Cabinet Opinion on a Proposed Treaty at Lower Sandusky
[Philadelphia, 25 February 1793]
The President having required the attendance of the heads of the three departments and of the Attorney general at his house on Monday the 25th of Feb. 1793.1 the following questions were proposed and answers given.2
1. The Governor of Canada having refused to let us obtain provisions from that province or to pass them along the water communication to the place of treaty with the Indians, and the Indians having refused to let them pass peaceably along what they call the bloody path, the Governor of Canada at the same time proposing to furnish the whole provisions necessary, Ought the treaty to proceed?3
Answer unanimously, it ought to proceed.
2. Have the Executive, or the Executive & Senate together authority to relinquish to the Indians the right of soil of any part of the lands North of the Ohio, which has been validly obtained by former treaties?
The Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary at war & Attorney general are of opinion that the Executive & Senate have such authority, provided that no grants to individuals nor reservations to states be thereby infringed. the Secretary of state is of opinion they have no such authority to relinquish.4
3. Will it be expedient to make any such relinquishment to the Indians if essential to peace?
The Secretaries of the Treasury & War & the Attorney general are of opinion it will be expedient to make such relinquishment, if essential to peace, provided it do not include any lands sold or reserved for special purposes (the reservations for trading places excepted) The Secretary of state is of opinion that the Executive and Senate have authority to stipulate with the Indians and that if essential to peace it will be expedient to stipulate that we will not settle any lands between those already sold or reserved for special purposes, and the lines heretofore validly established with the Indians.
Whether the Senate shall be previously consulted on this point?
The Opinion unanimously is that it will be better not to consult them previously.5
DS, in Thomas Jefferson’s writing, DLC:GW; D (letterpress copy), DLC: Jefferson Papers.
2. This document is the first written opinion that the cabinet members submitted as a corporate body to GW.
3. For John Graves Simcoe’s role in provisioning the Indians at Lower Sandusky, see Simcoe to George Hammond, 3 Feb., in Cruikshank, Simcoe Papers, description begins E. A. Cruikshank, ed. The Correspondence of Lieut. Governor John Graves Simcoe, with Allied Documents Relating to His Administration of the Government of Upper Canada. 5 vols. Toronto, 1923–31. description ends 1:286–87; William Hull to Hamilton, 6 Feb., in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 14:9–13; Lear to Cabinet, 24 Feb. 1793, n.2.
4. In his notes of 26 Feb. on this cabinet meeting, Jefferson recorded that GW “was so much in the opinion that the treaty would end in nothing that he then in the presence of us all gave orders to Genl Knox not to slacken the preparations for the campaign in the least but to exert every nerve in preparing for it.” Jefferson wrote that on the subject of the preemption rights of the United States to Indian land, GW expressed “no opinion, but he made some efforts to get us to join in some terms which could unite us all, and he seemed to direct those efforts more towards me: but the thing could not be done.” After the discussion on the Indians ended, “The Presidt at this meeting ment[ione]d the declaration of some person in a paper of [John] Fenno that he would commence an attack on the character of Dr. Franklin; he said the theme was to him excessively disagreeable on other considerations, but most particularly so as the party seemed to do it as a means of defending him (the Presidt) ag[ains]t the late attacks on him. that such a mode of defence would be peculiarly painful to him, & wished it could be stopped. Hamilton & E.R. undertook to speak to Fenno to suppress it, without mentioning it as the President’s wish” (AD, DLC: Jefferson Papers; printed in full in Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 25:271–74). For the proposed attack on Benjamin Franklin, see an unsigned letter to Benjamin Franklin Bache in the 23 Feb. issue of the Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia).
5. According to Jefferson’s notes of 26 Feb., all present feared that if GW consulted the Senate, George Hammond, the British minister to the United States, would discover the details of the American plan, ruining any hope of success for a treaty already likely to fail (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 25:273). The cabinet met again in late March to appraise preliminary instructions for the commissioners, after which Henry Knox produced a draft for GW’s approval (GW to Cabinet, 21 Mar., Knox to GW, 18 April; JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 106).