Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to George Mathews, 25 September 1794

To George Mathews1

War department September 25th, 1794


In the absence of the Secretary at War,2 I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letters to his department, of the 5th, 19th, and 30th of August3 and to reply to such parts as are the most pressing, referring the others to the return of that Officer.

Among the Posts which have been established that at Doctor’s Town creates a question in consequence of Lieut. Colonel Gaithers4 information, that it is within the Indian Boundary.5 This is a matter which ought to be unequivocally ascertained, and if found to be within the Indian line, or if it be even doubtful, whether that be the case, the Post must be immediately removed. It is deemed essential that no encroachment should take place. And your Excellency is relied upon for a strict and scrupulous adherence to this principle.

Under the circumstances which led to it the President has thought proper to authorize the adoption by the United States of the new troop ordered by you, into service, from the time of its commencement, and to continue until the first of November ensuing, when it is to be disbanded.6 And you are at liberty, if the state of things shall render it in your judgment essential to substitute at that time a company of Infantry for the same service. Corps of Horse upon the terms on which that in question is engaged, are expensive in the extreme, and in a much greater proportion compared with Infantry, than any supposeable superiority of usefulness can justify. Indeed it would require a Treasury much better supplied than that of the United States to support the expence of a multiplication or extension of such Corps. Consequently that multiplication or extension would tend to defeat its own object—for our instruments of defence to be durable must be relative to our means of supporting them. And when we find as in the instance of the insurrection now existing in the western parts of Pennsylvania, that those for whose immediate benefit the objects of military expenditure occur, are among the first to resist even to violence the necessary means of defraying them—it is easy to appreciate the perplexing dilemma, to which the Government is reduced between the duty and the means of affording protection; and the necessity consequently of oœconomy in the modes of effecting it.

Your Excellency is pleased to express your concern at being so repeatedly compelled to solicit protection for the State of Georgia.7 This is not understood as implying any want of due disposition on the part of the Executive of this Government to afford all the protection which is within the compass of the means placed within its power—having regard to all the objects which along a very extended frontier, equally demand attention. It is not doubted that you render justice in this respect to the views of the Executive.

But the observation you have made in this particular, naturally leads to another, which calls for the most serious attention of the Governments of the States exposed to Indian depredations. It is this that there is a reciprocal duty in the case. The obligation upon the United States to afford adequate protection to the inhabitants of the frontiers, is no doubt of the highest and most sacred kind. But there is a duty no less strong upon those inhabitants to avoid giving occasion to hostilities, by an irregular and improper conduct and upon the local Governments sincerely and effectually to punish and repress instances of such conduct, and the spirit which produces them. If these inhabitants can with impunity thwart all the measures of the United States for restoring or preserving peace—if they can with impunity commit depredations, and outrages upon the Indians, and that in violation of the faith of the United States, pledged not only in their general treaties, but even in the special (and among all Nations peculiarly sacred) case of a safe conduct, as in the instance of the attack upon the Indians while encamped within our protection on the tenth of May last.8

Can it be surprising if such circumstances should abate the alacrity of the national Councils to encounter those heavy expences, which the protection of the frontiers occasions, and of the readiness of the Citizens of the United States, distant from the scenes of danger to acquiesce in the burdens they produce?

It is not meant by these remarks to diminish the force of the excuse, within due limits, which is drawn from the conduct of the Indians, towards the frontier inhabitants. It cannot be denied that frequent and great provocations to a spirit of animosity and revenge are given by them; but a candid and impartial survey of the events which have from time to time occurred, can leave no doubt that injuries and provocations have been too far mutual—that there is much to blame in the conduct of the frontier inhabitants, as well as in that of the Indians. And the result of a full examination must be, that unless means to restrain, by punishing the violences which those inhabitants are in the habit of perpetrating against the Indians, can be put in execution, all endeavours to preserve peace with them, must be for ever frustrated.

