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Thomas Jefferson signed Act of Congress approving four new Brigadier Generals to defend the frontier; the new Legion became America’s first standing army
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it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint such number of brigadier generals as may be conducive to the good of the public service. Provided the whole number appointed or to be appointed, shall not exceed four.

Congress passed this bill after General Arthur St. Clair’s disastrous defeat at the Wabash River.

THOMAS JEFFERSON. Printed Document Signed, as Secretary of State, “An Act supplemental to the act for making farther and more effectual provision for the protection of the frontiers of the United States,” Philadelphia, March 28, 1792. 1 p., 9½ x 15¼ in.

Inventory #24811       Price: $18,000

Historical Background

The United States was born with a suspicion of standing armies, as the support of British armies in North America had been a major issue leading to the American Revolution. After the war ended, the Articles of Confederation government scaled back the Continental Army to a very small force. Then, the new U.S. Constitution gave the President the power to command the army and Congress the power to finance it but said nothing of continuing it indefinitely. On the final day of its first session, Sept. 29, 1789, Congress passed an Act for the Establishment of the Troops, allowing the president to call up state militias “for the purpose of protecting the inhabitants of the frontiers of the United States from the hostile incursions of the Indians…” However, the act was to continue only “until the end of the next session of Congress, and no longer.” The U.S. Army had a total of only about 800 men, including officers, at the time, which was also a key factor in the crafting of the 2nd amendment (the proposed Bill of Rights was passed only four days earlier: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”)

General St. Clair’s disastrous defeat in November 1791 led to a reevaluation of the ability of state militias to defend the nation. Congress approved Secretary of War Henry Knox’s recommendation to establish a Legion of the United States; this act is a part of the creation of that Legion (which in 1796 was reformulated into the first four regiments of the U.S. Army.)

As early as March 9, 1792, President Washington consulted with his department heads about federal military appointments, discussing eight possible commanders. Around that same time, Washington prepared an annotated list of sixteen officers throughout the country, as low as brigadiers, to consider for commander in chief. On April 9, 1792, he nominated Anthony Wayne for promotion to major general and command of the army, and Daniel Morgan (1736-1802) of Virginia, Marinus Willet (1740-1830) of New York, John Brooks (1752-1825) of Massachusetts, and James Wilkinson (1757-1825) of Kentucky for promotion to brigadier general. The Senate quickly confirmed Wayne. Initially having sense enough to refuse Wilkinson’s confirmation, the Senate relented on April 16 (The kindest thing we can say about Wilkinson is that he, like Aaron Burr, was never convicted of treason). Morgan, Willet, and Brooks were all confirmed, but they each declined. In their places Washington nominated Otho H. Williams (1749-1794) of Maryland, William Hull (1753-1825) of Massachusetts, and Rufus Putnam (1738-1824) of the Northwest Territory. Williams and Hull also declined.

On May 2, 1792, Congress passed another Militia Act, which, for a period of two years, authorized the president to call out state militias “whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe… [and] whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings…”

Economic Consequences

These nascent moves to defend the United States had far-reaching economic effects. When Alexander Hamilton had presented to Congress his Report on Manufactures on December 5, 1791, Congress promptly tabled it. Though it is now acknowledged as one of the greatest of American economic papers, Hamilton recognized that Congress did not have the appetite for another major debate on economic policy. (He had won a hard-fought battle for the Assumption Plan less than two years earlier.) But in March 1792, when Congress requested ideas to raise additional revenues needed to defend the nation’s western frontiers from British forces and their Indian allies, Hamilton proposed most of the tariff measures he had come up with in his Manufactures report. On May 2, 1792, Congress passed “An Act for raising a farther sum of Money for the Protection of the Frontiers,” which enacted import tariffs to fund the army, thus also achieving many of Hamilton’s measures to boost American manufactures.

A further act, passed May 8, relied on the individual states to organize, train, and supply the militia. Most importantly, it provided for the conscription of every “free able-bodied white male citizen” between the ages of 18 and 45 into a local militia company. (This was later expanded to all males, regardless of race, between the ages of 18 and 54 in 1862.) The federal standing army remained relatively small through the nineteenth century, despite repeated demonstrations of the inefficiency and inadequacy of relying on state militias to meet the manpower needs of an army.

Jefferson-Signed Acts

According to the provisions of the 1789 “Act to provide for the safe keeping of the Acts, Records, and Seal of the United States, and for other purposes,” the Secretary of State was responsible for receiving signed bills, orders, and resolutions from the President.” It also directed the Secretary to ensure that all such acts were published in at least three public newspapers and to deliver two printed copies “duly authenticated” to the governors of each state. This copy is one of those authenticated by Jefferson as Secretary of State and sent to one of the governors. Kentucky was not admitted as the 15th state until June 1, 1792, so Jefferson very likely signed only 28 copies of this Act.

Condition

Pale rectangular stain to top margin. Otherwise fine.

Complete Transcript

SECOND CONGRESS of the UNITED STATES

At the First Session, begun and held in the City of Philadelphia, on Monday the twenty-sixth

of March, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two.

An Act supplemental to the act for making farther and more effectual Provision

for the Protection of the Frontiers of the United States

BE it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint such number of brigadier generals as may be conducive to the good of the public service. Provided the whole number appointed or to be appointed, shall not exceed four.

                                                                 JONATHAN TRUMBULL, Speaker of the House

                                                                                    of Representatives

                                                                 JOHN ADAMS, Vice-President of the United States;

                                                                                    and President of the Senate

Approved, March the twenty-eighth, 1792

            GEO WASHINGTON, President of the United States.

Deposited among the Rolls in the office of the Secretary of State.

                                                                        Thomas Jefferson Secretary of State.


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