James Madison Papers

James Madison: Paper on relations with Andrew Jackson, December 1823

[1823]

Note by ICH:

This article was prepared in 1823. Composed by Mr. Madison, and copied by some Amanuensis. It is a most elegant composition, and came to me from the papers of Mr. Madison preserved by his widow. The three following lines (crossed) in ink, and the pencil lines in, & on the margin of the texts are by Mr M. himself.

ICH.

In the "Literary and Scientific Repository No. VI pag. 502-3", published at New York October 1821, the following statement* is made as "from documents of the highest character."

[*]It was several years after the publication before it came to the knowledge of J. M. who prepared the review of it with an intention of sending it to the Editor. He was dissuaded from this course by the President, who observed that no credit was given to what came from the writer. It appeared also that the Repository had been some time discontinued.

The above Note in ink was intended for the * at the bottom of this page (ICH.).

"Early in the month of May 1814, the then Secretary of War proposed to confer on General Jackson the appointment of Brigadier in the Army of the United States, with the Brevet of Major General; until a vacancy by resignation or otherwise, should permit his appointment to a similar grade in the line. He was at the same time named to the command of Military District No. 7, of which New Orleans made a part. This proposition in both its branches, the promissory as well as the appointing, was approved by the President, and a communication to General Jackson made accordingly. On the twenty-second of May, General Harrison’s resignation was received at the War Office; and on the day following, was reported to the President, as furnishing means for giving immediate execution to the promise already stated. The President’s answer was indecisive. ’The better way,’ says he, ’will be to send on a Major General’s commission at once; but on this I suspend a final decision till I see you.’ The Secretary, on the other hand, not believing that a right to tamper with engagements solemnly made and communicated, existed any where, or for any length of time, hastened to act on what appeared to be the first impression of the President; immediately forwarded the commission; and took on himself the responsibility of doing so"

From this statement an appeal is made to the following Extracts & Letters; it being kept in mind that the correspondence of the President and Secretary of War, took place while the former was at his residence in Virginia; that during the period no other than written communications passed between them; and that the extracts contain every thing relative to the matter of them.

Extract of a letter from the Secretary of War to the President dated May fourteenth 1814.

[marked Ital. in margin, by JM?]

"Something ought to be done for General Jackson. The vacant Major General’s place (produced by General Hampton’s resignation) cannot be filled during the recess of the Senate. But we can make him a Brigadier and give him the Brevet of Major General; and send him to relieve General Flournoy who is very impatient in his present position."

Extract of a letter from the President to the Secretary of War dated May seventeenth 1814.

[marked Ital.]

"Send also (to the President) a commission of Brigadier and a Brevet of Major General for General Jackson."

Extract of a letter from the President to the Secretary of War dated May twentieth 1814

[marked Ital.]

"I have the day for setting out for Washington still to fix. It was my original purpose to be back before the first of next month, and I shall endeavour to effect it."

Extract of a letter from the Secretary of War to the President dated May twentieth 1814

[marked Ital.]

"General Harrison resigned his military appointment on the eleventh instant, and expects to be relieved on the thirty first in the commmand of the 8th District. McArthur is next to him in rank, but being destined to the command of the Brigade composed of Paul’s and Miller’s regiments, he will not be long in the District, and in his absence the command devolves on General Howard. Of this officer I have heard nothing lately. The presumption is that he is gone on to St. Louis."

Here is no allusion to the resignation as creating a vacancy for General Jackson; nor to any commission enclosed in the letter. The difficulty of supplying a Commander of the district would intimate rather the expediency of retaining General Harrison longer in the service.

Extract of a letter from the President to the Secretary of War dated May twenty fourth, with a postscript of May twenty fifth

[marked Ital.]

"I have received yours of the twentieth instant. The Commission by Brevet for General Jackson is not accompanied by the preliminary one of Brigadier. As the resignation of General Harrison renders that circuit unnecessary, the better way will be to send at once a Major General’s commission. I suspend a final decision however till I see you; which will be in two or three days after the arrival of this"

[marked Ital.]

From this it appears that a commission was enclosed in the Secretary’s letter of the twentieth, and received as the Brevet for General Jackson called for by the President; no suggestion of change of purpose being made by the Secretary.

