Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1798 - to rufus king - The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 10
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1798 - to rufus king - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 10 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 10.
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to rufus king
(Probably March, 1798.)
It is a great while, my dear friend, since I have written to you a line. You will not, I am sure, impute my silence to any cause impeaching my friendship, for that must be always cordial and entire. The truth is that my professional avocations occupy me to the extent of the exertions my health permits, and I have been unwilling to sit down to write you without leisure to say some thing interesting. But I now depart from the rule, that my persevering silence may not make me sin beyond redemption. I have, however, only time to tell you that your friends are generally well, and as much attached to you as ever, and that I hear of no cabals against you.
Being just returned from Albany, I would say nothing about the political juncture as it is affected by the unpleasant advices from our commissioners in France. I will only say, that the public mind is much sounder than that of our representatives in the national council, and that there is no danger of our entirely disgracing ourselves—that is, by any unworthy compliances with the exorbitant pretensions of “The Great MONSTER.”1
to timothy pickering
March 17, 1798.
I make no apology for offering you my opinion on the present state of our affairs.
I look upon the question before the public as nothing less than whether we shall maintain our independence; and I am prepared to do it in every event, and at every hazard. I am therefore of opinion that our Executive should come forth on this basis.
I wish to see a temperate, but grave, solemn, and firm communication from the President to the two houses on the result of the advices from our commissioners; this communication to review summarily the course of our affairs with France from the beginning to the present moment; to advert to her conduct towards the neutral powers generally, dwelling emphatically on the last decree respecting vessels carrying British manufactures, as an unequivocal act of hostility against all of them; to allude to the dangerous and vast projects of the French government; to consider her refusal to receive our ministers as a virtual denial of our independence, and as evidence that, if circumstances favor the plan, we shall be called to defend that independence, our political institutions, and our liberty, against her enterprises; to conclude, that leaving still the door to accommodation open, and not proceeding to final rupture, our duty, our honor, and safety, require that we shall take vigorous and comprehensive measures of defence, adequate to the immediate protection of our commerce, to the security of our ports, and to our eventual defence in case of invasion, and with a view to these great objects, calling forth and organizing all the resources of the country. I would, at the same time, have the President to recommend a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. The occasion renders it proper, and religious ideas will be useful. I have this last measure at heart.
The measures to be advocated by our friends in Congress to be these:
In my opinion, bold language and bold measures are indispensable. The attitude of calm defiance suits us. It is vain to talk of peace with a power with which we are actually in hostility. The election is between a tame surrender of our rights or a state of mitigated hostility. Neither do I think that this state will lead to general rupture if France is unsuccessful; and if successful, there is no doubt in my mind that she will endeavor to impose her yoke upon us.
P. S.—If Robert Troup resigns his office of district judge, the President cannot make a better choice than of Samuel Jones, Esq., the present Comptroller of the State. I understand he will accept.
to theodore sedgwick
The President ought to make a solemn and manly communication to Congress—the language grave and firm, but without invective, in which, after recapitulating the progress of our controversy with France, the measures taken toward accommodation, and stating their degrading result, he ought to advert to the extremely critical posture of Europe, the excessive pretensions of France externally, her treatment of the neutral powers generally, and dwelling emphatically on the late violent invasion of their commerce, as an act destructive of the independence of nations, to state that eventual dangers of the most serious kind hang over us, and that we ought to consider ourselves as bound to provide with the utmost energy for the immediate security of our invaded rights, and for the ultimate defence of our liberty and independence, and conclude with a recommendation in general terms to adopt efficient measures for increasing our revenue, for protecting our commerce, for guarding our sea-ports, and ultimately for repelling invasion; intimating also, that the relations of treaty which have subsisted between us and France, and which have been so entirely disregarded by her, ought not to remain by our Constitution and laws binding upon us, but ought to be suspended in their operations, till an adjustment of differences shall re-establish a basis of connection and intercourse between two countries, taking especial care, however, that merely defensive views be indicated.1
to timothy pickering
(Post-marked March 23, 1798.)
