Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 25 January 1792

To George Washington

Jan. 25. 1792.

Th: Jefferson presents his respects to the President of the U.S. and subjoins what he supposes might form a proper introduction to the statement prepared by the Secretary at war. The occasion is so new, that however short the letter proposed, he has no doubt it will need correction both as to the matter and manner.


As the circumstances which have engaged the U.S. in the present Indian war, may some of them be out of the public recollection and others perhaps be unknown, I shall be glad if you will prepare and publish from authentic documents, a statement of those circumstances, as well as of the measures which have been taken from time to time for the reestablishment of peace and friendship. When our constituents are called on for considerable exertions to relieve a part of their fellow citizens suffering under the hand of an enemy, it is desireable for those entrusted with the administration of their affairs to communicate without reserve what they have done to ward off the evil.

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); addressed: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by Lear; interlinear changes in pencil in the hand of Washington as suggested by Hamilton. Entry in SJPL reads: “draught of introduction to Secy. of War’s report.” PrC (DLC). Tr (DNA: RG 59, SDC); lacking the draft and followed by this note: “NB. The Letter above alluded to was sent by the President to the Secy. of War, and will be found recorded in the books of the War Department.”

Washington submitted TJ’s proposed draft to Hamilton, who suggested alterations that the president accepted in full. Hamilton wrote Washington as follows: “Mr. Hamilton presents his respects to the President and submits the following alterations in the Letter.—

instead of ‘I shall be glad’ &c.
to say ‘it is my desire’
or ‘it appears adviseable’ that you prepare &c.
Instead of ‘when our Constituents’ &c.

say         ‘When the Community are called upon for considerable exertions, to relieve a part, which is suffering under the hand of an enemy, it is desireable to manifest that due pains have been taken by those entrusted with the administration of their affairs to avoid the evil.’—It is a doubt whether our constituents be a proper phrase to be used by the President in addressing a subordinate officer” (undated MS in DNA: RG 59, MLR).

TJ’s suggested draft was intended to serve as the text of a prefatory presidential letter to a lengthy public statement by Secretary of War Henry Knox on the background of the Indian war in the Northwest Territory. Knox’s account, dated 26 Jan. 1792, was printed as a broadside under the title The Causes of the existing Hostilities between the United States, and certain Tribes of Indians North-West of the Ohio, stated and explained from official and authentic Documents, and published in obedience to the orders of the President of the United States (Philadelphia, 1792). See also Carter, Terr. Papers description begins The Territorial Papers of the United States, ed. Clarence E. Carter, Washington, 1934-62, 26 vols. description ends , ii, 359–66. Although it was drafted by TJ on 25 Jan. 1792 and then amended by Hamilton, the prefatory letter from Washington to Knox that was printed with Knox’s statement bore the date 16 Jan. 1792. Washington may have deliberately antedated his covering letter to reflect the date on which he first instructed Knox to prepare the report in question (see Dft of Washington to Knox, 16 Jan. 1792 in DLC: Washington Papers). In any event, both the letter and the report were clearly designed to justify administration policy toward the Northwestern Indians and to rally public support for a bill then under consideration by Congress to augment the regular army to five regiments—a bill to which TJ was privately unsympathetic (see notes to TJ to Washington, 16 Dec. 1791; Richard H. Kohn, Eagle and Sword: The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America, 1783–1802 [New York, 1975], p. 119, 346–7).

Index Entries