Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from James McHenry, 13 April 1799

From James McHenry

War Department, April 13, 1799. “The enclosed copy of a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Strong1 dated the 23rd: of January ultimo.2 was intended to have accompanied the papers referred to you in my letter of the 11th. instant.…”

LS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; LS, letterpress copy, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress; ADf, James McHenry Papers, Library of Congress.

1David Strong was the commanding officer of the United States post at Detroit. A veteran of the American Revolution, he had rejoined the Army in 1785 as a captain and at the time this letter was written he was lieutenant colonel commandant of the Second Regiment of Infantry.

2In this letter Strong wrote: “… At the cession of the Posts on the Northwestern frontier to the Government of the United States, they were held and considered, as entirely subject to Martial Law (as they had antecedently been done under the administration of Great Britain) for the most obvious reasons, and more particularly this Post, situated on the margin of a powerful foreign Nation, and the principal part of the Inhabitants of this place, and the adjacent Country composed of indocile Canadians, and Subjects of a different Country; under those circumstances it was found expedient to enforce (until Government had conceived it proper to introduce the operation of the laws of the Territory) Military polity; and which was acquiesced in, until very recently without a murmur.

“In order to arrive at a more certain opinion of my situation, I shall take the liberty of giving you an imperfect description of the place.

“Encompassed on all sides with a stockade extended across the Esplanade, so as to join the fortified Fort Lerault, the in and egress is by means of gates where Centinels are placed to guard the Town from the introduction of a too great number of Indians, and the Inhabitants from every kind of injury.

“Thus secure in their persons and property, they discover a great degree of dissatisfaction, and complain of this security as an abridgement of their civil immunities; but this is the least important part of their conduct which I wish to represent.…

“In the execution of this task, altho’ not openly opposed, a number of them have attempted to contravene my orders; prohibiting the Soldiers from receiving credit from them, and anticipating their pay due from the United States; to the manifest injury of service, and the introduction of a scene of licentiousness and drunkenness among the Soldiery, subversive of every principle of discipline, and subordination, and a powerful inducement to desertion.

“Civil Officers have been appointed by the Governor of the Territory, and acting in their several capacities as such, within the line of Centinels, conceiving that they have a right of exercising in its most unlimited sense, every privilege of a Citizen, however contrary to the interest of Government in a military point of view.

“Thus circumstanced I confess the delicacy of my situation, and tenacious of the rights of every person, I feel myself unable to act with that decision, which my Country and Superiors may claim or look for.

“Perfectly aware of the invincible necessity of an entire subjection to, and observation of civil law, I entreat you as early as possible, to prescribe the principles upon which my future conduct can and must be founded.” (Copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.)

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