My Dear Sir:
I understand that the Senate have called upon the President for papers. Nothing certainly can be more proper; and such is the universal opinion here; and it appears to me essential that as much as possible can be communicated. Confidence will otherwise be wanting, and criticism will ensue which it will be difficult to repel. The observation is that Congress are called upon to discharge the most important of all their functions, and that it is too much to expect that they will rely on the influence of the Executive from materials which may be put before them. The recent examples of the British king are cited. Pray, let all that is possible be done.
to timothy pickering
10 o’clock, Tuesday, March 27, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
I have this moment received your two favors of the 25th. I am delighted with their contents, but it is impossible for me to reply particularly to them so as to reach you to-morrow as you desire. I will therefore confine myself to one point. I am against going immediately into alliance with Great Britain. It is my opinion that her interests will insure us her co-operation to the extent of her power, and that a treaty will not secure her further. On the other hand, a treaty might entangle us. Public opinion is not prepared for it. It would not fail to be represented as to the point to which our previous conduct was directed; and, in case of offers from France satisfactory to us, the public faith might be embarrassed by the calls of the people for accommodation and peace.
The desideratum is that Britain could be engaged to lodge with her minister here powers commensurate with such arrangement as exigencies may require and the progress of opinion permit. I see no good objection on her part to this plan.
It would be good policy in her to send to this country a dozen frigates to pursue the directions of this government.
If Spain would cede Louisiana to the United States, I would accept it absolutely if obtainable absolutely, or with an engagement to restore, if it cannot be obtained absolutely. I shall write again to-morrow.
to john jay
April 24, 1798.
I have received your two favors of the 19th instant. I feel, as I ought, the mark of confidence they announce. But I am obliged by my situation to decline the appointment. This situation you are too well acquainted with to render it necessary for me to enter into explanation. There may arrive a crisis when I may conceive myself bound once more to sacrifice the interests of my family to public call. But I must defer the change as long as possible.
I do not at present think of a person to recommend adapted to the emergency. I shall reflect and consult, and write you by the next post. This, the first day, is not decisive of our election here, but there is as yet nothing to discourage.1
to james mchenry
May 17, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
I have received your letter of the 12th instant. Not having seen the law which provides the naval armament, I cannot tell whether it gives any new power to the President; that is, any power whatever with regard to the employment of the ships. If not, and he is left at the foot of the Constitution, as I understand to be the case, I am not ready to say that he has any other power than merely to employ the ships as convoys, with authority to repel force by force (but not to capture), and to repress hostilities within our waters, including a marine league from our coasts.
Any thing beyond this must fall under the idea of reprisals, and requires the sanction of that department which is to declare or make war.
In so delicate a case, in one which involves so important a consequence as that of war, my opinion is that no doubtful authority ought to be exercised by the President; but, that as different opinions about his power have been expressed in the House of Representatives, and no special power has been given by the law, it will be expedient for him, and his duty, and the true policy of the conjuncture, to come forward by a message to the two houses of Congress, declaring that “so far and no farther” he feels himself confident of his authority to go in the employment of the naval force; that as, in his opinion, the depredations on our trade demand a more extensive protection, he has thought it his duty to bring the subject under the review of Congress by a communication of his opinion of his own powers, having no desire to exceed the constitutional limits.
This course will remove all clouds as to what the President will do; will gain him credit for frankness and an unwillingness to chicane the Constitution, and will return upon Congress the question in a shape which cannot be eluded.
I presume you will have heard before this reaches you that a French privateer has made captures at the mouth of our harbor. This is too much humiliation after all that has passed.
Our merchants are very indignant; our government very prostrate in the view of every man of energy.
to rufus king
My Dear Sir:
It is a great while since I received a line from you, nor, indeed, have I deserved one; the vortex of business in which I have been having kept me from writing to you. At this moment, I presume, you will not be sorry to know my opinion as to the course of our public affairs.
