Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Henry Dearborn, 17 June 1801

From Henry Dearborn

Navy Department June 17th. 1801


Not being able to contemplate any usefull service to the public for any greater number of the present Marine corps than may be necessary for the six ships retained in Actual service, which number cannot exceed four hundred rank & file, I take the liberty of suggesting the propriety of retaining only four hundred rank & file of said Corps, with a due proportion of noncommissioned officers, and of discharging the remainder in the course of the present month, taking care that the men retained shall be those whose remaining terms of service are the longest.—

I am Sir with the most respectfull consideration your Huml. Servt.

H. Dearborn

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 17 June and “Marines” and so recorded in SJL.

Dearborn had previously broached the subject of reducing the Marine Corps in an undated letter received by TJ on 29 May. In it, Dearborn noted that according to returns supplied by the commandant of the Marine Corps, William W. Burrows, the enlistment of some 350 marines would expire by June 1802; 144 of these by 1 Jan. 1802. Dearborn questioned the necessity of continuing these men in service since none could be sent on the next proposed Mediterranean cruise. The current number of Marines in service was 950, yet only 304 were needed to provide a full complement for the six frigates and two schooners in active naval service.

As such, Dearborn recommended that 400 Marines would be “quite sufficient for the present establishment” (RC in DLC, unsigned, in Dearborn’s hand, endorsed by TJ as received 29 May 1801 and so recorded in SJL with notation “Marines,” also endorsed by TJ: “discharge of Marines”; “List of Marines & time of Enlistment &c.,” MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 119:20555). On 8 July, Dearborn wrote Burrows that in compliance with “the opinion of the President of the United States,” the commandant was to reduce the Marine Corps to 400 rank and file and “a due proportion of Sergeants & the music.” He was also advised to retain “the best men who have the greatest length of time to serve” and to discharge the remainder by 15 July or as soon after as possible (NDQW description begins Dudley W. Knox, ed., Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War between the United States and France, Naval Operations, Washington, D.C., 1935–38, 7 vols. (cited by years) description ends , Dec. 1800–Dec. 1801, 269).

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