Front Page Titles (by Subject) hamilton to mchenry - The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 7
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
hamilton to mchenry
November 23, 1799
Sir:—The near approach of a session of Congress will naturally lead you to the consideration of such measures for the improvement of our military system as may require legislative sanction.
Under this impression, I am induced now to present to you some objects which appear to me very interesting, and shall take the liberty to add here-after such others as shall have occurred.
One which I have always thought of primary importance, is a military academy. This object has repeatedly engaged the favorable attention of the administration, and some steps toward it have been taken. But these, as yet, are very inadequate. A more perfect plan is in a high degree desirable.
No sentiment is more just than this, that in proportion as the circumstances and policy of a country forbid a large military establishment, it is important that as much perfection as possible should be given to that which may at any time exist. Since it is agreed that we are not to keep on foot numerous forces instructed and disciplined, military science in its various branches ought to be cultivated with peculiar care, in proper nurseries, so that there may always exist a sufficient body of it ready to be imparted and diffused, and a competent number of persons qualified to act as instructors to the additional troops which events may successively require to be raised.
This will be to substitute the elements of an army to the thing itself, and it will greatly tend to enable the government to dispense with a large body of standing forces, from the facility which it will give of forming officers and soldiers promptly upon emergencies.
No sound mind can doubt the essentiality of military science in time of war, any more than the moral certainty that the most pacific policy on the part of a government will not preserve it from being engaged in war more or less frequently.
To avoid great evils, it must either have a respectable force prepared for service, or the means of preparing such a force with expedition. The latter, most agreeable to the genius of our government and nation, is the object of a military academy.
I propose that this academy shall consist of five schools—one to be called “The Fundamental School”; another, “The School of Engineers and Artillerists”; another, “The School of Cavalry”; another, “The School of Infantry”; and a fifth, “The School of the Navy”; and of the following offices and persons:
A director-general, to superintend the whole institution.
A director of the Fundamental School.
A director of the School of Engineers and Artillerists.
A director of the School of Cavalry.
A director of the School of Infantry.
A director of the School of the Navy.
Six professors of mathematics.
Three professors of natural philosophy.
One professor of chemistry.
Two drawing masters.
A riding master.
A fencing master.
To be thus distributed among the several schools.
To the Fundamental School:
Four professors of mathematics,
One professor of natural philosophy,
One drawing master.
To the School of Engineers and Artillerists:
A professor of mathematics,
A professor of natural philosophy,
A professor of chemistry,
A drawing master.
To the School of Cavalry:
A riding master,
A fencing master.
To the School of Infantry:
To the School of the Navy:
A professor of mathematics,
A professor of natural philosophy,
In the Fundamental School to be taught:
Arithmetic, algebra, geometry, the laws of motion, mechanics, geography, topography, and surveying, designing of structures and landscapes.
The principles of tactics.
In the School of Engineers and Artillerists to be taught:
Fluxions, conic sections, hydraulics, hydrostatics, and pneumatics.
The theory and practice of gunnery.
Fortifications, including sapping and mining, and the attack and defence of places.
Chemistry, especially mineralogy.
The fabrication of cannon and other arms.
The principles of construction, with particular reference to aqueducts, canals, and bridges.
The composition of artificial fires.
In the School of Cavalry:
The tactics and police of cavalry, equitation, the use of the small- and broad-sword.
In the School of Infantry:
The tactics and police of the infantry.
In the School of the Navy:
Spherics, astronomy, navigation, with the doctrines of the tides.
The director-general and the other directors to be officers of the army and navy, conforming to the nature of each school.
These schools to be provided with proper apparatus and instruments for philosophical and chemical experiments, for astronomical and nautical observations, and for surveying, and for such other processes as are requisite to the illustration of the several topics of instruction.
The cadets of the army, and young persons who are destined for military and naval service, ought to study for two years in the Fundamental School; and it destined for the corps of engineers and artillerists, of for the navy, two years more in the appropriate school; but persons who, by previous instruction elsewhere, may have been acquainted with some or all of the branches taught in the Fundamental School, may, after due examination by the professors of that school, be either received there for a shorter term, or pass immediately to one of the other schools, according to the nature and extent of their acquisitions.
In addition to these, detachments of officers and non-commissioned officers of the army ought to attend the academy in rotation, for the purposes of instruction and exercise, according to the nature of the corps to which they respectively belong.
It would be a wise addition to the system if the government would always have such a number of sergeants, in addition to those belonging to the regiments of the establishment, as would suffice with them for an army of 50,000 men.
The site of the academy ought to be upon a navigable water.
For this purpose, a piece of ground ought to be purchased by the government, of dimensions sufficient for experiments in gunnery—that is, not less than twelve hundred yards in length, and four hundred yards in breadth. The situation upon a navigable water is requisite to admit of exemplifications of naval construction and exercises.
It would also tend greatly to the perfection of the plan if a position for the academy could be obtained, suited to foundries of cannon and manufactories of small-arms. The pupils could here acquire the knowledge of the arts, and the detachments of troops could be made useful in the prosecution of the works.
Barracks and other proper buildings must be erected for the accommodation of the directors, professors, and students, and for laboratories and other works to be carried on.
It is proposed by the foregoing plan that the school of engineers and artillerists shall be united. The studies relative to these two branches of service run into each other so much that they may with convenience be pursued in the same school.
Yet it is conceived that the entire union of the officers of both in one corps, as in our present establishment, is not advisable. The art of fortification, and the service of artillery, though touching each other in many points, are, in the main, distinct branches, and each so comprehensive that this separation is essential to perfection in either.
This has been ascertained by experience. It is understood that one or more governments of Europe, particularly attentive to the military art, have essayed the union of the two corps, induced to it by their mutual relations in certain respects, and by the desire of insuring harmony in the service, and that the result of the experiment has led to a renunciation of the plan, as being productive of more disadvantages than advantages.
Influenced, as well by this experience in other countries as by my own observations and reflections, I beg leave to suggest for consideration a new arrangement on the subject, to be submitted, if approved, to the legislative body.
Let the corps of engineers and artillerists be placed under one head, that head to be a general officer; but let the other officers be separated, and form a distinct corps.
A regiment of engineer officers, and two of artillery officers, will form a due proportion in the scale of our military establishment. If deemed expedient to increase the total number of officers, the object may be effected by suppressing two of the battalions of the corps, as now organized, increasing the number of non-commissioned officers and privates in the remaining battalions, so as to continue the present total, and transferring the surplus officers, with due selection to the regiment of engineers, to be composed of two battalions.
Instead of the artificers at present forming a part of each company, let there be a corps of miners and artificers, consisting of four companies, one company of armorers and smiths, one of wheelwrights and carpenters, one of masons, and one of miners. This corps to be a portion of the corps of engineers and artillerists under the command of its chief. The officers to be taken from the regiment of engineers and artillerists at his discretion, continuing, nevertheless, to rank and rise in the corps from which they may be taken, but the President to be empowered, if he thinks proper, to appoint others to their places in the regiment from which they shall be detached. The union of these different corps under one chief, is intended to promote a spirit of harmony and co-operation, while the separation of the other officers is designed to favor a more profound and accurate knowledge of each branch.
It will no doubt be observed, that though provision should be made by the law for the proposed establishment in its full latitude, yet it may be left in the discretion of the President to appoint only so many of the professors as experience shall show to be necessary.
With great respect and esteem, etc.