In Congress a good spirit is gaining ground, and, though measures march slowly, there is reason to expect that almost every thing which the exigency requires will be done. The plan is present defence against depredations by sea, and preparations for eventual danger by land. In the community, indignation against the French Government, and a firm resolution to support our own, discover themselves daily by unequivocal symptoms. The appearances are thus far highly consoling.
But, in this posture of things, how unfortunate is it that the new instructions offered by Great Britain, which appear, according to the reports of the day, to be giving rise to many abusive captures of our vessels, are likely to produce a counter-current, and to distract the public dissatisfaction between two powers, who, it will be said, are equally disposed to plunder and oppress. In vain will it be urged that the British Government cannot be so absurd as at such a juncture to intend us injury. The effects will be alone considered, and they will make the worst possible impression. By what fatality has the British Cabinet been led to spring any new mine, by new regulations, at such a crisis of affairs? What can be gained to counteract the mischievous tendency of abuses? Why are weapons to be furnished to our Jacobins?
It seems the captured vessels are carried to the Mole, where there is a virtuous judge, of the name of Cambault, disposed to give sanction to plunder in every shape. Events are not yet sufficiently unfolded to enable us to judge of the extent of the mischief, but nothing can be more unlucky than that the door has been opened. The recency of the thing may prevent your hearing any thing about it from the government by this opportunity.
P. S.—It is said privateers are fitting out at Antigua and St. Kitts.
May 19, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
At the present dangerous crisis of public affairs, I make no apology for troubling you with a political letter. Your impressions of our situation, I am persuaded, are not different from mine. There is certainly great probability that we may have to enter into a very serious struggle with France; and it is more and more evident that the powerful faction which has for years opposed the government, is determined to go every length with France. I am sincere in declaring my full conviction, as the result of a long course of observation, that they are ready to new-model our Constitution under the influence or coercion of France, to form with her a perpetual alliance, offensive and defensive, and to give her a monopoly of our trade by peculiar and exclusive privileges. This would be in substance, whatever it might be in name, to make this country a province of France. Neither do I doubt that her standard, displayed in this country, would be directly or indirectly seconded by them, in pursuance of the project I have mentioned.
It is painful and alarming to remark, that the opposition faction assumes so much a geographical complexion. As yet, from the south of Maryland nothing has been heard but accounts of disapprobation of our government, and approbation of or apology for France. This is a most portentous symptom, and demands every human effort to change it.
In such a state of public affairs, it is impossible not to look up to you, and to wish that your influence could in some proper mode be brought into direct action. Among the ideas which have passed through my mind for this purpose, I have asked myself whether it might not be expedient for you to make a circuit through Virginia and North Carolina, under some pretence of health, etc. This would call forth addresses, public dinners, etc., which would give you an opportunity of expressing sentiments in answers, toasts, etc., which would throw the weight of your character into the scale of the government, and revive an enthusiasm for your person, that may be turned into the right channel.
I am aware that the step is delicate, and ought to be well considered before it is taken. I have even not settled my own opinion as to its propriety, but I have concluded to bring the general idea under your view, confident that your judgment will make a right choice; and that you will take no step which is not well calculated. The conjuncture, however, is extraordinary, and now, or very soon, will demand extraordinary measures.
You ought also to be aware, my dear sir, that in the event of an open rupture with France, the public voice will again call you to command the armies of your country; and, though all who are attached to you will, from attachment, as well as from public considerations, deplore an occasion which should once more tear you from that repose to which you have so good a right, yet it is the opinion of all those with whom I converse, that you will be compelled to make the sacrifice. All your past labor may demand to give it efficacy this further, this very great sacrifice. Adieu, my dear sir.
June 2, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
I have before me your favor of the 27th of May. The suggestion in my last was an indigested thought, begotten by my anxiety. I have no doubt that your view of it is accurate and well founded.
