Settling the Relative Rank of the Three Major Generals

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Source Name Image(s)
CollectionConnecticut Historical Society: Oliver Wolcott Jr. Papers. view image
PublicationGibbs, George, ed. Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and John Adams, Edited from the Papers of Oliver Wolcott, Secretary of the Treasury. 2 Vols. New York: np, 1846. (no image)
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Document Information
Date October 13, 1798
Author Name Timothy Pickering (primary) Location: Trenton
Recipient Name James McHenry (primary)
Summary General Washington has agreed to accept his commission as Commander in Chief so long as Alexander Hamilton is appointed Inspector General and Charles C. Pinckney and Henry Knox appointed as the other two Major Generals. The President doubts the propriety of such appointments arguing that General Knox should have the highest rank. Nevertheless, the Secretary of War should inform the three generals of General Washington's decision
Document Format Copy of Signed Document
Document Notes [not available]
Content Notes [not available]
Related Persons/Groups James McHenry; Timothy Pickering; Oliver Wolcott, Jr.; Benjamin Stoddart; William Wickham; John Adams; George Washington; Alexander Hamilton; Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; Henry Knox; Secretary of War; Secretary of Treasury; Secretary of State; Secretary of Navy; President United States; Major General; commander in chief of new army; ;
Related Places Virginia; New Jersey; Trenton; Mount Vernon;
Keywords nominations to senate; relative rank; ;
Key Phrases [not available]

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Vol. 42 no. 97 47
The undersigned Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of the Navy, have considered the questions upon which the Secretary of War has requested their opinions, in his note dated the 12th of October 1798, and submit the following observations to his consideration.
It appears that the President of the United States by a letter dated the 6th of July 1798 directed the Secretary of War to proceed to Mount Vernon and announce to General Washington his appointment to be the Commander in Chief of the new Army, and to obtain "his advice in the formation of a list of officers." that General Washington accepted of the Commission upon two conditions, one of which was, that the principal officers should be persons whom he should approve __ that he advised the appointment of Alexander Hamilton to be Inspector General with the rank of Major General, and of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney & Henry Knox to be Major Generals; that tis arrangement was approved by the President at least in respect to the characters designated; that in the nominations to he Senate, and in the advice and consent of that body, the arrangement proposed by General Washington was pursued; _ that since the appointments have been made the President has doubted the propriety of the arrangement in respect to the relative rank of the three generals before named; _ that in his letter
letter of August 29th. to the Secretary of War, the President expressed is willingness to decide the question of rank, by dating General Knox's Commission on the first da, General Pinckneys on the second and General Hamiltons on the third; _ that the Secretary of War transmitted to the President on the 10th of September the three commissions, dated according to the foregoing suggestions, and that on the 30t of September, they were returned by the President executed by him, and all dated on the same day.
The only inference which we can draw from the facts before stated, is, that the President consents to the arrangement of rank as proposed by General Washington and pursued in the order of nomination and appointment by the President and Senate.
This being the conclusion which we make it is our opinion, that the Secretary of War, ought to transmit the commissions and inform the generals, that in his opinion the rank is definitively settled, according to the original arrangement.
We are of opinion that it will not be respectful to the President to address him again on a subject, which appears to have been attended wit difficulties in his mind, and the discussion of which can produce no public advantage; we also think that no communication of our sentiments will be necessary unless
unless the Secretary of War shall discover hereafter, that we have mistaken the Presidents intentions, in which case it will be proper, that we should share in the censure.
We are respectfully,
Your obedient servants
Timothy Pickering
Oliver Wolcott
Ben. Stoddard
Trenton October 13th 1798.