Copies of letters between the Secretary of War and General Jackson from the files of the War Department.

From the Secretary to the General.

May twenty second 1814

"Sir: The vacancy produced by General Hampton’s resignation not having been filled during the late session of the Senate, cannot be supplied constitutionally during the recess of that body. All therefore that can be done at present, in reward for your able and gallant conduct during the campaign, and in testimony of the public respect these have obtained, is to make you a Brigadier in the line, with the Brevet of Major General, and to invest you with command of the 7th Military District. Commissions of this character will be immediately prepared and forwarded; and I cannot but hope but that they will be acceptable and accepted; and that it will not be inconvenient for you to assume the new command without loss of time. I avail myself of the occasion to offer you my great respect and best wishes."

This letter is dated two days after the letter to the President communicating the resignation of General Harrison. The two commissions promised, it appears, were never forwarded. One of them only was sent to the President for his sanction; namely the one enclosed in the letter of the twentieth, mentioning the resignation of General Harrison, without mentioning the commission.

Extract of a letter from the Secretary to the General

May twenty fourth 1814

"In the event of your acceptance of the appointment announced by my letter of the 22d instant, I have to suggest the wish of the President that you should proceed without delay to Fort Jackson, and consummate the arrangements committed to General Pinckney in relation to the hostile creeks. A copy of the instructions given to General Pinckney is enclosed. I enclose also a copy of his General orders of the 28th of April, shewing the distribution made of the troops–"

Copy of a letter from General Jackson to the Secretary of War.

Nashville June 8th 1814.

Sir: Yours of the twenty second and twenty fourth with enclosures have been received and are now before me. The former alone shall be the subject of this communication. The appointment of Brigadier and Brevet Major General are accepted, under the circumstances tendered; believing the Senate on its meeting will honor me with the rank in the line, which I have held in the Militia of the Republic for many years. Your other communications shall be the subject of a separate letter. I shall avail myself of the earliest opportunity to assume the command of the 7th Military District pursuant to your wishes."

Copy of a letter from the Secretary of War to General Jackson.

May twenty eighth 1814

Sir: Since the date of my letter of the twenty-fourth Major General Harrison has resigned his commission in the Army; and thus is created a vacancy of that grade, which Ihasten to fill with your name. This circumstance does away the necessity of sending the commissions formerly contemplated.

Copy of a letter from General Jackson to the Secretary of War.

Nashville June twentieth 1814

Sir: I have the pleasure to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the twenty eighth ultimo accompanied with the appointment of Major General made by the President of the United States. You will please to receive this as my acceptance.

I assumed the command of this District on the 15th instant, and shall proceed to Fort Jackson as per advice on the 13th.Extract of a letter from Major General Harrison to the Secretary of War.

Cincinnati 11 May 1814

"I have the honor through you to request the President to accept my resignation of the appointment of Major General in the Army with which he has honored me.

"Lest the public service should suffer before a successor can be nominated, I shall continue to act until the 31st instant by which time I hope to be relieved."

Extract of a letter from the Secretary of War to General Harrison.

May 24, 1814

"Your letters of the 10 & 11 instant have been received.

"Your resignation has been communicated to the President who is now on a visit to Virginia."

Copy of a letter from the Secretary of War to General Harrison.

May 28, 1814.

Sir: Your resignation is accepted, to take place the 31 instant as you requested: And General McArthur is accordingly ordered to take command of the District.

I beg you, Sir, to accept the assurance of my great respect.

Extracts from the National Intelligencer of April 28th & May 31, 1814.

"The President of the United States and family left this place yesterday (April 27) on a short visit to Montpellier his seat in Orange County Virginia"

"The President of the United States yesterday (May 30) returned to this City with his family from his visit to Montpellier his seat in Virginia"

With these lights a fair estimate can be made of the statement in the Repository.

"Early in the month of May", says the statement, "the then Secretary of War proposed to confer on General Jackson the appointment of Brigadier in the army of the United States, with the Brevet rank of Major General, until a vacancy by resignation or otherwise should permit his appointment to a similar grade in the line."

The proposition, as is seen, was made on the fourteenth of May and referred expressly to the existing vacancy produced by the resignation of Major General Hampton.

