Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

31.
The War That Refused
to Come to a Boil

While the generals and the President wrangled, the war effort ground to a halt. Until the question of the rank of the major generals was settled in Hamilton's favor, the Federalist majority of the Senate served notice upon President Adams that it would hold up indefinitely the formation of the additional army of 10,000 men, and of course no steps were taken to appoint the officers of the provisional army of 50,000 men. It was becoming a matter of doubt whether there would be any army--other than the 3,500 regulars--for Hamilton, Washington and Pinckney to command.

As a result of these manifold delays, the work of organizing the additional army did not begin until November 10, 1798, when Washington and Hamilton arrived in Philadelphia. A few days later they were joined by Pinckney, whereupon the Triumvirate, as John Adams dubbed the three generals, buckled down to the task of sifting the applications for officers' commissions that had already begun to pour into Philadelphia. Upon this work the generals were engaged for almost five weeks, sitting from ten until three every day and from seven to half-past nine every evening. Each applicant was scrutinized from the point of view of merit, former services, residence (each state was assigned a certain quota of officers) and political opinions.

The last operation consisted of separating the Federalist wheat from the Republican chaff. Washington, in particular, was intent upon preventing Republicans from infiltrating the higher echelons of the army: "You would as soon scrub the blackamore white," he said, "as to change the principles of a profest Democrat." President Adams likewise made politics the touchstone: he refused to approve higher rank for an officer who, the President said, had "said things which would have damned me and all my children and Grand children."1

Among those denied commissions on political grounds was Hamilton's

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