George Washington Papers

Henry Knox to Tobias Lear, 25 February 1791

Henry Knox to Tobias Lear

Feb. 25 1791

Dear Sir,

I omitted to day to ask the President’s approbation of Colo. Pickering, as quarter master of the proposed expedition. Will you mention it to him, and let me know the result! Because, if he should approve the idea, it will be necessary to dispatch an express to Colo. Pickering with the Offer.1 I am Dear Sir, Your humble Servt

H. Knox

Secy of War


1Knox apparently met with GW on 25 Feb. to discuss plans for the upcoming campaign against the western Indians (see Knox to GW, 22 Feb. 1791). On Pickering’s efforts to secure federal employment, see Pickering to GW, 3 Sept. 1790. After Pickering completed his mission to the Seneca Indians, GW had directed Knox to offer Pickering the post of superintendent to the northern Indians, which Pickering had declined (see GW to Pickering, 20 Jan. 1791). Lear replied to this letter later on 25 Feb. 1791: “I have had the honor to receive your letter of this date, which has been submitted to the President of the United States, who fully approves the idea therein suggested of appointing Colonel Pickering Quarter Master of the proposed expedition—and has commanded me to communicate the same to you” (DLC:GW). Knox accordingly wrote to Pickering that same day, explaining that “It is in contemplation to make a vigorous campaign against the Indians north-west of the Ohio; although the measures for this object are not finally decided upon, yet it appears that only the legislative forms are wanting. The Quartermaster’s business on the frontiers has hitherto been conducted under the contractors; but it is conceived not to be so economical as to appoint a Quartermaster for the department, accordingly provision is made in the bill for a Quartermaster, with the pay, rations, and forage of a Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant, but without any rank. . . . It is the desire of the President of the United States, that the offer of this appointment should, in confidence, be made to you. If you should think proper to accept, the nomination will be made accordingly. . . . I wish, Sir, that you may accept this offer, and that it was, in a pecuniary point of view, more worthy of your acceptance. All necessary assistance would be afforded in the execution of the business, and such advances of money would be made, as that nothing should languish on that account” (Upham, Life of Pickering, 2:482). Knox enclosed an estimate of the “pay and emoluments” of a lieutenant colonel for one year, amounting to $1,080. Knox’s letter was enclosed in a separate letter, also dated 25 Feb. 1791, from Samuel Hodgdon to Pickering, who noted that he had been sent for “to give an opinion, whether you would accept the appointment.” Hodgdon added, apparently at Knox’s instruction, that “The employment, though arduous and not profitable, may lead to something better. Indeed, the terms held out to you in the estimate annexed to your letter, I am authorized to say, will not be considered a full allowance, provided you accept. For another, it will be in full. I cannot add, for the express is waiting. . . . The President of the United States sets off for home, and a southern tour on Sunday or Monday at farthest” (ibid., 483). Pickering replied to Knox on 28 Feb. 1791, declining the appointment. “I beg you to communicate to the President my sincere thanks,” Pickering wrote, adding that “it gives me much pain to decline a service in which he thought I should be useful. If I consulted only my own feelings, I should little hesitate to accept of the offer, at the same time that I should consider the pecuniary compensation as inadequate; though it is probably equal to the object of the office. But I am not in a situation to make sacrifices to the public. My little farm and my State offices, with industry and economy, I expect will yield a frugal maintenance to my numerous family. The acceptance of the proposed appointment for a single campaign (and I have no idea that it can be longer necessary) would oust me of those offices, and, in my absence, my farm would turn to small account. I am aware of personal advantages that may result from the appointment, and that it might be highly conducive to my future interest; but I am not in a situation to hazard the little I now enjoy, for great, but remote and contingent, benefits” (ibid., 483–84). In the fall of 1790, Pickering apparently had been led to expect that the office of postmaster general would become vacant before many months passed, and that he would be considered a leading candidate for that or some other permanent federal appointment. The appointment as quartermaster for St. Clair’s campaign went instead to Samuel Hodgdon, whose mismanagement was widely blamed for the disastrous outcome of the expedition (Schlesinger and Bruns, Congress Investigates, description begins Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Roger Bruns, eds. Congress Investigates: A Documented History, 1792–1974. 5 vols. New York, 1975. description ends 6–101.)

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