George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate, 22 August 1789

To the United States Senate

[New York, 22 August 1789]

To conciliate the powerful tribes of Indians in the southern district, amounting probably to fourteen thousand fighting men, and to attach them firmly to the United States, may be regarded as highly worthy of the serious attention of government.

The measure includes, not only peace and security to the whole southern frontier, but is calculated to form a barrier against the Colonies of an European power, which, in the mutations of policy, may one day become the enemy of the United States. The fate of the southern States therefore, or the neighbouring Colonies, may principally depend on the present measures of the Union towards the southern Indians.

By the papers which have been laid before the Senate it will appear that in the latter end of the year 1785 and the beginning of 1786, treaties were formed by the United States with the Cherokees, the Chickasaws and Choctaws. The report of the Commissioners will show the reasons why a treaty was not formed at the same time with the Creeks.1

It will also appear by the papers that the States of North Carolina and Georgia, protested against said treaties, as infringing their legislative rights, and being contrary to the Confederation. It will further appear by the said papers, that the treaty with the Cherokees has been entirely violated by the disorderly white people on the frontiers of North Carolina.

The opinion of the late Congress respecting the said violation, will sufficiently appear, by the proclamation which they caused to be issued on the first of September 1788.

By the public newspapers it appears that on the 16th of June last, a truce was concluded with the Cherokees by Mr John Steele on behalf of the State of North Carolina, in which it was stipulated that a treaty should be held as soon as possible, and that in the mean time all hostilities should cease on either side.2

As the Cherokees reside principally within the territory claimed by North Carolina, and as that State is not a member of the present Union, it may be doubted whether any efficient measures in favor of the Cherokees could be immediately adopted by the general Government.

The Commissioners for negotiating with the Southern Indians may be instructed to transmit a message to the Cherokees, stating to them, as far as may be proper, the difficulties arising from the local claims of North Carolina, and to assure them that the United States are not unmindful of the treaty at Hopewell, and as soon as the difficulties which are at present opposed to the measure, shall be removed, the Government will do full Justice to the Cherokees.3

The distance of the Choctaws and Chickasaws from the frontier settlements seems to have prevented those tribes from being involved in similar difficulties with the Cherokees.

The Commissioners may be instructed to transmit messages to the said tribes contain[ing] assurances of the continuance of the friendship of the United States, and that measures will soon be taken for extending a trade to them agreeably to the treaties of Hopewell. The Commissioners may also be directed to report a plan for the execution of the said treaties respecting trade.

But the case of the Creek nation is of the highest importance and requires an immediate decision. The cause of the hostilities between Georgia and the Creeks is stated to be a difference in Judgment concerning three treaties made between the said parties—To wit—at Augusta in 1783, at Galphinton in 1785, and at Shoulderbone in 1786.4 The State of Georgia assert, and the Creeks deny the validity of the said treaties.

Hence arises the indispensible necessity of having all the circumstances respecting the said treaties critically investigated by Commissioners of the United States, so that the further measures of Government may be formed on a full knowledge of the case.

In order that the investigation be conducted with the highest impartiality, it will be proper, in addition to the evidence of the documents in the public possession, that Georgia should be represented at this part of the proposed treaty with the Creek Nation.

It is however to be observed, in any issue of the enquiry, that it would be highly embarrassing to Georgia to relinquish that part of the lands, stated to have been ceded by the Creeks, lying between the Ogeeche and Oconee rivers; that State having surveyed and divided the same among certain descriptions of its citizens who settled and planted thereon until dispossessed by the Indians.

In case, therefore, the issue of the investigation should be unfavourable to the claims of Georgia, the Commissioners should be instructed to use their best endeavours to negotiate with the Creeks, a solemn conveyance of the said lands to Georgia.

By the report of the Commissioners who were appointed under certain acts of the late Congress, by South Carolina and Georgia, it appears that they have agreed to meet the Creeks on the 15th of September ensuing.5 As it is with great difficulty the Indians are collected together at certain seasons of the year, it is important that the above occasion should be embraced, if possible, on the part of the present government, to form a treaty with the Creeks. As the pro[po]sed treaty is of great importance to the future tranquility of the State of Georgia, as well as of the United States, it has been thought proper that it should be conducted on the part of the general government, by Commissioners whose local situations may free them from the imputation of prejudice on this subject.

As it is necessary that certain principles should be fixed previously to forming instructions for the Commissioners; the following questions arising out of the foregoing communications, are stated by the President of the United States, and the advice of the Senate requested thereon.


In the present state of affairs between North Carolina, and the United States, will it be proper to take any other measures for redressing the injuries of the Cherokees, than the one herein suggested?