It is a great satisfaction to me to ascertain what I had anticipated in hope, that you are not determined in an adequate emergency against affording once more your military services. There is no one but yourself that would unite the public confidence in such an emergency, independent of other considerations, and it is of the last importance that this confidence should be full and complete. As to the wish of the country, it is certain that it will be ardent and universal. You intimate a desire to be informed what would be my part in such an event as to entering into military service. I have no scruple about opening myself to you on this point. If I am invited to a station in which the service I may render may be proportionate to the sacrifice I am to make, I shall be willing to go into the army. If you command, the place in which I should hope to be most useful is that of Inspector-General, with a command in the line. This I would accept. The public must judge for itself as to whom it will employ, but every individual must judge for himself as to the terms on which he will serve, and consequently must estimate his own pretensions.
I have no knowledge of any arrangement contemplated, but I take it for granted the service of all the former officers worth having may be commanded, and that your choice would regulated the Executive. With decision and care in the selection an excellent army may be formed.
The view you give of the prospects in the South is very consoling. The public temper seems everywhere to be travelling to a right point. This promises security to the country in every event.
to oliver wolcott
June 5, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
The answer from the President to the Commander-in-Chief, etc., of New Jersey, contains in the close a very indifferent passage. The sentiment is intemperate and revolutionary. It is not for us, particularly for the government, to breathe an irregular or violent spirit. Hitherto I have much liked the President’s answers, as, in the main, within proper bounds, and calculated to animate and raise the public mind. But there are limits which must not be passed, and from my knowledge of the ardor of the President’s mind, and this specimen of the effects of that ardor, I begin to be apprehensive that he may run into indiscretion. This will do harm to the government, to the cause, and to himself. Some hint must be given, for we must make no mistakes.
Enclosed is a sketch of some ideas which have run through my mind. They are perhaps none of them new, but they are offered as the evidence of my opinion on the point. As yet we are far short of the point of vigor.
Further measures advisable to be taken without delay.
First.—To authorize the President to proceed forthwith to raise the ten thousand men already ordered.
Secondly.—To establish an academy for naval and military instruction. This is a very important measure, and ought to be permanent.
Thirdly.—To provide for the immediate raising of a corps of non-commissioned officers, viz.: sergeants and corporals, sufficient, with the present establishment, for an army of fifty thousand men. The having these men prepared and disciplined will accelerate extremely the disciplining of an additional force.
Fourthly.—To provide, before Congress rise, that in case it shall appear that an invasion of this country by a large army is actually on foot, there shall be a draft from the militia, to be classed, of a number sufficient to complete the army of fifty thousand men. Provision for volunteers in lieu of drafts. A bounty to be given.
Fifthly.—To authorize the President to provide a further naval force of six ships of the line and twelve frigates, with twenty small vessels not exceeding sixteen guns. It is possible the ships of the line and frigates may be purchased of Great Britain, to be paid for in stock. We ought to be ready to cut up all the small privateers and gun-boats in the West Indies, so as at the same time to distress the French islands as much as possible, and protect our own trade.
Sixthly.—Is not the independence of the French colonies, under the guaranty of the United States, to be aimed at? If it is, there cannot be too much promptness in opening negotiations for the purpose. Victor Hugues is probably an excellent subject. This idea, however, deserves mature consideration.
Seventhly.—It is essential the Executive should have half a million of secret-service money. If the measure cannot be carried without it, the expenditure may be with the approbation of three members of each house of Congress. But it were better without this incumbrance.
Eighthly.—Revenue in addition to the two millions of land tax, say:
Ninthly.—A loan of ten millions of dollars. The interest to be such as will insure the loan at par. It is better to give high interest redeemable at pleasure, than low interest with accumulation of capital, as in England.
to rufus king
June 6, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Official information and the public papers will give you all the information I could give of the measures going on in this country. You will have observed with pleasure a spirit of patriotism kindling everywhere. And you will not be sorry to know that it is my opinion, that there will shortly be national unanimity, as far as that idea can ever exist. Many of the leaders of faction will persist, and take ultimately a station in the public estimation like that of the tories of our revolution.
