George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate, 7 August 1790

To the United States Senate

United States [New York],
August 7th 1790.

Gentlemen of the Senate,

I lay before you a Treaty1 between the United States and the Chiefs of the Creek-Nation, now in this city, in behalf of themselves and the whole creek-nation, subject to the ratification of the President of the United States, with the advice and consent of the Senate.

While I flatter myself that this Treaty will be productive of present peace and prosperity to our southern frontier, it is to be expected that it will also, in its consequences, be the means of firmly attaching the Creeks and the neighbouring Tribes to the interests of the United States.

At the same time it is to be hoped that it will afford solid grounds of satisfaction to the State of Georgia, as it contains a regular, full, and definitive relinquishment, on the part of the creek-nation, of the Oconee land, in the utmost extent in which it has been claimed by that State, and thus extinguishes the principal cause of those hostilities, from which it has more than once experienced such severe calamities.

But although the most valuable of the disputed land is included, yet there is a certain claim of Georgia, arising out of the Treaty, made by that State at Galphinston in November 1785, of land to the eastward of a new temporary line from the forks of the Oconee and Oukmulgee, in a southwest direction to the St Mary’s river, which tract of land the Creeks, in this city, absolutely refuse to yield.2

This land is reported to be generally barren, sunken, and unfit for cultivation, except in some instances on the margin of the rivers, on which, by improvement, rice might be cultivated—its chief value depending on the timber fit for the building of ships, with which it is represented as abounding.

While it is thus circumstanced on the one hand, it is stated by the Creeks on the other to be of the highest importance to them, as constituting some of their most valuable winter hunting ground.

I have directed the Commissioner,3 to whom the charge of adjusting this Treaty has been committed, to lay before you such papers and documents, and to communicate to you such information relatively to it, as you may require.4

Go: Washington

LS, DNA: RG 46, First Congress, 1789–91, Records of Executive Proceedings, President’s Messages—Indian Relations; LB, DLC:GW.

1For the completed treaty, see Proclamation, 14 Aug. 1790, n.5.

2See Henry Knox to GW, 7 Aug. 1790, source note, for the background to the land disputes between Georgia and the Creek nation.

3For Knox’s appointment as treaty commissioner, see GW to the U.S. Senate, 6 Aug. 1790 (first letter).

4On the day the Senate received the president’s message and the accompanying treaty, it ordered them to be read and to lie for consideration. The following Monday, 9 Aug. 1790, a motion to refer them to a select committee was defeated by two votes. After the motion “That on the final question when the advice and consent of the Senate is requested, any Member shall have a right to enter his Protest or dissent on the Journal, with reasons in support of such dissent” was also defeated, 15 votes to 4, the Senate postponed further consideration of the Creek treaty. The day after dispatching GW’s message concerning observance of the Treaty of Hopewell (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 11 Aug. 1790), the Senate resumed consideration of the Creek treaty, which was put to a vote on 12 Aug. 1790. On the final question of its ratification, the necessary two-thirds majority was achieved, and the treaty passed into law, 15 to 4. The Senate then adjourned until 17 Dec. 1790 (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 2:91, 92–93, 96–97; for the text of the treaty, see Proclamation, 14 Aug. 1790, n.5).

Two of the dissenting votes were cast by the senators from Georgia, William Few and James Gunn, and the treaty was not kindly received in that state. Congressman James Jackson publicly denounced it in January 1791, and the state legislature officially declared that it violated Georgia’s rights. Georgians were generally angered by the failure to secure their title to lands claimed under the Treaty of Shoulderbone, and they did not appreciate the federal government’s favorable treatment of McGillivray, the man whose troops had for four years ravaged their frontiers. Not all Georgians, however, were hostile to the treaty. James Hendricks wrote to GW from Wilkes County, Ga., on 27 Sept. 1790: “After a Variety of Misfortunes in the Mercantile line I has fix’d in this State, and Observing in the treaty with the Creek Nation persons ary to be appointed to Settle in the Indian Country for the purpose of teaching the Natives farming &c. if your Excellincy thought me Suitable for one of the persons I wou’d wish the appointment” (DLC:GW).

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