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Special Message

December 12, 1839

To the Senate of the United States:

I nominate the persons named in the accompanying list for promotion and appointment in the Army to the several grades annexed to their names, as proposed by the Secretary of War.


WAR DEPARTMENT, December 11, 1819 .


SIR: In submitting the accompanying list* of promotions and appointments, which I respectfully recommend for your approval, I beg leave to call your attention to that part of it which relates to the Quartermaster's Department.

* Omitted.

The seventh section of the act of 2d of March, 1821, fixing the military peace establishment, provides "that there shall be one Quartermaster-General; that there shall be two quartermasters with the rank, pay, and emoluments of majors of cavalry, and ten assistant quartermasters, who shall, in addition to their pay in the line, receive a sum not less than ten nor more than twenty dollars per month, to be regulated by the Secretary of War."

The third section of the act of the 18th May, 1826, provides for "two additional quartermasters and ten assistant quartermasters, to be taken from the line of the Army, who shall have the same rank and compensation as are provided for like grades by the act of the 2d March, 1821," above quoted; that is to say, the two additional quartermasters shall have the "rank, pay, and emoluments of majors of cavalry," and the ten additional assistant quartermasters "shall, in addition to their pay in the line, receive a sum not less than $10 nor more than $20 per month."

The ninth section of the act of the 5th July, 1838, provides "that the President of the United States be authorized, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to add to the Quartermaster's Department not exceeding two assistant quartermasters-general with the rank of colonel, two deputy quartermasters-general with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and eight assistant quartermasters with the rank of captain; that the assistant quartermasters now in service shall have the same rank as is provided by this act for those hereby authorized: * * * Provided , That all the appointments in the Quartermaster's Department shall be made from the Army, * * * and that promotions in said Department shall take place as in regiments and. corps."

These are believed to be the only laws now in force which provide for the organization of the Quartermaster's Department, and they are here cited with a view to a full and clear understanding of the question of precedence of rank between certain officers of that Department.

Prior to the act of the 5th of July, 1838, last quoted, the assistant quartermasters were selected from the several regiments of the line to perform duty in the Quartermaster's Department. They were never commissioned in the Department; they merely received letters of appointment as assistant quartermasters, and were allowed the additional pay provided by the act of the 2d March, 1821, and 16th May, 1826. They held no rank in the Department separate from their rank in the line, and were liable to be returned to their regiments according to the wants of the service or at the pleasure of the President. In completing the organization of the Department provided by the act of 5th July, 1838, several officers were selected from regiments for appointment as assistant quartermasters whose lineal rank was greater than that held by the assistant quartermasters then doing duty in the Department, and on the 7th of July, the list being nearly completed, it was submitted to the Senate for confirmation. All the assistant quartermasters thus submitted to the Senate were confirmed to take rank from the 7th of July, and in the order they were nominated, which was according to their seniority in the line and agreeably to what was conceived to be the intention of the law. Had the opposite course been pursued, the lieutenants serving in the Department must either have outranked some of the captains selected or else the selections must have been confined altogether to the subaltern officers of the Army. It will appear, therefore, that the relative rank of these officers has been properly settled, both by a fair construction of the law and the long-established regulation of the service which requires that "in cases where commissions of the same grade and date interfere a retrospect is to be had to former commissions in actual service at the time of appointment. " But as several of the assistant quartermasters who were doing duty in the Department prior to the act of the 5th of July, 1838, have felt themselves aggrieved by this construction of the law, and have urged a consideration of their claims to priority of rank, I have felt it my duty to lay their communications before you, with a view to their being submitted to the Senate with the accompanying list,* should you think proper to do so.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

* Omitted.


Martin van Buren, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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