Cabinet Opinions on Sending an Agent to the Choctaw Indians
June 1. 1793.
That an Agent be sent to the Choctaw nation to endeavour secretly to engage them to support the Chickasaws in their present war with the Creeks, giving them for that purpose arms and ammunition sufficient: and that it be kept in view that if we settle our differences amicably with the Creeks, we at the same time mediate effectually the peace of the Chickasaws and Choctaws, so as to rescue the former from the difficulties in which they are engaged, and the latter from those into which we may have been instrumental in engaging them.
Altho’ I approve of the general1 policy of employing Indians against Indians; yet I doubt greatly, whether it ought to be exercised under the particular existing circumstances with Spain; who may hold herself bound to take the part of the Creeks, and criminate the U. S. for some degree of insincerity.
My judgment ballanced a considerable time on the proposed measure; but it has at length decided against it, and very materially on the ground that I do not think the UStates can honorably or morally or with good policy2 embark the Chocktaws in the War, without a determination to extricate them from the consequences even by force. Accordingly it is proposed that in settling our differences with the Creeks, “we mediate effectually the peace of the Chickesaws and Choctaws” which I understand to mean, that we are to insist with the Creeks on such terms of peace for them as shall appear to us equitable, and if refused will exert ourselves to procure them by arms. I am unwilling, all circumstances foreign and domestic considered, to embarrass the Government with such an obligation.
MS (DLC: Washington Papers); date and first paragraph in TJ’s hand, signed by TJ and Henry Knox; second paragraph and signature in the hand of Edmund Randolph; third paragraph and signature in the hand of Alexander Hamilton added between 3 and 5 June 1793; endorsed by Tobias Lear: “Opinion of the Heads of the Departmts. & Atty Genl. of the U.S. relative to sending an Agent to the Choctaws—June 1st: 1793.” An entry in SJPL under 1 June 1793—“[G.W. to Th:J.] on sending agent to Choctaws & Chickasaws”—refers either to this document or to an otherwise unknown letter from the President to TJ on the same subject. Enclosed in TJ to Hamilton, 1 June .
While its exact antecedents are unclear, this document was an outgrowth of the Cabinet’s 29 May 1793 meeting on the issue of Creek hostilities with Georgia, with the proposed overture to the Choctaws being intended to relieve Creek pressure on the state (Cabinet Opinion on the Creek Indians and Georgia, 29 May 1793). Both the President and the Secretary of the Treasury missed this Cabinet meeting because of illness. After Hamilton added his opinion, TJ transmitted the document to the President on 5 June (Tobias Lear to TJ, 31 May 1793; TJ to Hamilton, 1 June ; Hamilton to TJ, 3 June 1793; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 157, 159, 161). With his advisors evenly divided on whether to send an agent to the Choctaw nation, Washington took no action. Energetic efforts by Spanish officials headed off the threat of a divisive war between the Creeks and the Chickasaws by June 1793, and at the Treaty of Nogales of 28 Oct. 1793 these nations joined the Choctaws and Cherokees in forming an offensive and defensive alliance under Spanish protection (Jack D. L. Holmes, Gayoso: The Life of a Spanish Governor in the Mississippi Valley 1789–1799 [Baton Rouge, 1965], 150–5; D. C. Corbitt and Roberta Corbitt, trans. and eds., “Papers from the Spanish Archives Relating to Tennessee and the Old Southwest,” East Tennessee Historical Society, Publications, xxxiii , 75).
1. Word interlined by Randolph.
2. Preceding four words interlined by Hamilton.