Our chief embarrassment now is, the want of energy among some of our friends, and our councils containing too strong an infusion of those characters who cannot reform, and who, though a minority, are numerous enough and artful enough to perplex and relax. We do far less than we ought towards organizing and maturing for the worst the resources of the country. But I count that there is a progress of opinion which will probably shortly overcome this obstacle.
How vexatious that at such a juncture there should be officers of Great Britain, who, actuated by a spirit of plunder, are doing the most violent things, calculated to check the proper amount of popular feeling, and to furnish weapons to the enemies of government. Cambault at the Mole is acting a part quite as bad as the Directory and their instruments. I have seen several of his condemnations. They are wanton beyond measure. It is not enough that his acts are disavowed, and a late and defective redress given through the channels of the regular courts. Justice, and the policy of the crisis, demand that he be decisively punished and disgraced. I think it probable you will be instructed to require this. It would be happy if the government where you are would anticipate.
It is unlucky, too, that Cochran, of the Thetis, appears to be doing some ill things. The Southern papers announce a number of captures lately made by him, and in some instances, if they say true, on very frivolous pretexts. The character of that gentleman would lead me to hope that there is in this some misrepresentation, but the present appearances against him are strong.
There seems a fatality in all this. It cannot be doubted that the British cabinet must at this time desire to conciliate this country. It is to be hoped they will not want vigor to do it with effect, by punishing those who contravene the object.
to timothy pickering
June 7, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
As McHenry will probably have left Philadelphia before this reaches that place, I take the liberty to address the subject of it to you.
I have received a letter from Capt. Van Rensselaer, in which he informs me that he is a candidate for a commission on board our navy, and requests my recommendation of it. As a connection of our family, I cannot refuse it, as far as truth and propriety will warrant.
When he first began his career, the young man did things which were not pretty, but he has since that retrieved his character by a conduct which has rapidly raised him to the command of a ship, which he has had of several. I have particularly inquired concerning him, and my inquiries have been satisfactorily answered, so that I really conclude he is a deserving man. But of this you can be better ascertained from persons in Philadelphia, in whose employ I believe he has sailed.
My only intention is to request attention to his pretensions, as far as they appear to be good, and in the proportion which they bear to those of other candidates. I owe this to him as a family connection, and I may add that he is of a brave blood.
What do the British mean? What are these stories of the Thetis, etc.? In my opinion, our country is now to act in every direction with spirit. Will it not be well to order one of our frigates to Charleston, to protect effectually our commerce in that quarter, and, if necessary, control the Thetis? This conduct will unite and animate.
P. S.—If an alien bill passes, I would like to know what policy, in execution, is likely to govern the Executive. My opinion is, that while the mass ought to be obliged to leave the country, the provisions in our treaties in favor of merchants ought to be observed, and there ought to be guarded exceptions of characters whose situation would expose them too much if sent away, and whose demeanor amongst us has been unexceptionable. There are a few such. Let us not be cruel or violent.
to timothy pickering
June 8, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Though I scarcely think it possible that the British Administration can have given the orders which accounts from various quarters attribute to them, yet the circumstance of these accounts coming from different quarters, and the conduct of such a man as Capt. Cochran, make me apprehensive. I take the liberty to express to you my opinion that it is of the true policy as well as of the dignity of our government, to act with spirit and energy as well toward Great Britain as France. I would mete the same measure to both of them, though it should ever furnish the extraordinary spectacle of a nation at war with two nations at war with each other. One of them will quickly court us, and by this course of conduct our citizens will be enthusiastically united to the government. It will evince that we are neither Greeks nor Trojans. In very critical cases bold expedients are often necessary. Will not a pointed call on the British Minister here to declare whether he has any knowledge of the instructions alleged be proper? The making this call and the answer public may have good effect.
No one who does not see all the cards can judge accurately. But I am sure the general course I indicate cannot but be well.1
to oliver wolcott
June 29, 1798.
