1-281 To Brigadier General John McA. Palmer, October 21, 1929

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: October 21, 1929

To Brigadier General John McA. Palmer

October 21, 1929 Fort Benning, Georgia

Dear John:

Appendix II came, and before I got around to acknowledging it, I was called away by Mrs. Coles’ sudden illness, followed by her death. I am very grateful to you for serving me again as you did last Friday, and I want you to know that I am deeply appreciative.1 I was sorry that I had no opportunity to talk to you, but even had there been an opportunity I could not have made much use of it.

Naturally I was much interested in Appendix II, and the generous compliment in your postscript was certainly noted. If I could combine the Congress and the War Department in your person, it would be smooth sailing. Your expressed opinion, however, is deeply appreciated.2 The essence of the quotation from Washington seems to be that there is a middle ground in the matter, just as there is in almost every plan for the control of human affairs. Unfortunately, the weaker sisters are the loudest talkers, the other end of the list naturally having to maintain a tactful silence.3

Please tell Mrs. Palmer how sorry I was not to be able to see more of her, and that I am grateful for her presence on Friday.

Affectionately yours,

G. C. M.

Document Copy Text Source: John Mc.A Palmer Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Document Format: Typed letter signed.

1. Marshall’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Walter (Elizabeth Pendleton) Coles, died in Lexington, Virginia, on October 16. The burial took place in Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, October 18.

2. In Appendix II (“The Problem of Promotion and Its Influence on Military Efficiency and National Policy”) Palmer asserted that promotion strictly by seniority meant that only old men attained high rank, and that it was generally necessary to replace them with younger officers when war broke out. Moreover, with opportunities for advancement by merit precluded, officers sought political and legislative support for expanding the Regular Army rather than building a sound military system based upon a small professional force and a “well-regulated militia." (Palmer, Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, pp. 397-401.)

Palmer mentioned Fort Leavenworth graduates Marshall and Hugh Drum as representing “a new type in the American Army”—the thoroughly trained General Staff officer. (p. 298.)

3. Palmer’s Appendix I quotes in full George Washington’s “Sentiments on a Peace Establishment”—inclosed in a letter to Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, May 2, 1783. The following passage on promotion by seniority is quoted again at the beginning of Appendix II: “That it is a good general rule admits of no doubt, but that it should be an invariable one, is in my opinion wrong. It cools, if it does not destroy, the incentives to military Pride and Heroic Actions. On the one hand, the sluggard, who keeps within the verge of duty, has nothing to fear. On the other hand, the enterprising spirit has nothing to expect, whereas if promotion was the sure reward of Merit, all would contend for Rank and the service would be benefited by their struggles for Promotion." (Ibid., p. 397.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), p. 348.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 1-281

Rights: Public Information