Shall the Commissioners be instructed to pursue any other measures respecting the Chickasaws and Choctaws than those herein suggested?


If the Commissioners shall adjudge that the Creek nation was fully represented at the three treaties with Georgia, and that the cessions of land were obtained with the full understanding and free consent of the acknowledged proprietors, and that the said treaties ought to be considered as just and equitable:6 In this case shall the Commissioners be instructed to insist on a formal renewal and confirmation thereof? And in case of a refusal, shall they be instructed to inform the Creeks that the arms of the union shall be employed to compel them to acknowledge the Justice7 of the said cessions?


But if the Commissioners shall adjudge that the said treaties were formed with an inadequate or unauthorized representation of the Creek Nation, or that the treaties were held under circumstances of constraint or unfairness of any sort, so that the United States could not with Justice and dignity request or urge a confirmation thereof; In this case shall the Commissioners, considering the importance of the Oconee lands to Georgia, be instructed to use their highest exertions to obtain a cession of said lands? If so shall the Commissioners be instructed, if they cannot obtain the said cessions on better terms, to offer for the same, and for the further great object of attaching the Creeks to the Government of the United States, the following conditions.

1st A compensation in money or goods to the amount [ ] Dollars, the said amount to be stipulated to be paid by Georgia, at the period which shall be fixed, or in failure thereof by the United States.

2nd A secure8 port on the Altamaha or St Marys rivers, or at any other place between the same as may be mutually agreed to by the Commissioners9 and the Creeks.

3rd Certain pecuniary considerations to some, and honorary military distinctions to other influential Chiefs, on their taking oaths of Allegiance to the United States.

4th A solemn guarrantee by the United States, to the Creeks, of their remaining territory, and to maintain the same if necessary by a line of military posts.

5th But if all offers should fail to induce the Creeks to make the desired cessions to Georgia, shall the Commissioners make it an ultimatum?

6th If the said cessions shall not be made an ultimatum, shall the Commissioners proceed and make a treaty, and include the disputed lands within the limits, which shall be assigned to the Creeks;10 If not, shall a temporary boundary be marked, making the Oconee the line, and the other parts of the treaty be concluded?

In this case shall a Secure11 port be stipulated, and the pecuniary, and honorary considerations granted?

In other general objects, shall the treaties formed at Hopewell, with the Cherokees, Chickasaws and Choctaws, be the basis of a treaty with the Creeks?

7th Shall the sum of twenty thousand Dollars appropriated to Indian expences and treaties, be wholly applied, if necessary, to a treaty with the Creeks? If not, what proportion?12

D, DNA: RG 46, First Congress, President’s Messages—Indian Relations; LB, DLC:GW.

GW presented this statement to the Senate in the Senate chamber at 11:30 A.M. on 22 Aug. (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 2:31). For the account in the Senate Executive Journal of the proceedings on 22 and 24 Aug. when GW’s address was considered, see ibid., 2:31–36.

1Among the papers presented by GW to the Senate on 22 Aug. were a letter from Beverley Randolph, 5 Aug., a memorial from Bennet Ballew, 22 Aug., an address from the Cherokee Nation, 19 May, and a talk from the Cherokee Chiefs, 19 May. The June report of Andrew Pickens and Henry Osborne, with its many enclosures, was probably also submitted at this time. See their letter to GW, 30 June 1789. See also ASP, Indian Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:54–57, and DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 2 :185–201.

4These treaties are printed in DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 2 :165–83.

5In a letter to the chiefs and warriors of the Creek Nation, 29 June, the commissioners, Andrew Pickens and Henry Osborne, reported that they had consulted the Creek agent John Galphin and had set the next council with the Creek at Rock Landing on the Oconee for 15 Sept. (ibid., 2 :197–98).

6There are a few minor changes in wording in the seven questions, inserted by Samuel A. Otis, probably during or after the Senate debate on the questions. At this point he crossed out the word “valid” and substituted “equitable.” It appears as “valid” in the letter book.

7Otis crossed out “validity” and substituted “Justice.” In the letter book it is “validity.”

8Otis substituted “secure” for “free.” In the letter book the word appears as “free.”

9Otis crossed out “Georgia” and substituted “the Commissioners.” It is “Georgia” in the letter book.

10At this point Otis inserted and then deleted the word “No.”

11“Secure” was substituted by Otis for “free.” In the letter book it reads “free.”