I have this moment seen a bill2 brought into the Senate, entitled “A Bill to define more particularly the crime of Treason,” etc. There are provisions in this bill, which, according to a cursory view, appear to me highly exceptionable, and such as, more than any thing else, may endanger civil war. I have not time to point out my objections by this post, but I will do it to-morrow. I hope sincerely the thing may not be hurried through. Let us not establish a tyranny. Energy is a very different thing from violence. If we make no false step, we shall be essentially united, but if we push things to an extreme, we shall then give to faction body and solidity.
July 8, 1798.
I was much surprised on my arrival here to discover that your nomination had been without any previous consolation of you. Convinced of the goodness of the motives, it would be useless to scan the propriety of the step. It is taken, and the question is, what, under the circumstances, ought to be done? I use the liberty which my attachment to you and to the public authorizes, to offer my opinion that you should not decline the appointment. It is evident that the public satisfaction at it is lively and universal. It is not to be doubted that the circumstance will give an additional spring to the public mind—will tend much to unite, and will facilitate the measures which the conjuncture requires. On the other hand, your declining would certainly produce the opposite effects, would throw a great damp upon the ardor of the country, inspiring the idea that the crisis was not really serious or alarming. At least, then, let me entreat you, and in this all your friends, indeed, all good citizens will unite, that if you do not give an unqualified acceptance, that you accept provisionally, making your entering upon the duties to depend on future events, so that the community may look up to you as their certain commander. But I prefer a simple acceptance.
It may be well, however, to apprise you that the arrangement of the army may demand your particular attention. The President has no relative ideas, and his prepossessions on military subjects in reference to such a point are of the wrong sort. It is easy for us to have a good army, but the selection requires care. It is necessary to inspire confidence in the efficient part of those who may incline to military service. Much adherence to routine would do great harm. Men of capacity and exertion in the higher stations are indispensable. It deserves consideration whether your presence at the seat of government is not necessary. If you will accept it will be conceived that the arrangement is yours, and you will be responsible for it in reputation. This, and the influence of a right arrangement upon future success, seem to require that you should, in one mode or another, see efficaciously that the arrangement is such as you would approve.
to timothy pickering
July 17, 1798
My Dear Sir:
I thank you for your friendly letter by the post. I had not contemplated the possibility that Knox might come into service, and was content to be second to him, if thought indispensable. Pinckney, if placed over me, puts me a grade lower. I don’t believe it to be necessary. I am far from certain that he will not be content to serve under me, but I am willing that the affair should be so managed as that the relative ranks may remain open to future settlement, to ascertain the effect of the arrangement which has been contemplated.
I am not, however, ready to say that I shall be satisfied with the appointment of Inspector-General, with the rank and command of Major-General, on the principle that every officer of high rank in the late army, who may be appointed, is to be above me.
I am frank to own that this will not accord with my opinion of my own pretensions, and I have every reason to believe that it will fall far short of public opinion.
Few have made so many sacrifices as myself. To few would a change of situation for a military appointment be so injurious as to myself. If, with this sacrifice, I am to be degraded below my just claim in public opinion, ought I to acquiesce?
to general duportail1
July 23, 1798.
My Dear General:
Though it is a great while since I have heard from you, I have not ceased to inquire after you, and I shall never cease to interest myself in your welfare.
You have seen the progress of things between this country and France, and you must have made reflections on your own situation. I am aware that the idea of your entering in any way into the military service of this country, on such an occasion, is one of great delicacy, and opposed by many motives. But knowing your opinion as to the revolution and revolutionary leaders of your country, I have thought it not wholly impossible that such an idea would not be entirely disagreeable to you, and I am desirous of ascertaining, in the most scrupulous confidence, the state of your mind on this point. The subject may divide itself into employment in the field and employment out of the field.
When I take the liberty to sound you on this head, I ought to assure you, as is truly the case, that the step is wholly from the suggestion of my own mind, and that I am altogether at a loss to conjecture whether those who must decide the matter would be at all disposed to avail themselves of your services.
I pray you nevertheless to open to me freely your heart on this point, in the fullest reliance upon my prudence, honor, and delicacy. If it were not to intrude too much upon you, I would request you to favor me with a digested plan of an establishment for a military school. This is an object I have extremely at heart.
