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hamilton to mchenry - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 7 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 7.
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hamilton to mchenry
September 16, 1799.
Sir:—In recurring to your letter of the 29th of August, I observe there are points which, for a clear understanding, require from me some observations.
I shall make this preliminary remark, that in presenting them with emphasis, as I am accustomed to do, I am actuated by the sole and exclusive motive of showing by particular instances that the past plan has been productive of imperfect results, and that more comprehensive and adequate measures are necessary for the future.
Our provisions have been made too much on the spur of the occasion, have been too generally confined to the absolutely necessary for the moment, rejecting the idea of surplus for future casualties and exigencies. This defect in our plan is not imputable to any one individual. It may be traced partly to the immaturity of our institutions and affairs, and partly to errors of opinion which embraced persons in various situations.
I am sensible that important steps, both legislative and administrative, have been taken toward a more provident and efficacious system; but a frequent contemplation of the imperfections of the past plan ought to have the effect of increasing the tendency toward improvement.
I must at the same time be permitted to add, that, in my opinion, the want of a proper organization of agents in the various branches of the public service, and of a correct and systematic delineation of their relative duties, has been a material cause of the imperfect results which have been experienced; that it continues to embarrass every operation, and that while it lasts it cannot fail to enfeeble and disorder every part of the service.
To exemplify the present defect of organization, it is sufficient to refer to the situation of the quartermaster-general’s department, of the medical establishment, and of that of the pay office. The paymaster-general, with propriety, is stationed at the seat of government; but he has no deputy either at my head-quarters or at that of General Pinckney.
I am sensible that where the appointment of the chief requires the consent of the Senate, it must now be deferred to the future meeting of that body, and that the subordinate persons whom the law places in the choice of those chiefs, cannot be constituted without them; but temporary arrangements may still be made as a substitute; and I confess my anxiety that this may be done, either immediately by you or by your direction to General Pinckney and myself, each to regulate the matter within the sphere of his command.
Permit me earnestly to request that this business of organization in all its branches may engage a prompt and decisive attention. Till this shall have been the case, no commanding officer can perform well his peculiar duties; as his time and attention might be engrossed in details, which are foreign to his station. And the consequence must be inefficiency and disorder.
I proceed to some particulars of your letter.
You observe that you consider it as the duty of the commanding general not only to make returns of all articles, among these clothing wanted for his troops, but to make them in such season as to allow of making up and transporting them to their destinations.
If this idea shall be adhered to, I shall be very ready to perform my part; but I should wish a more precise definition of the objects. What are the articles to be embraced? There are some objects, as artillery, muskets, etc., of which it is always to be presumed there are sufficient quantities constantly ready in the public arsenals and magazines. What time or times will be deemed proper for the transmission of the returns? Are the destinations in detail to be pointed out or not?
But I beg leave to recommend the point to a serious reconsideration; and I will take the liberty to offer some reflections in relation to it, which seem to me to deserve attention.
The total force which is to compose the military establishment is regulated by law. That force, as prescribed by law, is itself the standard of all ordinary supplies to be provided, which ought always rather to exceed than fall short of the complement. The secretary at War consequently possesses ipso facto the rule which is to govern as to providing all fixed and stated supplies.
If this force is to be divided into different armies, still the aggregate of supply must be the same. Besides, that distribution will be arranged by the Secretary at War in concert with the Commander-in-Chief. If left to the discretion of the latter, he only is competent to furnish the criterion.
It follows, that the principal articles of supply, all those which are not dependent on the particular nature of military movements, will always depend on the establishment, and will not be to be regulated by the returns from particular generals.
The temporary strength of corps, at one time increased by the accession of recruits, at another diminished by the casualties of service, ought never to be a guide in providing; because such a standard is fluctuating and uncertain, and because the supply ought to be commensurate with the full complement of the establishment.
The commanding general, who should have to present an estimate to the head of the War Department, (and whose agency as to the ordinary and stated supplies is rendered unnecessary by the circumstance of there being other data previously in the possession of the department,) would be bound to govern himself in his estimate by the scale of the establishment, and not by the temporary state of things.
Requisitions, from time to time, for the issuing of supplies, may fall under a different consideration. These would have reference to the actual state of the forces; but these do not answer to the import of the terms you employ, which appear to aim at some annual, or other periodical estimate to govern the providing as well as the issuing of the articles.
Premising these things as objections to the idea you have suggested in its full latitude, it remains to examine what is the proper course.
The head of the War Department must no doubt be aided by agents who are conversant in the various branches of supply and competent judges of what may be wanted.
These agents ought to be certain officers, or boards established at the seat of government, more permanently fixed in their stations than the precarious commander of a particular army; such as the purveyor of supplies, a board or master of ordnance; or, instead of these, the inspector of artillery, the superintendent of military stores; which officers ought to be aided by information from the chiefs of the branches of supply connected with the army, as in our present system the quartermaster-general, etc.
