Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Henry Knox’s Heads of Instructions for the Commissioners to the Western Indians, [ca. 16 February 1793]

Henry Knox’s Heads of Instructions for the
Commissioners to the Western Indians

[ca. 16 Feb. 1793]

The Commissioners1 to be fully informed upon the subject of all the Treaties which have been held by the United States, or which have been held under their authority with the Northern and western Indians—particularly of the Treaty of Fort Harmar in the year 1789, and of the boundaries then described. That the Commissioners possess themselves fully of all the proceedings of said Treaty, and of the tribes and principal Characters who formed the same. The Indians to be informed by the Commissioners, that the United States consider the said Treaty to have been formed with the Tribes who had a right to relinquish the lands which were then ceded to the United States. That, under this impression, part of the said lands have been sold to individuals, and parts assigned to the late army of the United States.

That the lands acquired by the said Treaty were by purchase, as well as a confirmation of the former treaties. That if the consideration then given was inadequate, or if other tribes, than those who formed the said Treaty, should have a just right to any of the lands in question, a particular compensation should be made them. That in both instances the United States were disposed to be liberal in granting additional compensations.

That the2 remaining lands of the Indians within the limits of the United States, shall be guaranteed solemnly, by the general Government.

That3 if the Commissioners can get the former boundaries established, that they be directed, besides compensation in gross to the amount of Dollars, to promise payment of ten thousand dollars per annum in such proportions to the several tribes as shall be agreed upon.

That the Commissioners be directed, further4 to relinquish the reservations marked upon the map as trading places—provided the same would satisfy the Indians so as to confirm the remainder of the boundary, always, however, reserving5 as much land about the several British Posts, within the United States, as are now occupied by the several Garrisons, or6 which shall be necessary for the same.

That the Commissioners be7 instructed to use their highest exertions, to obtain the boundary now fixed, the reservations excepted, as before explained—and that for this purpose they be entrusted with dollars to be used to influence certain white men to favour their measures.

But if, after every attempt, the assembled Indians should refuse the boundaries aforesaid, then the Commissioners are to endeavour to obtain from the Indians a description of the best boundary to which they will agree, the Commissioners always endeavouring to conform the same, as nearly as may be, to the one described in the Treaty of Fort Harmar.8

On obtaining this information from the Indians, they are to be informed by the Commissioners, that the President of the United States, conceiving the boundary established by the Treaty of Fort Harmar, to have been made with the full understanding and free consent of the parties having the right to make the same, had not invested them (the Commissioners) with power to alter the same, excepting as to the reservations before described. But that now possessing the final and full voice of the Indians upon the subject, the same should be reported to the President, who would give a definitive answer thereon, at a period to be fixed, which period should not be earlier than four months9 after the Senate should be assembled at their next Session—and this would fix the period about one year from the time the Commissioners should obtain this information.

The Commissioners should further inform the Indians, that until the answer should be received, a solemn truce should be observed on both sides. The Indians to be answerable for their young warriors—and the President to be answerable for our’s.

If the idea of a Truce should be relished, perhaps it might be extended, by the Commissioners, to three or seven years, all things to remain in the same state. If so, the effect would be a peace to all intents and purposes.

The Commissioners to be particularly instructed to do nothing which should in the least impair the right of pre-emption or general sovereignty of the United States over the Country, the limits of which were established by the peace of 1783. But, at the same time, to impress upon the Indians that the right of preemption in no degree affects their right to10 the soil, which the United States concedes unlimitedly, excepting that when sold,11 it must be to the United States, and under their authority, and no otherwise.

Tr (DLC); undated; in the hand of Tobias Lear. Recorded in SJPL between 16 and 18 Feb. 1793: “Instructions for Commrs. to treat with hostile Indians.” See notes below for TJ’s suggested amendments to this document.

Knox’s heads of instructions for the commissioners to negotiate with the hostile Western tribes at the Lower Sandusky conference were considered by the Cabinet on 25 Feb. 1793 (Cabinet Opinions on Indian Affairs, 25 Feb. 1793; Notes on Cabinet Opinions, 26 Feb. 1793). In anticipation of this meeting, TJ set down on a separate sheet a series of proposed amendments, keyed sequentially by page and line numbers to the Tr he received from the President, and several notes on the subject (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 82: 14153; undated; recorded in SJPL between 16 and 18 Feb. 1793: “amendmts proposed to [Instructions]”). The textual notes below record only the amendments and notes in this MS, as TJ wrote nothing on the Tr of the instructions. The final text of the instructions, which was not completed until 26 Apr. 1793, incorporated the substance of all but paragraphs 8–10 of the heads of instructions (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Indian Affairs, i, 340–2).

The treaty of fort harmar, concluded between the United States and various Western tribes in 1789, established a boundary between the contracting parties west of the Ohio River line that these tribes were currently insisting on as a condition of peace (same, 6–7).

1TJ suggested the insertion here of “after due enquiry into the earlier treaties.”

2TJ suggested the insertion here of “occupation of the.” He interlined this amendment between those described in notes 1 and 3.

3TJ suggested that the next eleven words be replaced by: “in consideration of the wants of the Indians and the reduced limits of their hunting grounds, the Commissioners.”

4TJ suggested the insertion here of “if the Indns. should make a point of it, stipulate against our selling or settling.”

5TJ suggested that “provided … reserving” be replaced by “save only.”

6TJ suggested that the remainder of the sentence be replaced by “by white inhabitants.”

7TJ suggested the deletion of “instructed … they be.”

8 TJ suggested that the preceding paragraph be replaced with: “That if their confirmation of the boundary cannot be otherwise obtained, the Commrs. may agree on an interior line, beyond which we will neither sell nor settle, tho’ we retain the property; and that this shall form a <margin> border between them and us, within which neither party shall enter with arms.”

9In regard to this point TJ made the following comment: “quere expediency of short truce?” He interlined this comment between the amendments described in notes 8 and 10.

10TJ suggested the insertion here of “occupy.”

11TJ suggested that “when sold” be replaced by “if they should ever sell.” Below this amendment TJ drew a line and wrote below it:

“1. right to cede?
   not to exercise right of selling or

2. short truce?

3. Communication to Senate?”

These were obviously points he thought should be raised when the Cabinet met to consider the heads of instructions.

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