Newspaper: Hamilton letter decries delay on military

From the hometown newspaper of West Point Military Academy:

Right after the Revolutionary War, the nation's threadbare military faced powerful enemies.

Even so, there was strong opposition to a professional military and a military academy. Some feared a professional military would be used by tyrants.

Alexander Hamilton, the inspector general, backed a professional military. He complained about America's unreadiness in a private Dec. 26, 1798, letter that was just sold on June 6 for $14,000 to a private buyer by the noted Ardmore, Pa.-based Raab Collection.

"What malignant influence hangs over our military?" Hamilton wrote to Secretary of War James McHenry.

Plans for a military academy

He saw reluctance to prepare the military for what he thought was going to be conflicts demanding a professional U.S. armed forces and military academy.

Hamilton was aware that returning Revolutionary War officers to active duty was meeting resistance. In his letter, Hamilton pointed out that a general's appointment was delayed, and that other officers willing to serve were being delayed or never getting their commissions.

"I hear nothing of nominations," he complained.

And plans for a military academy were hanging fire.

"I left with General Pinckney a project of a military school, which he was to have sent me. Has he quitted Philadelphia? If so, have you heard anything about this paper? I want it."

What makes this letter so compelling, says Nathan Raab, whose family-run business is noted for its historical expertise, is its timing.

"In the turbulent years following the French Revolution," Raab said, "the U.S. was subjected to costly and humiliating seizures at sea by France and Britain." And by 1798, Raab added, "the situation was intolerable, and in July war with France was looming and an army needed to be recruited and trained."

"This Hamilton letter," Raab says, "is an important part of history."

In 1802, President Jefferson established the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and it opened that year.

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