"The proposition in both its branches, the promissory, as well as the appointing, was approved by the President, and a communication to General Jackson made accordingly."

The answer of the President to the proposition simply was "send a commission of Brigadier, and a Brevet of Major General for General Jackson" for the purpose of course, that they might be sanctioned for transmission.

The only promise which appears to have been communicated to the General, by the Secretary is that contained in his letter of May twenty second, answered by the General June the eighth, on which it may be remarked 1. that the letter, though written two days after the notice given by the Secretary to the President of the resignation of Major General Harrison, makes no allusion to that event: but on the contrary expressly informs General Jackson that a commission of Brigadier and a Brevet of Major General with a view to the existing vacancy produced by Major General Hampton’s resignation, was all that could at the time be done for him. 2. At the date of the letter one only of the two communications promised to be immediately prepared and forwarded, had been sent to the President, the other not being sent at all. 3. By the letter of May twenty eighth from the Secretary to the General, it appears that neither of the promised commissions had been forwarded. 4. The promising letter of May twenty second was never made known to the President, either before or after it was forwarded to General Jackson. 5. If it had been made known to the President before it was forwarded, his letter of May twenty fourth-fifth to the Secretary, shews that with his knowledge of the resignation of Major General Harrison, and that the commission of Brigadier and Brevet of Major General was not all that could be done for General Jackson, he could not have failed to cause the letter to be suspended at least, till he should see the Secretary.

"On the twenty second of May" continues the statement "General Harrison’s resignation was received at the War office."

On the twentieth of May, as has been seen, the Secretary informed the President "that General Harrison had resigned his Military Appointment."

Here in the Repository it is stated that the receipt of the resignation was on the twenty second of May.

Again: On the twenty second, he writes to General Jackson as if no such resignation had taken place: holding up the vacancy produced by Major General Hampton’s resignation as the only one at that time in prospect.

On the twenty-fourth of May even, another letter to General Jackson has the same aspect.

Yet the letter of the Secretary to General Harrison of the twenty-fourth, states that his resignation had been received and communicated to the President.

Finally, the letter of the twenty-eighth of May to General Jackson says "since the date of my letter of the twenty fourth, General Harrison has resigned his commission in the Army."

An attempt to cover these incongruities by pleading a distinction between a resignation sent in, and a resignation finally accepted, raises the question. 1. Why if the distinction was intended, the ambiguity should be permitted to run through the reiterated language employed. 2. Why General Jackson should have been promised the immediate transmission of the two commissions looking to the existing vacancy produced by Major General Hampton’s resignation, and been expressly told that nothing more could then be done for him; when two days before the Secretary had informed the President of the resignation of General Harrison which furnished the means of doing more for him; and when he had a right to expect the President’s answer within three or four days at furthest.

Must the ambiguity and precipitancy in the case be explained by the eagerness of the Secretary to gain additional credit with the General, by disclosing what was intended for him, if the resignation of General Harrison had not occurred; a disclosure for which the opportunity was to be superseded by the expected answer from the President "doing away the necessity of sending on the two promised Commissions." The eagerness of the Secretary to call the attention of the General to himself as the source to which he owed his appointment, is strikingly displayed by the letter of May twenty eighth, in which alluding to the new vacancy, he takes upon himself to say "which Ihasten to fill with your name." The answer of the General distinguishing between the arrogated and the real authority, acknowledged the receipt of the letter as "accompanied by the appointment of Major General made by the President of the United States."

To proceed with the statement "And on the day following (May twenty third) was reported to the President as furnishing the means for giving immediate effect to the promise already stated."

The proper comment on this statement is in the following facts. 1. The Report was made not on the twenty third, but on the twentieth of May. 2. On the twentieth no promise whatever had been communicated to General Jackson the date of the communication being the twenty-second of May. 3. The Report was not only silent as to an immediate appointment to the vacancy produced by the resignation of General Harrison, but enclosed a Brevet of Major General having reference to the original vacancy produced by that of General Hampton. 4. Two days after the Report had been made, viz. on the twenty second of May, the only promise ever made was accompanied with the remark that all that could be done was by the way of a Brigadier and Brevet appointment. 5. It is proper to remark here, that the letter itself from General Harrison resigning his commission, was never sent to the President: and that the only sanction for its acceptance was the letter of the twenty fourth of May from the President, which ought to have suspended the answer to General Harrison as well as the appointment to General Jackson, till he should see the Secretary.

