Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to James McHenry, 25 August 1799

To James McHenry

New York Aug 25. 1799


Inclosed is a letter which I have just received from Col Bentley.1 In transmitting him the list of new appointments for his Regiment I did not advert to what they were; but took it for granted that all was in conformity with what had been before established and with the recommendations of the commanding Officer of the Regiment. I find that the reverse has happened in this case as well as in that of the Eight Regiment.2 And whether I am to charge myself with any omission or not in the matter I am extremely sorry for the event.

It is certain that if this course of proceeding is to obtain the Regiments will never be organised and there will be in all the Officers a just and deep rooted dissatisfaction.3

You will probably remember that it has been long since communicated4 as my idea that the routine of promotion among the company Officers should commence when the places of the field officers of a Regiment were once filled by persons accepting. It has been my wish that this rule should govern except in the cases in which the Commandants of the Regiments, before a formal and definitive arrangement was made, should recommend deviations. Some of the appointments in question appear to have been made with the greatest latitude and without reference to any principle.

It may be requisite to explain in relation to the observation of Col Bentley about the arrangement of relative rank reported by him and approved by me.

You recollect that in the Lists of appointments originally sent me5 there was a provisional arrangement of relative rank distinguished numerically. In your letter of instruction of the 21 of March last you give me authority to fix the relative rank of the Company Officers in each Regiment. As a guide to myself I directed the Commandant of each Regiment in conjunction with his Majors to report for my consideration such an arrangement as they should think adviseable.6 This has been done in four instances including the seventh Regiment and my sanction has been given.7 These arrangements have been directed by me to be transmitted to you as they were made and approved.8 Duplicates are now inclosed lest there should have been any omission.

The lat⟨est a⟩ppointments for the 7th Regiment ⟨made in⟩ contravention of the scale of relative rank settled ⟨by⟩ me are attended with proportionably greater difficulty.

I owe it to the service to the officers and to myself to recommend and urge that except as to Capt Blue9 all these new appointments may be reversed the first lieutenants brought down to second lieutenants and all the lieutenants considered as junior to all the others before appointed. I except Capt Blue because this alteration would as to him be equivalent to a dismission & as he has served with reputation there will probably be an acquiescence in his case. But he ought to rank as the youngest Captain.

And I earnestly entreat that no future appointment in any of the Regiments may be made of any but as second lieutenants & junior to those previously in service.

I must again press for the settlement of a Rule of promotion. It is essential to fix principles and the conditions and expectations of officers as fast as possible. The army never will be organised and in order, unless points are successively established as they occurr to consideration and when established strictly adhered to. The total defect of organisation in the western Army (the extent of which I did not know till very lately) has increased my solicitude for another course of things; lest we get every where into an inextricable chaos.

I send you an arrangement of the 7 Regiment10 in conformity with my ideas, which I hope may be adopted.

With great respect   I have the honor to be &c

ADf, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

2Thomas Parker to H, July 24, 1799 (listed in the appendix to this volume). In this letter Parker complained that two newly appointed lieutenants in his regiment outranked all other lieutenants and that this arrangement was contrary to his understanding of the rules governing relative rank.

3H had received other complaints concerning the discontent caused by new appointments. See Josias Carvel Hall to H, July 22, 1799; Parker to H, August 15, 1799; H to Parker, August 16, 1799 (all listed in the appendix to this volume).

4See H to McHenry, May 5 (listed in the appendix to this volume), June 22, July 10, 30, 1799.

6See “Circular to the Commandants of the Regiments,” March 23, 1799. See also McHenry to H, April 23, 1799; H to McHenry, April 26, 1799. Further discussion on this subject may be found in H to Richard Hunewell, August 14, 1799 (listed in the appendix to this volume). The Fifth Regiment was exempted from this procedure. See H to John Smith, August 16, 1799 (listed in the appendix to this volume).

7In his letter to H of September 3, 1799, McHenry acknowledged receipt of the arrangements for the Seventh, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Regiments, which H sent in the letter printed above. For earlier correspondence concerning the relative rank in several regiments, see the following letters listed in the appendix to this volume: (for the Seventh Regiment) Bentley to H, May 17, July 15, 1799; H to Bentley, June 1, July 31, 1799; (for the Tenth Regiment) Thomas Lloyd Moore to H, June 6, 1799; H to Moore, June 7, 1799; (for the Twelfth Regiment) H to William S. Smith, August 16, 1799; Smith to H, August 22, 1799; (for the Sixteenth Regiment) Rufus Graves to H, July 26, 1799; H to Graves, August 13, 1799.

8H sent a list of the relative ranks of the officers of the Tenth Regiment to McHenry in his first letter of June 8, 1799 (listed in the appendix to this volume).

9William K. Blue.

10AD, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

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