July 29, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
Your letter of the 14th instant did not reach me till after the appointments mentioned in it were made.
I see clearly in what has been done a new mark of your confidence, which I value as I ought to do.
With regard to the delicate subject of the relative rank of the major-generals, it is not very natural for me to be a partial judge, and it is not very easy for me to speak upon it. If I know myself, however, this, at least, I may say, that, were I convinced of injustice being done to others in my favor, I should not hesitate even to volunteer a correction of it, as far as my consent would avail. But in a case like this, am I not to take the opinion of others as my guide? If I am, the conclusion is that the gentlemen concerned ought to acquiesce. It is a fact of which there is a flood of evidence that a great majority of leading Federal men were of opinion that in the event of your declining the command of the army, it ought to devolve upon me, and that in case of your acceptance, which everybody ardently desired, the place of second in command ought to be mine.
It is not for me to examine the justness of this opinion. The illusions of self-love might be expected too easily to give it credit with me. But finding it to exist, am I at liberty to seek to postpone myself to others, in whose hands, according to that opinion, the public interests would be less well confided? Such are the reflections which would have determined me to let the business take its course.
My own opinion, at the same time, is, that of the two gentlemen postponed to me, the cause of complaint, if any, applies emphatically to General Knox. His rank in the army was much higher than that either of Pinckney or myself. Pinckney’s pretensions on the score of real service are not extensive; those of Knox are far greater. Pinckney has, no doubt, studied tactics with great care and assiduity, but it is not presumable that he is as well versed in the tactics of a general as Knox.
Pinckney’s rank at the close of the war was only nominally greater than mine; it was, indeed, of more ancient date. But when, in the year 1777, the regiments of artillery were multiplied, I had good reason to expect that the command of one of them would have fallen to me, had I not changed my situation. And this, in all probability, would have led further. I am aware, at the same time, that there were accidental impediments to Pinckney’s progress in preferment, but an accurate comparison would, I imagine, show that, on the score of rank merely, the claim of superiority on his part is not strongly marked. As to military service, I venture to believe that the general understanding of the late army would allow a considerable balance to me.
As to civil services since the war, I am extremely mistaken if, in the minds of Federal men, there is any comparison between us. The circumstances of the moment, it is true, give him a certain éclat, but judicious men reduce the merit to the two points of judicious forbearance and the firmness not to sacrifice his country by base compliances. In all this, it is very far from my inclination to detract from General Pinckney. I have a sincere regard for him, and hold him in high estimation. At the same time, endeavoring to view the matter with all the impartiality which my situation permits, I must conclude that General Pinckney, on a fair estimate of all circumstances, ought to be well satisfied with the arrangement.
After saying this much, I will add that regard to the public interest is ever predominant with me; that if the gentlemen concerned are dissatisfied, and the service likely to suffer by the preference given to me, I stand ready to submit our relative pretensions to an impartial decision, and to waive the preference. It shall never be said, with any color of truth, that my ambition or interest has stood in the way of the public good.
Thus, sir, have I opened my heart to you with as little reserve as to myself, willing, rather, that its weakness should appear than that I should be deficient in frankness. I will only add that I do not think it necessary to make public beforehand the ultimate intentions I have now disclosed.
It is possible the difficulties anticipated may not arise. But, my dear sir, there is a matter of far greater moment than all this, which I must do violence to my friendship by stating to you, but of which it is essential you should be apprised. It is that my friend McHenry is wholly insufficient for his place, with the additional misfortune of not having himself the least suspicion of the fact. This generally will not surprise you, when you take into view the large scale upon which he is now to act. But you perhaps may not be aware of the whole extent of the insufficiency. It is so great as to leave no probability that the business of the War Department can make any tolerable progress in his hands. This has been long observed, and has been more than once mentioned to the President by members of Congress.
He is not insensible, I believe, that the execution of the department does not produce the expected results; but the case is of course delicate and embarrassing.