"The President’s answer was indecisive: the better way" says he, "will be to send on a Major General’s commission at once: but on this I suspend a final decision, till I see you."

If the statement had not dropped the words "which will be in two or three days after the arrival of this," which, in the answer of the President, followed the words "till I see you," the charge would have vanished as it fell from the pen. The object of the suppression is shewn by the use made of it. What might not be proved or disproved by such mutilations, and who could be safe against them?

Had indeed the suppressed words not been contained in the answer of the President, a notice to the same effect had been given but four days before in his letter to the Secretary of May 20. saying "that it was his original purpose to be back before the first of next month, and that he should endeavour to effect it."

But the charge, as the statement proceeds to its close, takes a more serious complexion.

"The Secretary, on the other hand, not believing that a right to tamper with engagements solemnly made and communicated, existed any where, or for any length of time, hastened to act on what appeared to be the President’s first impression, immediately forwarded the commission; and took on himself the responsibility of doing so."

There are certainly not many minds that would regard the undertaking of a subordinate officer, to judge between the first and last impression of his chief, and to act on the first, as a mitigation of disobedience.

But what was the engagement made and communicated, on which this charge of tampering is founded. None has appeared but that implied in the Secretary’s letter of May twenty second, of which letter the President had no knowledge when he suspended his final decision; (nor was it indeed ever communicated by the Secretary) which held out a Brevet of Major General as all that could be done for him; and which the President, as is shewn by the tenor of his letter of May twenty fourth, would for that very reason have arrested at least, till he should see the Secretary.

What again was the length of time to which such a tampering would have extended? Three days at most; with the chance that it might be but two days. It turned out in fact that the President was, as witnessed by the National Intelligencer, back at Washington the thirtieth of May, a day short of the time he had named to the Secretary for his return; and two days only after the Secretary had hurried off a commission to General Jackson.

Whatever clue may be applied to the labyrinth presented by the conduct of the Secretary, the course pursued by the President requires none. That was open and direct. When it was proposed to him to confer on General Jackson the appointment of Brigadier and a brevet of Major General, with a view to his being nominated for the existing vacancy produced by the resignation of Major General Hampton; his immediate answer was "send me the commissions." When the unforeseen resignation of General Harrison was notified to him; his instant suggestion was "The better way then would be to send to General Jackson a Major General’s commission at once; suspending only a final decision for three or four days, till he could have a communication with the Secretary. The short delay could be attended with no possible inconvenience; the services of General Jackson, as Major General, being provided for by the brevet rank giving him the command of the district for which he was allotted; whilst it was not a little called for by the obscurity and reserve of the Secretary on the occasion; and by the possibility that reasons honorable to General Harrison, whose letter containing his resignation, had not been transmitted to the President, might render it expedient not to part immediately with his services. The difficulty of providing an immediate successor in the command of the district, noticed by the Secretary as arising from the situation of the district, noticed by the Secretary as arising from the situation of General McArthur and General Howard, without hinting as might have been expected what was most advisable in the case, very naturally suggested the propriety of keeping the final arrangement suspended, till the President could make it the subject of a personal consultation with the Secretary.

Out of such materials has been wrought a statement for the public, representing the President as backward in bestowing on General Jackson an appointment which was so splendidly justified, and imputing to him a tampering with solemn engagements, which it became the duty of a subordinate functionary to take on himself the responsibility of frustrating.

Should it be asked why the Individual in question was placed, and after such developments in his career continued, at the head of the War Department, the answer will readily occur to those best acquainted with the circumstances of the period. Others may be referred for an explanation to the difficulty which had been in its fullest pressure, of obtaining services which would have been preferred: several eminent citizens to whom the station had been offered having successively declined it. It was not unknown at the time that objections existed to the person finally appointed, as it appeared when his nomination went to the Senate, where it received the reluctant sanction of a scanty majority. Nor was the President unaware or unwarned of the temper and turn of mind ascribed to him, which might be uncongenial with the official relations in which he was to stand. But these considerations were sacrificed to recommendations from esteemed friends; a belief that he possessed, with known talents, a degree of military information which might be useful, and a hope that a proper mixture of conciliating confidence and interposing controul, would render objectionable peculiarities less in practice than in prospect. And as far as disappointments were experienced, it was thought better to bear with them, than to incur anew the difficulty of finding a successor, with the inconveniences of an interval and a forced change in the head of the department of War, in the midst of war. This view of the subject continued to prevail, till the departure of the Secretary took place.

