trade?

If upon these or any other subjects, you see fit to gratify me with your opinions, they will be cherished & respected by me, without a disclosure of the source from which they are derived; and if on the other hand you think this liberty is not warranted by the duration or intimacy of my personal acquaintance, you will I hope excuse and impute it to an habitual and profound respect for your character & talents.

I am Sir   yr most obedt Servt.

H. G. Otis

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1On December 14, 1798, the House of Representatives, after resolving “itself into a Committee of the Whole House,” agreed to four resolutions. The second of these resolutions reads: “Resolved, as the opinion of this committee, That so much of the speech of the President of the United States to both Houses of Congress, at the commencement of the present session, as relates to the ‘policy of extending and invigorating the measures of defence heretofore adopted by the Government of the United States,’ be referred to a committee.” The House then “Ordered That Mr. Otis, Mr. [John] Rutledge [of South Carolina], Mr. [Chauncy] Goodrich [of Connecticut], Mr. Samuel Smith [of Maryland], Mr. [Christopher G.] Champlin [of Rhode Island], Mr. [Richard Dobbs] Spaight [of North Carolina], and Mr. [George] Dent [of Maryland], be appointed a committee pursuant to the second resolution” (Journal of the House description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, 1826). description ends , III, 410).

2“An Act authorizing the President of the United States to raise a Provisional Army” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 558–61 [May 28, 1798]). This act authorized an army of ten thousand men.

3“An Act authorizing a detachment from the Militia of the United States” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 522 [June 24, 1797]).

4“An Act to suspend the commercial intercourse between the United States and France, and the dependencies thereof” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 565–66 [June 13, 1798]).

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