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Special Message

August 02, 1861

To the Senate of the United States:

The resolution of your honorable body which is herewith returned has been submitted to the Secretary of the Navy, who has made the report upon it which I have the honor to inclose herewith.

I have the honor to add that the same rule stated by the Secretary of the Navy is found in section 5 of the Army Regulations published in 1861. It certainly is competent for Congress to change this rule by law, but it is respectfully suggested that a rule of so long standing and of so extensive application should not be hastily changed, nor by any authority less than the full lawmaking power.


NAVY DEPARTMENT, August 2, 1861 .


SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the resolution of the Senate of the 31st ultimo, in relation to the recent nominations of lieutenants of marines, which nominations were directed to "be returned to the President and he be informed that the Senate adhere to the opinion expressed in the resolution passed by them on the 19th of July instant, and that the Senate are of opinion that rank and position in the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps should not be decided by lot, but that, all other things being equal, preference should be given to age."

If I understand correctly the resolution of the Senate, it is an expression of opinion on the part of that body against the Army Regulations, which are made applicable to the Marine Corps--regulations that have been in existence almost from the commencement of the Government.

In the published edition of Army Regulations when Mr. Calhoun was Secretary of War, section I, article 3, it is expressly stated that the questions respecting the rank of officers arising from the sameness of dates in commissions of the same grade shall be decided, first, by a reference to the relative rank of the parties in the regular forces (including the United States Marine Corps) at the time the present appointments or promotions were made; second, by reference to former rank therein taken away by derangement or disbandment; third, by reference to former rank therein given up by resignation; fourth, by lottery.

And in the last edition of Army Regulations, before me, published in 1857, it is specified in article 2, section 5, that "when commissions are of the same date the rank is to be decided between officers of the same regiment or corps by the order of appointment; between officers of different regiments or corps, first, by rank in actual service when appointed; second, by former rank and service in the Army or Marine Corps; third, by lottery among such as have not been in the military service of the United States."

The rule here laid down governed in the appointment of the lieutenants of marines who have been nominated the present session to the Senate. Their order of rank was determined by lottery, agreeably to the published Army Regulations, and applied by those regulations specifically to the Marine Corps.

The gentlemen thus appointed in conformity to regulations have been mustered into service and done duty under fire. One of the number has fallen in the rank and place assigned him according to those regulations, and to set them aside and make a new order in conflict with the regulations will, I apprehend, be deemed, if not ex post facto, almost invidious.

In this matter the Department has no feeling, but it is desirable that it should be distinctly settled whether hereafter the Army Regulations are to govern in the question of rank in the Marine Corps or whether they are to be set aside by resolution of the Senate.

I have the honor to return the papers and subscribe myself, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Abraham Lincoln, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/202149

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