Red Hook, N.Y. April 6, 1812. pp. plus integral address leaf. Folio. Old folds. Small loss to address leaf from wax seal, not affecting text. Minor soiling. Very good plus. In a green half cloth clamshell case, gilt paper label. Item #WRCAM43011
John Armstrong writes to Gen. John Smith, detailing a New York-based plan to disrupt President Madison's plans for the 1812 election and get DeWitt Clinton elected vice president. Armstrong was a Madison supporter, and his letter relates with some pleasure the details of this unsuccessful plot.
John Armstrong, Jr. (1758-1843) served as aide-de-camp to Gen. Hugh Mercer and Gen. Horatio Gates during the American Revolution. Encouraged by other members of Gates' staff, he anonymously penned the controversial "Newburgh Addresses," calling for Congress to address the Army's grievances, particularly a lack of pay. This was widely interpreted as an affront to Gen. Washington's authority, and though Washington understood Armstrong's motives and forgave him, a stigma nonetheless haunted the rest of Armstrong's career, hampering his later efforts to run for office. He served as Minister to France from 1804 to 1810, again involving himself in controversial pamphleteering. Though he was snubbed by the Madison government upon his return to the U.S., he supported war with Britain and thus supported the government; as a reward for his support he was appointed Secretary of War in 1813. Although Armstrong succeeded in organizing and administrating, his tendency toward micromanagement put him into direct conflict with his commanders in the field. By 1814 relations were strained not only with military commanders, but with the President and Secretary of State as well. When Washington, D.C. was burned by the British, the city's inhabitants blamed Armstrong for lax defense and called for his replacement; instead, he resigned in disgust, which some took as a tacit admission of guilt.
In this letter Armstrong relates news he received second-hand regarding the activities of Thomas Sammons, a U.S. Congressman from New York. Sammons was sent to Albany to conjure support for DeWitt Clinton's run for the presidency, but the legislature was dismissed before he arrived. The nomination, it seems, was intended to scare Madison into taking Clinton as his vice president (George Clinton, DeWitt Clinton's uncle, served as Madison's vice president during his first term, before dying in office in 1813). Madison was apparently not frightened enough, as he ran with Elbridge Gerry as his vice presidential nominee for his second term.
"It is probable that you are acquainted with the mission of [Thomas] Sammons from Washington to Albany; if you are not, you may be amused with the following anecdote. The plenipo has a brother who lives at Rhinebeck Flatts, with whom he stopped for the night. Soon after his arrival, the Albany stage arrived & brought the news of the prorogation of the legislature 'till May next. This intelligence threw the old man so entirely of[f] his guard that he swore it was done not so much to repeal the bank, as to defeat the object of his mission, and then proceeded to details as follows. Viz: that he had been sent to Albany with a proposition from the mal-contents at Washington to the legislature of the state, the object of which was, to obtain for Mr. C. [i.e. DeWitt Clinton] a nomination as president; that they had hopes that Maryland & Pennsylvania would give him their support also that to secure the latter, Mr. Gregg must be named as V.P. & that the federalists would unite in this arrangement.
"When the brother ventured to raise some objections to this plan and the Col. had a little cooled, he went on to explain the secret which lay at the bottom of all this: 'We do not expect to carry him as President, but as V.P. Madison will be frightened at the competition & will engage his friends to do it away by taking D.W. as successor to his uncle. We waited on the latter to know whether he would serve, and having got his answer, I set out to put the Albany people in motion according to previous agreement.' These facts the brother has communicated to such as he thought he could safely confide them & from one of these I received them. By the bye, this plan exactly comports with that you suggest as going on at Washington. I have seen no one directly from Albany, but M. Rudd of Poughkeepsie who left that a week ago says, that had Sammons arrived before the prorogation, his mission would have failed & that the present legislature would not have made a counter-nomination. The prorogation will make another scism [sic] in our party here. You have seen the pro & the con on that subject. The mass of the party will I think be with the Governor [i.e. Daniel D. Tompkins]."
Armstrong, who was pro-war, closes with a remark on the impending war with Britain: "We have just heard that you are about to send another minister to England; if so, the clouds must be scattering and your war business will require no great effort to manage it."