It might with truth be added that the particular case which has called for this review did not receive at the time the full investigation now given to it. The aggravation of it by such a statement as has been reviewed, was assuredly not to have been anticipated.

In the periodical work referred to in the preceeding pages, there are other gross misstatements* from the same pen. That above exposed will suffice to put every one on his guard, and justify a general protest against the credibility of a writer capable of such perverted and deceptive views of facts.

*Particularly in the account given of what passed on the 24th of August 1814, the day of the battle of Bladensburg, and of the Instructions of the President to the Secretary of War on the 13th of August 1814. See a true account of what passed, as noted by J. M. and a copy of the Instructions which speak for themselves; both of which are among my papers. J. M.

1. Date of Assignment of Genl. Jackson to District No. 7.

(May 22, 1814, as per letter in answer to question below numbered 3– & accepted as per letter no. 6– dated June 8, 1814.)

2. Date of Genl. Harrison’s resignation and of its receipt at the War Department

(Letter acknowledging receipt of resignation dated May 24, 1814—date of the Genl’s letter 11th same month. By letter of 28th May 1814, The General is informed that his resignation is accepted to take place on the 31st inst. as requested.)

3. Copy of a letter from War Department to General Jackson conveying his appointment of Brigdr & Brevet rank of Major Genl. till vacancy of that rank should occur in the line.

(See copy of letter dated May 22, 1814, & numbered 3.)

4. A letter from War Department to Genl. Jackson conveying his Commission as Major General

Depmt of War

May 21, 1814

Sir: since the date of my letter of the 24th inst Major General Harrison has resigned his commission in the army & thus is created a vacancy of that grade, which I hasten to fill with your name. This circumstance does away the necessity of sending the commission formerly contemplated.

I have &c

J. A.

Maj Genl A. Jackson

5. Any letter from War Depmt to General Jackson connected with those subjects—

6. Several Letters from Genl. Jackson answering those to him.

`None, except the one numbered 6

7. Any others from him to War Department connected with those subjects

Same answer as above.

No. 3.

Depmt. of War.

May 22, 1814

Copy/.

Sir:

The vacancy produced by General Hampton’s resignation, not having been filled during the late session of the Senate, cannot be supplied constitutionally, during the recess of that body. All therefore that can be done at present, in reward for your able and gallant conduct during the campaign, and in testimony of the public respect these have obtained, is to make you a Brigadier of the line, with the Brevet of Major General, and to invest you with command of the 7th Military District. Commissions of this character will be immediately prepared and forwarded–and I cannot but hope but that they will be acceptable and accepted, & that it will not be inconvenient for you to assume this new command without loss of time.

I avail myself of this occasion to offer you my great respect and best wishes."

J. A.

Maj Genl Andrew Jackson

Nashville Tennessee

No. 6

Copy/:

Nashville, June 8. 1814.

Sir: Yours of the 22d & 24th ultimo with enclosures have been received and are now before me. The former alone shall be the subject of this communication. The appointments of Brigadier and Brevet Major General in the line are accepted under the circumstances tendered, believing from the tenor of your letter; that the Senate on its meeting will honor me with the rank in the line, which I have held in the Militia service of the Republic for many years. Your other communications shall be the subject of a separate letter.

I shall avail myself of the earliest opportunity to assume the command of the 7th Military District pursuant to your wishes.

Very respectfully Sir yr M O

(Signed) Andrew Jackson

Honble John Armstrong

Secy War

Ms (ViU); there is another copy in a different hand, ending with "not to have been anticipated", and containing added remarks: "Armstrong--comments. This paper is evidently the composition, but not the hand, of Ex-Prest. James Madison, and was prepared in 1823."

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