Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from William C. C. Claiborne, 7 October 1801

From William C. C. Claiborne

Nashville October 7th 1801.

Dear Sir,

I am sorry that I have remained thus long from my Post; But it really was not in my power sooner to have left Tennessee;—On tomorrow however, I shall certainly take my departure for the Missisippi Territory:—The Western Waters are uncommonly low, and I anticipate a long Voyage, but the season of the year, is favorable, and if the health of myself, and family should be preserved, my passage will (probably) be agreeable.

I do myself the honor to inclose for your perusal, a copy of the Letters which passed between Governor Sevier and myself, upon my declining a Seat in Congress, together with a Resolution of the House of Representatives of this State, approbating my late public Conduct.

An Election will be holden on the last thursday in this Month, to supply my Vacancy; there are four candidates, and all avowed Republicans.

The Objects of the late Negociation with the Cherokee Indians, as far as they have been known, appear to have been very pleasing to the Citizens of Tennessee, and the failure which ensued, is greatly regret’ed—The Commissioners (I believe) forwarded your Wishes with great zeal, but they had many difficulties to encounter, of which, no doubt, you have been made acquainted.—

I fear Sir, you will find the Southern Indians very unaccommodating;—The Cherokees have been taught to view the New President as their Enemy, and to expect the worse from his Administration; There is good reason to believe, that these Impressions have been made by Men, whose duty would have dictated a contrary Conduct; It is not improbable, but the Chiccasaws and perhaps, the Choctaws have been tampered with, in the same way.

The removal of the late Agent for the Cherokees, must be approved of by every person, who had any knowledge of his Conduct; his Successor Colo: Meggs is at present much esteemed by the Frontier Citizens, and will, in all probability, soon have considerable weight with the Indians; He is a temperate, prudent Man, and very attentive to Business;—If similar Characters were Agents for the Chiccasaws and Choctaws, I am sure Sir, the policy of the Executive in respect to the Indians, would be more zealously promoted, and your Instructions observed with better faith;—With the exception of Colo: Hawkins and Colo: Meggs, the Southern Indians profit little, either by the precept or example of the present Agents.

Most of the young Men, who are sent among the Indians, very soon form Indian Connections, and become highly dissipated; A loss of Influence and Respect immediately follows.

I have supposed, that an Agent residing upon the Frontiers, & visiting the Indians once in three Months, or oftener, if the occasion demanded, would be most likely to command Respect & acquire Influence; From time to time, he might receive information from his Interpreters, & thro them, (who might reside in the Nation) he could make his Communications to the Indians.

The Chiccasaws were once managed in this way, under the direction of General James Robertson, a respectable Citizen of this District, and I believe better managed, than they since have been. I do not know, that an Agency of this kind, would again be pleasing to General Robertson, but I rather think he would Act, and I with pleasure, name him, as a Man of great Merit, & one in Whom, you might place, great confidence.

I hope Sir, you will excuse the liberty I have taken in this Letter;—my sincere friendship for your person, and great solicitude for the happiness & usefulness of your Administration, have induced me to say this much on the subject of Indian affairs.—

I pray you sir, to accept assurances of my very sincere & respectful Attachment.

I have the honor to be Dr Sir, Your Mo. ob: hble servt

William C. C. Claiborne.

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 11 Nov. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) John Sevier to Claiborne and Claiborne’s reply, both dated Knoxville, 22 Sep. 1801; Sevier notifying Claiborne of his reelection as representative in Congress from Tennessee; Claiborne returning his thanks, but declining the seat, stating that he received official word of his appointment as governor of Mississippi Territory too late to withdraw his name from the congressional election, and declaring that the welfare of Tennessee “will always be dear to my heart” (printed broadside; Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , No. 1310). (2) Resolution of the Tennessee House of Representatives, 24 Sep., thanking Claiborne unanimously for the “faithful discharge” of the trust given him as congressman and particularly for his firm action during the “glorious struggle” of the late presidential contest (Journal of the House of Representatives at the First Session of the Fourth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee [Knoxville, 1801], 25).

Late Agent for the Cherokees: Thomas Lewis, removed from that position in March 1801. In May, TJ and Dearborn had appointed Return Jonathan Meigs as Lewis’s successor (Henry Dearborn’s Report on the War Department, [12 May 1801]).

In March 1801, Joseph Anderson and William Cocke, the U.S. senators from Tennessee, had called James Robertson to TJ’s attention as a potential commissioner for treaty talks with Indian tribes (Vol. 33:175).

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