From time to time, my posts on the American Revolution and the part played in it by my Ogden and Dayton ancestors have exposed how political maneuvers and personal connections had at least as much significance as battlefield prowess in determining rank and status in Washington's army It was a time, after all, of big fish in small ponds, when one's personal interests were often conflated with one's public responsibilities. Robert Morris, the "Financier of the Revolution", unabashedly conducted his own private transactions on the very ships he engaged in his official capacity to import war material (with Congress conveniently underwriting the transportation expenses).
It was how things got done in a time when the ability to amass wealth was both admired and desired by ambitious men who served the rebellion, be they in Congress, as procurement agents, or in the military. Personal relationships and the ability to curry favor, in addition to delivering battlefield results, were the keys to advancement in the Continental Army. Those who were inept at both were gradually weeded out, while those whose pride or principles prevented them from playing politics became alienated and marginalized. Aaron Burr and Benedict Arnold are prominent examples of this latter class of officer, but as our recent examination of the court martial of Colonel Matthias Ogden reveals, such resentments extended to junior officers as well as those of high rank.
Perhaps these individuals found the politics of patronage distasteful: the 18th-century equivalent to the vulgar, yet apt observation of one of my uncles that "it's not who you know; it's who you blow." Perhaps they lacked the skill and sensitivity to practice the art effectively, as clearly was the case with George Olney, whose distaste for excessive drinking at Washington's table lead to an undiplomatic refusal to hoist a glass with the General. There are plenty among us, lord knows, who are much happier as our own bosses and would self-destruct in an hierarchical corporate structure. Unless entrusted with an independent command, however, that opportunity rarely exists in the military, and Washington's army was no exception.
The New Jersey Brigade, for example, never had more than four battalions during the war and two of these were commanded by my ancestors Matthias Ogden and Elias Dayton. Another regiment (Spenser's Additional Continental Regiment) was lead by one of Ogden's brothers-in-law. Col. Ogden's little brother Aaron was initially paymaster of the 1st New Jersey regiment, although he was appointed before Matthias joined the battalion. In Col. Dayton's case, his son Jonathan owed his appointment as paymaster in the 3rd New Jersey to the skillful art of patronage practiced by the father.
In the spring of 1776, the newly established 3rd New Jersey was diverted from its march to the relief of the faltering Canada Expedition to help General Schuyler's Northern Department secure the Mohawk Valley. Col. Dayton subsequently repaired old Fort Stanwix and renamed it for his boss. The General was clearly touched by the gesture, and fully aware of the politics involved for all concerned as evidenced by this letter to Colonel Dayton:
German Flats, August 8th, 1776
I thank you for the honour you have done me in calling the fort (Stanwix) by my name. As I cannot, consistent with delicacy, announce this to Congress, would it not be right for you to do it, and to General Washington?
It does not appear to me from the Resolutions of Congress, that I am empowered to appoint paymasters to the regiments. I shall soon be informed of their intention; & if the appointment is in me I shall certainly confer the office to your son.
Adieu, my dear Colonel; I am, with every friendly wish, your obedient and humble Servant,
The new name of the fort didn't stand the test of time, but Ensign Jonathan Dayton was subsequently promoted on August 26th, 1776 to paymaster in his father's regiment. Apparently whatever influence Col. Dayton may have had with General Schuyler or others in a position to be helpful to his interests, was sufficient to bring about the desired advancement for his son.
Elias Dayton continued to promote his son Jonathan's interests after the war, declining to serve as a New Jersey delegate to the Constitutional Convention in favor of his son, who as a result became the youngest Signer of that founding document of our nation.
There is no evidence that young Dayton, or Aaron Ogden for that matter, served with anything less than distinction in the field. True, there were concerns raised by his political opponents after the war that Jonathan Dayton may have been involved with the illicit and rampant "London Trade" under flag of truce with Royalist Staten Island, and hence with occupied New York. Both father and son had been tasked at various times with obtaining intelligence and running spy networks across the narrow channel, and if this put one or another of them in position to benefit personally from any associated smuggling activity, at least it may be said of them that they were in good company with the likes of Robert Morris.
Nonetheless, public profiteering continued to bedevil Jonathan Dayton after the war when he entered politics. As Speaker of the House he engaged in speculation with public funds. He was accused of bringing home more than his district's fair share of the bacon, with over $1,000 secured in monthly pensions for former army officers in Elizabeth (many of whom were close friends and relations). But then, Elizabeth for reasons of power and patronage as well as patriotic sentiment had a very high percentage of such officers in the service to begin with. His ultimate downfall was his too close association with Aaron Burr and his imperialist adventures, but he was still around to welcome his old comrade in arms Lafayette on his triumphal American tour (though the physical strain and exposure of the visit proved too much for Dayton as he died shortly thereafter).