The Legion System

October 25th, 2010

In December, 1792,  President Washington restructured the U.S. Army into what became known as the Legion of the United States.  Most of the stubby pencil work can be traced to Secretary of War Henry Knox.  Briefly, the Legion concept was designed to bring together multiple military capabilities-infantry, cavalry, and artillery-under a single organization and commander. The Legion would be comprised of four Sub-Legions, each consisting of two infantry battalions, a rifle battalion, an artillery company, and a cavalry company.   It was this military organization that General Wayne led to victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794.

The Legion system would prove short-lived however.  By 1796,  with the  “Indian problem” in the Northwest in check, Congress cut back the Army.  Responding to these reductions, the Army went back to the Regimental system, thus ending one of the more innovative precursors to the modern combined arms system.

Here’s a document by Secretary of War Knox with a personnel summary and estimate of the Legion’s expenses.

(For more on the Legion system, see Andrew J. Birtle, “The Origins of the Legion of the United States,” Journal of Military History, Vol. 67.No.4 (Oct., 2003), pp. 1249-1261.)

Deranged and Unemployed

October 21st, 2010

Casualties of military service existed in many forms during the infancy of America’s army, the overwhelming majority of which were monetary.  Many soldiers worked without pay for months and in some cases were left unpaid until their discharge.  Injuries sustained during war also rendered soldiers incapable of earning a living after their discharge.  Many soldiers petitioned Congress for supplementary income in the form of a pension to offset the cost of living.  With limited means of income, the Federal government attempted to justify a tax on the general public to provide funds for Federal government operations.  Pay of pensions was one such responsibility.

The compensation was decided to come from Federal funds in the Resolve of Congress 23 April 1782 and was granted after service records were scrutinized by the Secretary of War and the Accountant’s Office and the officer was examined by a doctor.  In 1785 a similar resolution was made by Congress ordering states to provide compensation to discharged military personnel.  In most cases, half pay for life was allowed to “deranged officers” found unfit for duty or future employment after being discharged.   The case of one such soldier was discussed at length in correspondence between Issac Craig and William Simmons, and I. Craig and Samuel Hodgedon.  In May 1797, John Polhemus’s was awarded a pension after previously mortgaging his home and property to pay his recruits during service which left him destitute.  This approval by the Federal government among countless others, marked the responsibility of the Federal government to the American public and was a move that bolstered the Nationalist agenda.

What should be the official title of the President?

October 6th, 2010

Today we take it for granted that the President of the United States should simply be addressed as “Mr. President” or “President X”. But following the American Revolution the question of what should be the official title of the President was unclear and even contested. In the decade following Independence, monarchs were still the heads of States in Europe, including in Britain and France. Part of what made the American Revolution so radical and revolutionary was its rejection of the idea of a monarch. The divine right of kings remained a prominent idea into the late eighteenth century, even as it was challenged by Enlightenment thinkers.

Under the Articles of Confederation the “President of Congress” was the presiding officer of the national government. Largely a ceremonial position, the President of Congress himself was a member of Congress elected by the other delegates to serve as an impartial moderator during Congressional meetings of Congress.

Despite the ceremonial character of the office, several War Department documents reveal that the President of Congress was sometimes referred to as “His Excellency.” John Pierce, clerk at the War Department, addressed Thomas Mifflin in 1784 as “His Excellency the President of Congress.” Joseph Howell, also employed in the War Department, addressed Richard Henry Lee in the same fashion. On other occasions, however, the President of Congress was not addressed by any special title at all, as seen in Pierce’s letter to Nathaniel Gorham in 1786.

In Washington’s first year as President of the United States under the new Constitution, the Senate became embroiled in a month-long debate over the question of what to call Washington. John Adams favored titles such as “His Majesty the President” or “His High Mightiness,” but the more simple “President of the United States” eventually won out. Adam’s opponents on the issue in response jokingly referred to him as “His Rotundity.” Even after the debate was settled, many still referred to Washington as “His Excellency,” as can be seen in a 1791 letter to Washington from General William Darke.