From Benjamin Stoddert1
3rd May 1799
I do myself the honor to enclose the copy of a letter I have written to Capt Talb⟨ot.⟩2 I have proposed to the President that Nichol⟨son⟩ should be employed in superintending the building of one of the 74 gun ships,3 & I presume he will acquiesce.4 Barry the brave, seemed to be, and to think himself, too infirm for active service—perhaps employment may be found for him also, on shore. It is desireable the Frigates, whose Commanders will always have the command of a number of inferior vessels, and generally separate commands, should be commanded by active enterprising men. Truxtun may be the senior Officer in active service, Talbot next, & these two men may not come in contact for years.
I trouble you with this view of the Navy prospects, in the hope that you will influence Talbot to serve. He is a man of too much merit to be lost to the service; & I see not how it is possible to retain him on his own terms without losing Truxtun5—but what is of more consequence, without violating principles, to do injustice to Truxtun. As to Talbots legal right to be the senior officer, it stands upon the same grounds which Knox contended for.6 The Law reducing the Frigates to three7 terminated completely every thing done or authorized to be done, with respect to the other three—and the President, had he been so inclined, had no more right to continue Captains in the service of the U States, for the three reduced Frigates, than he had to continue the building of them. Captains Talbot, Dale and Sever, therefore, returned to the mass of Citizens, just as Genl. Knox did when the former army was reduced. Had the Letter written by the Secretary at war, to these Gentlemen, contained the stipulation that they should still retain their rank in the Navy of the United States, it would have been nugatory. There was no power to make such a stipulation.
But admitting I am wrong in this idea, as seemed to be your impression, when I had the pleasure of seeing you and as is at this time the impression of the Attorney General:8 still there is no getting over, the second nomination in May 1798 of Capt Talbot to the Senate.
I have the honor to be with great esteem Sir Yr Most Obed Serv
LS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; LC, RG 45, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, Miscellaneous Letters Sent by the Secretary of the Navy, National Archives.
2. Stoddert to Talbot, May 2, 1799 (copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress). In this letter Stoddert expressed his regrets that Talbot was outranked by Thomas Truxtun and hoped that this fact would not prevent Talbot from remaining in the Navy and assuming the command of either the United States or Constitution. Stoddert also wrote that he would do his best to see that Talbot would never be “subjected to the command of Capt. Truxton.”
3. Stoddert to John Adams, April 19, 1799 (ALS, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston).
4. Adams agreed with Stoddert’s proposal (Adams to Stoddert, April 27, 1799 [LC, Adams Family Papers, deposited in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston]).
5. On March 17, 1799, Truxtun wrote to Stoddert that he did not think that Talbot was qualified to serve as a captain in the Navy (Naval Documents, Quasi-War, November, 1798–March, 1799 description begins Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War Between the United States and France: Naval Operations from November 1798 to March 1799 (Washington, 1935). description ends , 516–17).
6. This is a reference to Henry Knox’s insistence that he should outrank H in the Additional Army. See the introductory note to George Washington to H, July 14, 1798.
7. “An Act supplementary to an act entitled ‘An Act to provide a Naval Armament’” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845); II (Boston, 1850). description ends 453–54 [April 20, 1796]).
8. Charles Lee.