An example, worthy of imitation, in its spirit, has lately been given, by the Surrender to Governor Blount of some Indians who lately committed a murder upon one John Ish, an inhabitant of the southwestern Territory—and who have been tried and executed.9 The record of such an example of justice and fair dealing,10 will give occasion to us to blush—if we can cite no instance of reciprocity amidst the numerous occasions which are given for the exercise of it.

These reflections, Your Excellency may be assured, are merely designed to present to consideration some very important truths; Truths, a due attention to which are of the most serious concern to those States which have an exposed frontier. To give full weight to their claims upon the exertions of the Union to afford the requisite protection, it is of great moment to satisfy the United States, that the necessity for them has not been created, or promoted by a culpable temper, not sufficiently restrained, among those to whom the protection is immediately to be extended.

The President learns with great pleasure, the measures your Excellency had begun and was about to pursue for the removal of the settlers under Genl: Clarke.11 It is impossible to conceive a settlement more unjustifiable in its pretexts, or more dangerous in its principle, than that which he is attempting. It is not only a high handed usurpation of the rights of the General and State Governments, and a most unwarrantable encroachment upon those of the Indians, but proceeding upon the idea of a seperate and independent Government, to be erected upon a Military basis, it is essentially hostile to our Republican systems of Government, and is pregnant with incalculable mischiefs. It deeply concerns the great interests of the Country that such an establishment should not be permitted to take root, and that the example should be checked by adequate punishment; in doing which, no time is to be lost, for such is the nature of the establishment, that it may be expected rapidly to attain to a formidable magnitude, involving great expence and trouble to subvert it.

The President therefore depends absolutely upon measures equally prompt and efficacious to put an end to it.

Mr. Habersham Agent for supplies12 is instructed to co-operate and the Governor of South Carolina is requested13 to afford upon your application the aid of the Militia of that State, if circumstances, as does not appear probable, should require it.

No agreement or arrangement which may be made, or pretended to be made between these settlers and the Indians, ought to be suffered to make any alteration in the plan of suppressing the settlement, for no such agreement or arrangement can possibly be legal, or considering the manner in which the settlement has been commenced can without affording a most pernicious example receive the future sanction of Government.

You desire instructions with regard to the Prisoners that may be made, in the event of the employment of force.14 You will be pleased to cause them to be delivered over to the custody of the Judiciary, and in preference to that of the United States; as their laws define and prescribe particular punishments in such cases.15

LC, RG 107, War Office Letter Book, 1791–1794, National Archives; copy, RG 233, Messages from the President, Third Congress, National Archives.

1For background to this letter, see Edmund Randolph to William Bradford, H, and Henry Knox, July 11, 1794; H to George Washington, July 13, 1794; Randolph to H, September 6, 1794; Joseph Howell, Jr., to H, September 18, 1794.

An entry in JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends for September 22, 1794, reads as follows: “Approved drafts of Letters to the Governors of South Carolina & Georgia submitted by the Secretary of the Treasury” (JPP description begins “Journal of the Proceedings of the President,” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 309). H’s letter to William Moultrie has not been found.

2Knox was in Maine on private business. See Washington to H, August 12, 1794, note 1.

3Mathews’s letter to Knox of August 5, 1794, has not been found. His two letters to Knox of August 19 and 30 are printed in ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 495, 497.

4Lieutenant Colonel Henry Gaither was the commanding officer of the United States troops in Georgia.

5This is a reference to an attempt by some citizens of Georgia to establish an independent government on territory belonging to the Creeks. See Randolph to Bradford, H, and Knox, July 11, 1794; H to Washington, July 13, 1794; Randolph to H, September 6, 1794.

6On August 19, 1794, Mathews wrote to Knox: “Enclosed is a copy of my instructions to Captain [Jonas] Fauche, who commands the troop I informed you, in my letter of the 5th instant, I had called into service. It will be necessary, I conceive, for the captain to be reinforced with another troop, which I shall immediately order, and with which I am hopeful the objects of his command will be effected; should it prove otherwise, I shall lose no time in having recourse to a sufficient military force…” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 495).

