Thomas Jefferson Papers

Resolution on Steuben’s Memorial, [15 April 1784]

Resolution on Steuben’s Memorial

[15 April 1784]

Congress having been made sensible that Major Genl. Baron de Steuben when he left Europe to enter into the service of America, independantly of other sacrifices, relinquished offices of very considerable income and honour and that unless he can receive the monies due to him from these states, his return from their service will be to a situation1 dishonourable to them and discouraging to others in future.2

Resolved3 that the proper officers proceed to the liquidation of the monies due from these states to Majr. Genl. Baron de Steuben: that the Superintendant of finance4 report to Congress his opinion of the most speedy and efficacious means of procuring and paying the same either here or in Europe;5 that Baron Steuben be assured that Congress will adopt these or such others as shall appear most proper and effectual for doing him that justice which the peculiarity of his case authorises. And that for his accomodation in the mean time he be presented with ten thousand dollars for the immediate delivery of which the financier will take order.6

MS (DNA: PCC, No. 19, v); entirely in TJ’s hand, except as indicated below; the more important amendments and alterations are noted.

On Steuben’s memorial, see Washington to TJ, 15 Mch. 1784. There is no evidence that TJ responded to this appeal. His own experience with Steuben in 1780–1781 no doubt led him to be less confident than Washington was that the Baron would be content with being “placed in the same situation he was when he came to this Country”; for in 1777 Steuben, before coming to America, was, in the words of a sympathetic biographer, “out of a job, penniless, and in debt” (Palmer, Steuben, p. 91). In the years following York-town, Steuben had pursued his claims with ardor and persistence. In this he had not only Washington’s support, but also that of Hamilton, Duane, Gerry, George Clinton, and others (same, p. 321). Virginia had granted him 15,000 acres, Pennsylvania some 2,000, and New Jersey a country estate (“Much to the Baron’s disgust this was a mere life estate”; same, p. 320). In the years 1782–1784 Steuben drew from the treasury, on orders of Congress, some $26,000 (same, p. 319–32). On 30 Dec. 1782 a committee of which Alexander Hamilton was chairman, submitted as facts, supported by testimony of Steuben, Washington, “and many other principal officers of the army,” the following: (1) that “Steuben was in Europe possessed of respectable military rank, and different posts of honor and emolument, which he relinquished to come to America and offer his services at a critical period of the war, and without any previous stipulations”; (2) that on arriving he “actually engaged in the army in a very disinterested manner, and without compensations similar to those which had been made to several other foreign officers”; (3) that “under singular difficulties and embarrassments … he … rendered very important and substantial services by introducing into the army a regular formation and exact discipline, and by establishing a spirit of order and economy … which, besides other advantages, have been productive of immense savings to the United States”; (4) that in the commands in which he was placed he had “upon all occasions conducted himself like a brave and experienced officer”; and (5) that these “sacrifices and services” justly entitled him to “the distinguished notice of Congress, and to a generous compensation” (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , xxiii, 833–4; Steuben’s memorial is in DNA: PCC, No. 19 and drafts of it in successive stages—with interesting variations—are in the Steuben Papers, NHi). Hamilton himself apparently had drafted Steuben’s final appeal and had eliminated some of its detailed statements of revenues and perquisites that had been sacrificed in Europe, substituting therefor the general statement that he had “abandoned honorable Commands and easy circumstances in Europe” (Palmer, Steuben, p. 304). On 21 Mch. 1784 Steuben resigned his commission in a letter to the president of Congress and called attention to Hamilton’s report of 30 Dec. 1782 (DNA: PCC, No. 164). This was submitted on 24 Mch. to a committee of three (Lee, Howell, Williamson) who reported on 1 Apr. that they, “regarding the sacrifices and services of the Baron in the same light” as did the previous committee, recommended that the Congress extend its thanks to Steuben, give him a goldhilted sword, and pay him $2,000 “in consideration of the Sacrifices he made when he entered into the Service of the U.S.” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xxvi, 178–9). This was a drastic reduction of Steuben’s own minimum figure of $45,000, but Steuben’s biographer stated that Lee probably felt this compensation to be liberal and added: “I must confess that after diligent research I am unable to confute Mr. Lee’s conclusion” (Palmer, Steuben, p. 324). But on 8 Apr. 1784 the report was recommitted, and on 12 Apr. Lee’s committee submitted a recommendation that the Baron be given thanks, a gold-hilted sword, and $6,000. This was debated next day and the amount of compensation was revised upward to $13,000. Gerry moved a substitute resolution to give Steuben the full amount of his claimed sacrifices, $45,000; this was defeated decisively, though Hardy, Mercer, and Monroe of the Virginia delegation voted in favor of it, whereas TJ and Lee abstained from voting (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xxvi, 216–19). See note 6 below.

Steuben was eventually successful, thanks to his own persistence and the effective support of Alexander Hamilton, his legal counsel and one of his creditors. In 1790, as Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton reported on Steuben’s memorial that “whether the transaction relied upon by the baron be deemed to have the force of a contract or not, it will be most consistent with the dignity and equity of the United States to admit it as the basis of a final adjustment of his claims”; on this ground Hamilton recommended that a balance of $7,396 and “seventy-four ninetieths” of a dollar be paid Steuben and that, in addition, he be given a pension in the “yearly sum of five hundred and eighty guineas.” The House of Representatives instructed a committee to bring in a bill agreeable to this recommendation. A bitter debate ensued, but on 10 May 1790 the House passed a bill granting a lump sum of $7,000 and an annuity of $2,000 from 1 Jan. 1790. In the Senate the lump sum was struck out and the pension raised to $2,500. Washington approved the Act as amended on 4 June 1790. The final settlement met with “great popular opposition” (Palmer, same, p. 376–7, citing Conn. Journal, 14 June 1790).

1At this point TJ deleted the following: “distressing to himself.”

2The passage “and that unless … in future” was deleted by amendment in Congress.

3The words “agreed to” in Thomson’s hand are in margin opposite this paragraph.

4Preceding three words interlined by TJ in substitution for the following, deleted: “financier pay to him 2000 dollars in part thereof; that he.”

5Preceding five words interlined by TJ.

6The passage “and that for his accomodation … will take order” was deleted by amendment in Congress. TJ reintroduced this section as a separate motion on the same day (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xxvi, 228). It was defeated, as was another by Ephraim Paine that “the sum of 8000 dollars be presented to Baron Steuben.” But Sherman’s motion “That the Superintendent of finance take order for immediately advancing to Baron Steuben, on account, the sum of ten thousand dollars” was adopted. TJ voted in favor of all three resolutions; evidently the debate centered on the difference between the words “presented to” and “advancing to.”

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