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The addition of 16,000 dollars on the aggregate of 32,000, for establishing an important barrier post, did not strike me as a large, but as a very moderate expenditure; such as would not contravene the most scrupulous ideas of economy in national affairs.
Hence I presumed on the ready sanction of the Executive; yet did I not suffer this presumption to engage me in any definitive act, but confined myself to giving promissory authority, subject to the eventual control of the President through you as his organ.
Even this much I should not have done, had it not been for the previous circumstances, and had there not been a pressure as to time, owing to the necessity of expediting General Wilkinson, for which purpose the delivery of my instructions was an essential preliminary. Considering the circumstances, I cannot but believe that I have acted with all proper delicacy and caution; as, on the other hand, it is evident that I have in no shape infringed the general principle which is advanced in your letter.
To this principle, as it respects permanent fortification, I subscribe without reserve; and I agree that it is always right for military commanders, when the exigencies of service do not command the contrary, to forbear measures involving considerable expense till they shall have been considered and sanctioned by the Executive. It seems to me, too, that in my practice the rule has been observed even beyond its terms and spirit; but I cannot adopt the opinion, that every measure, in all its circumstances, which may involve considerable expenditure, should be submitted through the Secretary of the appropriate department to the President for his approval, and that, without such approval, formally and explicitly announced, no act leading to its execution should take place.
In the course of military operations, measures which involve very great expense are frequently indispensable, without incurring the delay of resorting to the Executive as a preliminary.
A precise rule for distinguishing the different cases is impracticable; it must be matter of sound discretion and of fair confidence on all sides.
The disbursements, finally, must no doubt be regulated by the laws of appropriation; but provisory measures will often be unavoidable, and confidence must sometimes be reposed in an after legislative sanction and provision.
This has been the course in times past, and it must always be the case.
A different plan will arrest and disorder all the wheels of public service. The theory of no system can be invariably pursued with liberal strictness.
I commit myself without hesitation to the consequences of this opinion, because, as far as I am concerned, I would rather be responsible on proper occasions for formal deviations, than for a feeble, insufficient and unprosperous course of public business, proceeding from an over-scrupulous adherence to general rules; and I have no doubt that a different spirit will ever be found in experience injurious equally to the interests of the state and to the reputation and success of the persons whom it may govern. I understand that such a progress has been made in the business as that the plan cannot now be relinquished without loss of the fruits of past expense; but I am not so well informed on this point as to be able to present it as a positive ground of determi. nation.
I adhere, however, without hesitation, to the opinion that it is expedient to pursue the plan upon the scale which has been contemplated. It is very true that this fort could not be expected to interrupt a great invading force; but it would be an obstacle to the enterprises of such a force as now exists, or is likely to be found in the quarter in question.
It would give additional security to the troops, who, with the views you mention, must be stationed within the scene. It would also be more impressive on the Indians; and the difference between the expense of the fort intended and that which
indi. cate, would be inconsiderable. I shall take care that such a communication be made to General Wilkinson, as that there may be no danger in future of his undertaking a permanent fortification without the previous approbation of the Executive.
But, if it is thought proper to arrest the execution of the plan communicated, I must beg that you will address your orders immediately to General Wilkinson, since it is probable that they would not reach here in time, if they are to pass through me. With great respect and esteem, I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant, &c.
HAMILTON TO WASHINGTON.
New-York, Nov. 18th, 1799. SIR:
I have been duly honored with your letter of the 26th and 27th of October.
General Pinckney happening to be at my house when they were received, I communicated them to him, together with such other letters as had come to hand relating to the same subject; and I have since furnished him with the subsequent information transmitted to me, in order that he might take the proper measures in whatever might require his interposition. This would principally be to order the tenth regiment to Carlisle.
It is my duty, in compliance with your inquiry concerning the delay of payment of the troops, to enter into a free explanation. The complaints of which you have heard, have certainly existed * * and they have existed in the northern as well as in the southern quarter
* * * and the painful circumstance is, that they have been well founded. There has, no doubt, been a great and a very unfortunate delay, which has been a pretext for, if not a cause of, desertion, which has made ill impressions on the minds of the troops, and has occasioned much embarrassment to the officers.
The history of the course of the business will best unfold the causes of the delay.
Early after the recruiting service was in train, I caused to be prepared and transmitted to the several regiments, the forms of muster and pay-rolls.-If my information be right, muster and pay-rolls were made out according to these forms, and forwarded first to the Department of War, afterwards to the office of the paymaster-general.
It has since appeared that forms for muster and pay-rolls had been previously established by the Department of War, but these forms were never sent to me, nor otherwise communicated to the additional regiments, till some time after the arrival of the paymaster-general at Philadelphia. A compliance with them on the part of the distant regiments, the officers of which, for the purpose of recruiting, were dispersed over extensive regions, would, of course, involve a very distressing delay, in addition to that which unavoidably attended the mustering of the troops, and the preparation of the rolls on the plan which I had prescribed; yet for some time a compliance with these new forms seems to have been expected as a preliminary to the transmission of the money.
But in consequence of very importunate representations from me, and it being admitted that the different rolls corresponded in substantial points, I was given to understand by the paymaster-general, that as to past dues, the new forms would not be insisted upon, but that the money would be sent without waiting for them.
Difficulties, however, about modes of remitting the money, which, it is believed had before operated in producing delay, continued to occasion it; and to this moment the three most northern and two most southern regiments remain unsupplied.
To call every regimental paymaster to the seat of government as often as money is to be paid, is inadmissible on the score of delay, as well as of expense. To send them the money by post, must involve the double risk of loss in the post-office, and loss by a fraudulent concealment of the receipt of it. To send it to intermediate public agents, must be attended with the same risk, though in a less degree. The paymaster-general, in order to discharge himself at the Treasury, is obliged to produce vouchers in certain prescribed forms, which he has been (as he states) in the habit of obtaining before he parted with any money out of his hands; and he appeared to be fearful of a deviation from this course.
The truth is, that these difficulties being inherent in the nature of the thing, they ought, for this very reason, as I conceive, to have been overcome. Similar ones occur in all the pecuniary operations of the government, and it has been found indispensable to surmount them by expedients. The same expedients which are familiar in other cases, would have answered in the one under consideration.
In my opinion, the paymaster-general would have done right not to have been deterred by the additional responsibility which might have attended the employment of the usual expedients. In my opinion, if peculiar caution was incumbent upon him as a subordinate officer, it was to have been expected that the Secretary of War, in concert with the Secretary of the Treasury, would have interposed to remove the impediment by sanctioning a course which was unavoidable.
It is not my fault that the obstacles have not been surmounted. Aware, that in the first stages of the raising of new corps, (of which most of the officers as well as the men were unacquainted with service,) where the officers, for the purpose of recruiting, were dispersed over extensive districts, delay and difficulty would unavoidably attend the preparation of muster and pay-rolls in strict form—strongly impressed with the idea that it was of great importance, in the first instance, to inspire the troops with favorable ideas of the justice and attention of the governmentand that it would be very inexpedient to have to assign to the non-commissioned officers and privates excuses for the delay of their dues on the score of want of formal documents, which it did not lie with them to prepare—I pressed the Secretary of War and the paymaster-general for advances of money to the several regiments, in anticipation of those documents, upon estimates of which I furnished the data. I thought the temporary departure from ordinary rules, and the small addition of risk, from dispensing with the usual preliminary checks, were less evils than those which were irreparable from any considerable procrastination of payment.
But my efforts were not successful. Expectations, which, in consequence of my representations, were given to me by the