7No letter has been found in which such a request was made, but see Mathews to Knox, August 19, 30, 1794 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 495, 497).

8For a description of this attack on the Indians, see ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 482–87.

9On September 23, 1794, the [Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser reprinted an article from the Knoxville Gazette of August 4, 1794, which stated that on July 24, 1794, “a party of Creeks killed John Ish, at his plough, in his field, within 180 yards of his own block-house and scalped him. Ish lived eighteen miles below this place [Knoxville] … he has left a wife and eight children, the eldest not eleven years of age.” On July 29 Governor William Blount of the Southwest Territory ordered “the trial of a Creek Indian apprehended on suspicion of being guilty of the Murder of John Ish a citizen of the United States” (Carter, Territorial Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States (Washington, 1934–). description ends , IV, 461).

10This is a reference to the fairness of the trial which the Indian (not Indians, as H states) received. According to the record of this trial, which was held August 1–2, 1794, “A bill being found by the Grand Jury, the Creek Indian, Abongpohigo … was brought before the court [of Oyer and Terminer].… The prisoner was then charged on his indictment which being explained to him by the interpreter he confessed the fact. But the court being willing to afford the prisoner the benefit of a trial by jury, (permitted him to withdraw his plea) and plead not guilty: whereupon a traverse jury was empannelled and sworn in due form, the prisoner being first informed of his right of challenge. The prisoner having counsel assigned him; the Attorney General [Archibald Roane] proceeded upon the trial, and the jury, upon the fullest testimony, brought into court a verdict, ‘guilty of the murder of John Ish, as charged in the bill of indictment.’ Whereupon the prisoner being asked, What he had to offer why sentence of the law should not be pronounced upon him? he replied he had not any thing.… The judge then proceeded to pronounce sentence of death in the usual form.

“In consequence of the above sentence, the Creek Indian, Abongpohigo, was executed this afternoon, at four o’clock.” (Dunlap and Claypoole’s [Philadelphia] American Daily Advertiser, August 26, 1794.)

11On August 19, 1794, Mathews wrote to Knox: “On the 14th July I received a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Gaither, stating that Elijah Clarke, late a Major General in the militia of this State, with a party of men, had encamped on the southwest side of the Oconee.… On the 24th, General [Jared] Irwin sent a couple of officers to Clarke, with orders for him to move off immediately which he positively refused; and, on the 28th, I issued a proclamation, forbidding such unlawful proceedings. I also wrote to one of our judges to issue his warrant, and have Clarke apprehended…” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 495). Mathews’s proclamation is printed in Dunlap and Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser, September 4, 1794. On August 30, 1794, Mathews sent to Knox a copy of Judge Richard Walton’s charge to the grand jury of Richmond County, Georgia, on the attempt of Clark and his followers to establish settlements on Indian lands (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 497–99). Randolph informed Washington on October 6, 1794, that Clark had “abandoned his expedition in Georgia, and, under the influence of General [James] Gunn and Mr. [Thomas Petters] Carnes, has come in, with all his followers” (AL, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives).

12John Habersham was collector of customs at Savannah. See >Randolph to Bradford, H, and Knox, July 11, 1794, note 2.

13H’s letter to William Moultrie has not been found. See note 1.

14The request was made in the letter which Mathews wrote to Knox on August 30, 1794 (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 497).

15“An Act to regulate Trade and Intercourse with the Indian Tribes” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 329–32 [March 1, 1793]). Section 5 of this act reads: “That if any such citizen or inhabitant shall make a settlement on lands belonging to any Indian tribe, or shall survey such lands, or designate their boundaries, by marking trees, or otherwise, for the purpose of settlement, he shall forfeit a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars, nor less than one hundred dollars, and suffer imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, in the discretion of the court, before whom the trial shall be: And it shall, moreover, be lawful for the President of the United States, to take such measures, as he may judge necessary, to remove from lands belonging to any Indian tribe, any citizens or inhabitants of the United States, who have made, or shall hereafter make, or attempt to make a settlement thereon.”

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