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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
May 5, 1800.
Sir:—I have the honor to transmit you the copy of a letter of the 4th instant, from Colonel Taylor. It presents a picture, of which the similitude has too frequently come under my observation.
I must be permitted to observe that nothing can be more injurious to the service, than that pecuniary embarrassment should be occasioned to officers in reference to services duly performed and expenditures regularly made, by reason either of the want of a proper distribution and definition of the duties of the respective officers of the War Department, or by misapprehensions among themselves as to the boundaries of their powers and duties. It presents an image of defect of system calculated to inspire sentiments very different from those of confidence and respect, and it is attended with serious inconveniences to officers, who are kept out of compensations and reimbursements very essential to their accommodation. Besides that, it interferes with the settlement of their accounts in every case in which for want of funds applicable to the special objects, there has been necessity for the temporary transfer of funds which had other destination.
The call upon the officers to refund, as mentioned by Colonel Taylor, is a violent measure. It is in most instances impracticable for them to comply, and surely an anterior arrangement in the modes of accounting ought to have obviated such a requisition. It is in my knowledge, as formerly a member of the administration, that there was often a necessity for accommodations of this kind, and that they were practised; nor can the public business proceed without them.
It is a delicate matter, in my station, to animadvert upon the conduct of officers in the civil departments of government. Yet there are occasions in which it is proper to waive a scruple of this sort, and to state the tendency of their conduct toward the service.
Yielding to a sense of duty, I do not hesitate to say, that in my opinion the accountant displays very often a spirit which, if not designed, certainly tends to injure the service, and sour and dissatisfy all who are parts of or connected with the army.
I know that officer to be capable, diligent, and honest, but he is certainly not as accommodating as the complicated urgencies of military service require; and he rigidly adheres to rules which, if universally applied, are incompatible with practice.
This disposition must either be corrected or our military affairs must always be in disorder. The public will be burthened with a large additional expense as an indemnification for the evils of the accountant’s rigor, and general dissatisfaction will prevail.
The paymaster-general is charged by law with certain definite objects: the pay, arrears of pay, subsistence and forage of the troops. These are regulated by law, and involve the exercise of little or no discretion. The accountant has a more extensive authority, embracing among other things, the expenses of the recruiting service, and all incidental and contingent expenses of the department.
Where cases occur relatively to his duties, which are either within the specific provisions of the laws, or within the established regulations of the head of the department, founded upon the general provisions of the laws, or the nature of his office, the accountant is to adjust them of course. Where matters are presented, not comprehended in the one or the other, and which must be governed by discretion, these are to be reported by him to the Secretary at War for his instruction, and in these cases the accountant is to obey that instruction, leaving the responsibility to rest upon the superior.
I premise this view of the scheme of the department, as preliminary to a proposition which I shall submit.
It seems to me that it will be expedient to extend the functions of the paymaster-general and his sub-ordinates to some objects not now understood to come within their sphere—namely, 1st. The travelling expenses when detached, and extra compensations to officers for extra services. 2d. The expenses of apprehending deserters. 3d. Postage and stationery, when paid for by officers of the line; and lastly, the affair of bounty money, and the contingent expenses of the recruiting service.
In order to defray such expenses in the first instance, let the regimental paymasters and persons acting as such, be furnished with small sums as a fund for contingencies; out of this fund let them defray those expenses, and let the accounts be settled provisionally by the paymaster-general, under the eventual control of the accountant.
For this purpose, it ought to be understood, that if in any instance an officer receives more than he ought to have, it shall be a charge against his pay, but shall be no obstacle to the settlement of the accounts of the paymasters, except where they may be chargeable with wilful default or gross carelessness.
The accounts for these supernumerary objects may be rendered and settled distinctly from those provided for by law; and perhaps an additional compensation may be made to the paymaster-general.
This plan, I think, would remove some obstacles, and give some facilities which would be convenient to the service. But whatever may be the plan pursued, it is of primary importance that some arrangement shall be devised, which shall provide for a speedy adjustment of similar matters, and prevent the disgusting altercations and delays which now continually ensue. I entreat your prompt and careful attention to the subject, and that you will immediately give in the particular case such orders as will remove the difficulty represented by Colonel Taylor.