My real friendship for McHenry, concurring with my zeal for the service, predisposed me to aid him in all that he could properly throw upon me, and I thought that he would have been glad, in the organization of the army, and in the conduct of the recruiting service, to make me useful to him. With this view, I came to this city, and I previously opened the way as far as I could with the least decency. But the idea has thus far been very partially embraced, and to-morrow or next day I shall return to New York, without much fruit of my journey. I mention this purely to apprise you of the course of things, and the probable results.
It is to be regretted that the supposition of co-operation between the Secretary of War and the principal military officers will unavoidably throw upon the latter a part of the blame which the ill success of the operations of the War Department may be expected to produce. Thus you perceive, sir, your perplexities are begun.
P. S.—Since writing the above, I have concluded to write a letter, of which the enclosed is the copy.1 This effort to save a man I value, and promote the service, has, under the circumstances, cost some thing to my delicacy.
Mr. Harper, of the House of Representatives, is desirous of being in your family. He is a man of very considerable talents and has the temper of a soldier. The shade of his useful qualities is vanity, but I think the good much outweighs the ill. Pardon this liberty in a point so delicate.
Aug. 1, 1798.
The above was written at Philadelphia, but a very pressing call to this place, added to occupation there, prevented my being able to copy and forward it till now.
Give me leave to suggest the expediency of your asking of McHenry a statement of all the military supplies, cannon, arms, etc., etc., which are already provided, and of the means and measures provided and in execution for augmenting the quantity. This will give you necessary information and prompt to exertion.
to oliver wolcott
August 6, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
You are probably apprised that in announcing to the general officers their appointments they are told that the emoluments are to be suspended until called into actual service, and that, as a consequence of this plan, they are to remain inactive.
This project suits admirably my private arrangements, by leaving me to pursue in full extent my profession. But I believe it accords neither with the intention of the individuals who framed the laws nor with the good of the service. It is impossible for McHenry to get through all that is now upon his hands in a manner honorable to himself, satisfactory to the public, or proportioned to the energy of the conjuncture. You will see by the enclosed that I have sacrificed my delicacy to my friendship and public zeal. I have heard nothing in reply. I thought it expedient that you and Colonel Pickering should understand in confidence the situation of things. Without a change of plan they will not go well, and the government and all concerned will be discredited.
to general dayton1
Aug. 6, 1798.
My Dear Sir:
I received at Philadelphia your letter of the 27th of July, the answer to which has been delayed by excessive occupation.
You know, I trust, sufficiently my sentiments of you not to need being told how much pleasure your appointment gave me, and how highly I value the confidence you express in me.
It will probably be unexpected to you to be told that I am not yet in the exercise of the functions of my military office, and that my participation in the preliminary arrangements is only occasional and very limited.
Such, however, is the course of the plan which has been adopted by the Executive.
But I have, notwithstanding, had conversation with the Secretary at War on the points you mention, and to the extent of my opportunity have endeavored to promote a right direction. You no doubt have before this received a letter from the Secretary on the subject of proper characters for officers. It seems to be determined in his mind to appoint Col. Aaron Ogden to the command of a regiment.
Everybody must consider him as a great acquisition in this station. The part of your letter which respects him, announcing the certainty of his acceptance, was particularly grateful to me.
Enclosed you will receive the instructions for the recruiting service, which were previously prepared by the Secretary at War. I made such remarks upon them as hastily occurred. Examine them carefully, and suggest to me whatever amendments or additions may present themselves to you. You will oblige me by free communications at all times.
to benjamin stoddert1
Aug. 7, 1798.
Capt. Robert Hamilton, a first cousin of mine, is desirous of employment in this country in the line of his profession. He is regularly bred to the sea, which he had followed since he was fourteen years old, and has had the best opportunities of improvement—among others that of voyages to the East Indies. He has also commanded a ship and has acted as supercargo. I venture with confidence to recommend him as well qualified and every way worthy; adding to skill in his profession the sentiments of a gentleman, good morals, intelligence, and prudence. I interest myself very much in his success, and shall esteem it as a personal favor to myself whatever may be done for his interest.
to james mchenry