12On 22 Aug. the Senate postponed consideration of the first question until Monday 24 August. The second question passed in the negative. On Monday, with GW present in the chamber, the Senate again took up consideration of the questions. The first, fifth, and the first part of the sixth question were answered in the negative; the third, fourth (with its subdivisions), and the remainder of the sixth were agreed to. On the seventh question it was agreed to appropriate the entire $20,000 to the negotiation of the Creek treaty “at the discretion of the President of the United States” (ibid., 2:31–36).

Accounts of executive proceedings in the Senate in the early years of GW’s administration are meager, primarily because Senate sessions were not open to the public. On this occasion, however, Sen. William Maclay has left a vivid, if perhaps biased, description of GW’s early attempt to call upon the advice of the Senate in the treaty-making function. According to Maclay’s account the senators were informed by their doorkeeper “of the Arrival of the President. The President was introduced and took our President’s Chair—he rose and told us bluntly that he had called on Us for our advice and consent to some propositions respecting the Treaties to be held with the Southern Indians—said he had brought Genl. Knox with him who was well acquainted with the business. He then turned to Genl. Knox Who was seated . . . on the left of the Chair. Genl. Knox handed him a paper which he handed to the President of the Senate, who was seated on a Chair on the floor to his right. our President hurried over the Paper. Carriages were driving past and such a Noise I could tell it was something about indians, but was not master of one Sentence of it. Signs were made to the door Keeper to shut down the Sashes. Seven heads (as we since learn) were stated at the End of the Paper which the Senate were to give their advice and consent to. they were so framed that this could be done by Aye or No. . . . The President told Us a paper from an Agent of the Cherokees was given to him just as he was coming to the Hall. he motioned to General Knox for it, and handed it to the President of the Senate, it was read, it complained hard of the unjust Treatment of the People of North Carolina &ca. their Violation of Treaties &ca. Our President now read off, the first article to which our advice and consent was requested. it referred back principally to some statements in the body of the Writing which had been read. Mr. Morris rose said the Noise of carriages had been so great that he really could not say that he had heard the body of the paper which was read and prayed it might be read again. it was so [read]. It was no sooner read than our President. immediately read the first head over and put the Question do you advise and consent &ca. There was a dead pause. . . . I rose reluctantly. . . . Mr. President. The paper which you have now read to Us appears to have for it’s basis Sundry Treaties and public Transactions, between the southern Indians and the United States . . . and the States of Georgia North and south Carolina. The business is new to the Senate, it is of importance, it is our duty to inform ourselves as well as possible on the Subject. I therefore call for the reading of the Treaties and other documents alluded to in the paper now before Us. I cast an Eye at the President of the United States, I saw he wore an aspect of Stern displeasure. General Knox turned up some of the Acts of Congress, and the Protests of One Blount Agent for North Carolina—Mr. Lee rose and named a particular Treaty which he wished read. the Business laboured with the Senate, there appeared an evident reluctance to proceed. The first Article was about the Cherokees, it was hinted that the Person just come from them, might have more information. The President . . . U.S. rose said he had no objection to that article being postponed and in the mean time he could see the Messenger.” The senators continued to scrutinize each of the points raised by the president. “I had at an early stage of the business wispered Mr. Morris that I thought the best way to conduct the business was to have all the papers committed—my reasons were that I saw no chance of a fair investigation of subjects while the President of the U.S. sat there with his Secretary at War, to support his Opinions and over awe the timid and neutral part of the Senate” (Bowling and Veit, Diary of William Maclay, description begins Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds. The Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates. Baltimore, 1988. description ends 128–30). Robert Morris’s suggestion that the queries be submitted to a committee of five members, ordered to report as soon as possible, led to lengthy debate on the role of the Senate as a council. Maclay “rose and supported the mode of doing business by Committees . . . that Committees were used in all public deliberative bodies &c. &ca. I thought I did the Subject Justice, but concluded, the Commitment cannot be attended with any possible inconvenience, some articles are already postponed untill Monday. . . . Peevishness itself I think could not have taken offence at anything I said, as I sat down the President of the U.S. started up in a Violent fret. This defeats every purpose of my coming here, were the first words that he said, he then went on that he had brought his Secretary at War with him to give every necessary information, that the Secretary knew all about the Business—and yet he was delayed and could not go on with the Matter—he cooled however by degrees said he had no Objection to putting off the Matter untill Monday, but declared he did not understand the Matter of Commitment, he might be delayed he could not tell how long, he rose a 2d time and said he had no Objection to postponement untill Monday at 10 O’Clock. by the looks of the Senate this seemed agreed to. a pause for some time ensued. We waited for him to withdraw, he did so with a discontented Air. had it been any other, than the Man who I wish to regard as the first Character in the World, I would have said with sullen dignity” (ibid., 130).

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