Outrage at Intrigue Surrounding Relative Rank of Generals; Assumption of Responsibility for Issue by President Adams

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Source Name Image(s)
CollectionMassachusetts Historical Society: John Adams Papers view image
CollectionMassachusetts Historical Society: John Adams Papers (no image)
PublicationAdams, Charles Francis. The Works of John Adams. Boston, Little, Brown and Co.,1854. (no image)
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Document Information
Date August 29, 1798
Author Name John Adams (primary) Location: Quincy
Recipient Name James McHenry (primary)
Summary Adams states that he cannot share McHenry's stated sentiments on relative rank to General Knox, as he cannot agree with them. Affirms his belief that the law dictates that rank between officers commissioned on the same day should be determined based on prior service. Says that he made the nominations based on the list Washington sent him, and had hoped that rank would be worked out between the men. Did not believe the possibility of Hamilton's outranking any other major general was even an issue. Says he is willing to write Knox's commission on the first day, Pinckney's on the second, and Hamilton's on the third; if, otherwise, all commissions are written the same day, he says Hamilton will be outranked by the others, as well as by [Edward] Hand and [Henry] Lee [III]. Says that he [Adams] has never settled an issue of rank, and would gladly leave it and the office of president to Washington, but will not allow the president's responsibility be executed by someone [i.e. Washington] who is not holding the office. Says that the responsibility is, and must be his; disdains the amount of intrigue which has resulted from this issue, and reaffirms his opinion that the relative rank should be Knox, Pinckney, Hamilton. Extends sympathies for the ill health of McHenry and his family; notes Mrs. Adams' extreme sickness as well.
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Document Notes Copy enclosed in McHenry to Washington, 09/10/1798. 2 COLLECTIONS: one with photocopy images, one without images. DEII Candidacy: This letter substantively reviews the ongoing relative rank issue, a major point of contention between Washington, Adams, Knox, Pinckney, and Hamilton, and concerns the power of the president to determine such things. Clear tension and large issues are present.
Content Notes [not available]
Related Persons/Groups James McHenry; John Adams; Henry Knox; George Washington; Hamilton; Commissioners; General Edward Hand; General Lee; Pinckney; Abigail Adams; ;
Related Places Quincy; Boston; ;
Keywords opinions; nominations; order of nomination; rank; office; power and authority; ill health; mutual and amiable accommodation; ;
Key Phrases "My opinion is and always has been clear, that as the law now stands, the order of nominations or of recording has no weight or effect: but that officers appointed on the same day, in whatever order, have a Right to rank according to antecedent Services."
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