These latter officers being under the direction of the military commanders, would be obliged to communicate with them to receive their instructions, and to inform them of what is done or intended, so that they may be apprised of the competency of the provision made or to be made, and may be able to direct calls, or to represent to the head of the War Department such further provision as they may judge expedient.
As to the supplies to be from time to time issued, requisitions ought to come from the chiefs of the several branches of supply, acting with the armies, to those officers who at the seat of government are charged with providing and furnishing the respective articles.
As on the one hand, the complement of the establishment will be the guide in providing, so on the other, the returns of actual force to the Secretary at War from the commander of each army, will, in the first instance, be a collateral guide to the officers, and a check upon extravagant demands, and the accounts afterwards to be rendered will show the application.
The forming of the permanent arsenals and magazines of a country, which ought to be always prepared to furnish the principal articles of supply, is naturally a work of administration, predicated upon an entire view of the political and military relations, and the forces and resources of the country. When these are thus formed, how few are the objects to which the estimate of a particular general can apply? How are the partial and detached estimates of several particular generals to reach the full extent of the supplies aggregately necessary? How is each to make his estimate of what may be requisite, unless each has under his eye the entire state of all the national arsenals and magazines, and enters into a minute examination of all the issues which may have been made? If he is to do all this upon his own responsibility, what time will he have for his purely military duties? Is it proper in theory that each general having a separate command should possess complete view of the state of all the public arsenals and magazines?
I conclude, that from the nature of the thing, the business of procuring and of issuing supplies ought, in a general view, to be unconnected with the particular commander of a particular army; that it is properly a business of administration, in which the head of the War Department is to be aided by the subordinate organs of his department stationed at the seat of government, and by the heads of the several branches of supply who act with the armies.
The agency of the Commander-in-Chief, and the commanders of particular armies, where requisite, ought to be collateral and auxiliary, not direct and primary.
It is true, that there is a class of supplies which, being governed by the actual operations contemplated—such as transportation, forage, etc.—must be regulated by estimates and returns to come from the armies. But even in these cases, the responsible persons to make the estimates and returns, ought to be the chief or chiefs of the departments of supply with the armies, who ought previously to submit their estimates and returns to the military commanders, in order that they may be transmitted with their opinions and observations.
Thus far it is conceived, the agency of the commanding general may be useful and proper. But the scheme of it, as now indicated, supposes as a preliminary, the appointment of the proper heads of the several branches of supply.
Indeed, this preliminary is essential to every form of agency in this respect, which may be assigned to a commanding general. It is not presumable in principle, and would never be found true in fact, that the general of an army is so minutely acquainted with all the details of supply as to be qualified to present a correct view of all the objects which may be requisite, without the intervention of those officers whose peculiar province it is to manage the business of supply.
As to the subject of pay, it would seem from your manner of expression to be your idea, that the warrant of a commanding general must be founded on certificates of the paymaster-general. But I must conclude that this cannot be your meaning; as a very natural and fair construction of the laws will for this services substitute to him his deputy with each army; and as it is essential, in practice, that the interpretation should admit of this substitution. How else are the troops remote from the paymaster-general to be paid at all? Consider, especially, the position of the Western army.
When the law of the 8th of May, 1792, which charges the duty on the paymaster-general was passed, there was but one army—hence that act designates him singly.
But the act of the 3d of March last, contemplating that there may be several different armies, provides that there shall be a deputy paymaster-general to each of them, without particularly defining his duties. It is evident that he must be intended to perform duties, and important ones; what are they? The law being silent, they are of course all such as the paymaster-general is to perform where he may be; except as to any particular one, which, from the nature of things, ought to be confined to the chief. On any other principles, the deputy will be as much excluded from one duty as from another, which was before performed by his chief, and the appointment will become nugatory.
I infer that all moneys for the purpose of paying the pay, subsistence, and forage of the troops, must still be delivered in the first instance by the treasurer to the paymaster-general, because this is conducive to union and to a regular chain of accountability; but that the paymaster is to deliver over to each deputy in mass a sum sufficient to answer all these purposes with the army to which he is attached, and the deputy is to disburse it in detail, and to exercise all the services preparatory to that disbursement, which by the first law were charged upon the paymaster-general, including that of certifying the sums due, to the commanding-general.
Principles of law, no less than those of convenience, warrant this construction, beyond the possibility of doubt, after mature reflection.
Accordingly, in consequence of a representation of difficulty, on the point of warrants, by the paymaster-general, I have advised him, as the legal and proper remedy, to appoint without delay one deputy to the troops under the command of General Pinckney, another to that under my command. I confidently trust that you will approve, and, if necessary, enforce this advice; the ground of it is unquestionably solid.
The course which you indicate in the last paragraph but one of your letter, appears to me perfectly correct and convenient.