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Edmund Randolph to William Bradford, Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox, 11 July 1794

Edmund Randolph to William Bradford,
Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox

Philadelphia, July 11th. 1794.

The Secretary of State has the honor of informing the Secretaries of the Treasury and of war and the attorney general, that the President is desirous, that they would take into consideration the Resolutions lately passed by the Inhabitants of Kentucky,1 and the intelligence lately received from Mr. Seagrove relative to the affairs in Georgia.2 The President wishes to see the Gentlemen at his house at 12 oClock on Monday next, in order to deliver their opinions.

LC, RG 59, Domestic Letters of the Department of State, Vol. 7, June 27–November 30, 1794, National Archives.

1At a meeting of “respectable Citizens from different parts of Kentucky,” held at Lexington on May 24, 1794, thirteen resolutions were passed concerning the right of citizens of Kentucky to “the free and undisturbed navigation of the river Mississippi.” The resolutions stated that “the general government whose duty it was to have put us in possession of this right, have, either through design or mistaken policy, adopted no effectual measures for its attainment.… That civil liberty is prostituted, when the servants of the people, are suffered to tell their masters, that communications which they may judge important ought not to be entrusted to them.… That the injuries and insults done and offered by Great Britain to America, call loudly for redress.… That the recent appointment of the enemy of the Western country to negotiate with that nation, and the tame submission of the general government, when we alone were injured by Great Britain, make it highly necessary, that we should at this time state our just demands to the President and Congress” ([Philadelphia] Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser, June 23, 1794). The citizens of Kentucky also adopted a remonstrance to the President and Congress which concluded “that it is the duty of the general government to protect the frontiers, and that the total want of protection which is now experienced by every part of the western frontier, is a grievance of the greatest magnitude …” (Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser, June 23, 1794). In a letter to Knox of June 11, 1794, Major General Anthony Wayne reported that at the Lexington meeting “a number of the principal public speakers, mounted the Rostrum in succession & address’d the people assembled upon the occasion in the most inflammatory & invective language The Orators … (if common report says true) after an elaborate speech of two hours, concluded with this declaration ‘I shou’d not be displeased to see the British in possession of the N.W. banks of the Ohio as our Neighbours’” (Knopf, Wayne description begins Richard C. Knopf, ed., Anthony Wayne: A Name in Arms; Soldier, Diplomat, Defender of Expansion Westward of a Nation; the Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence (Pittsburgh, 1960). description ends , 342–43).

2For the difficulties of the United States on the southern frontier, see the introductory note to “Cabinet Meeting. Opinion on the Depredations of the Creek Indians Upon the State of Georgia,” May 29, 1793. During the winter and spring of 1794, James Seagrove, Indian agent to the Creeks, and other Government officials on the frontier sent to Philadelphia reports of Indian raids on frontier settlements and retaliation by the frontiersmen. On May 10, 1794, for example, Major Richard Brooke Roberts informed Knox that “The Indians and Georgians seem now mutually roused, and there is not a doubt in my mind, but that a war will break out in all its horrors, in about two months” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 482). On May 16, 1794, Seagrove, who was attempting to negotiate a peace with the southern tribes, informed Knox that he had reached Augusta, Georgia, with “six of the principal Creek chiefs, on a visit of friendship to the Governor of Georgia [George Mathews], leaving at, and in the vicinity of, fort Fidius, near one hundred and fifty Indians, who came with, and followed me, out of friendship, when I came from the nation.… Whilst the chiefs and myself were with the Governor, he received account of two men, belonging to the militia, being killed by Indians, (supposed to be Cherokees) and that the people of the upper part of this State were embodying, to destroy the Indians who came with me.… In my last I informed you that I had established peace with the Creeks, but I fear my labor is now destroyed by the outrageous doings of the lawless people of Georgia” (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 486).

By July, 1794, the situation had further deteriorated. A group of Georgia citizens under the leadership of Elijah Clark had moved into Creek territory and set up forts from the Oconee to the Ocmulgee rivers, with the intention of establishing an independent state (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 501). On May 14, 1794, Henry Knox had written to Governor George Mathews of Georgia:

“By certain information recently received from Georgia it would appear that a General Clarke and others have organised themselves into a military corps, within the limits of the United States, and are thence about setting out upon some military expedition against the dominions of Spain with whom we are at peace.

“Any comment upon the illegality and criminality of such a conduct is entirely unnecessary to your Excellency as you have already issued your proclamation against the design.

“But it may be necessary that further, and more effectual measures be taken to prevent entirely the expedition and bring to punishment the authors actors and abettors thereof, otherwise the United States may become responsible for the consequences.

“I am therefore desired by the president of the United States to request that your Excellency will, if the same shall be necessary, take the most energetic and decisive measures within your power for the suppressing the said design, by calling to your aid the well affected Militia of your State, at the expence of the United States, and also by using the regular troops of the United States, which are in the State of Georgia, for which purpose I have given Lieut: Col: [Henry] Gaither the necessary orders herein enclosed. And I have also further directed John Habersham Esqr. the Agent for furnishing the supplies in Georgia, to afford every necessary aid of provisions and Quarter master’s stores, which you may require for this Object.” (LS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.)

At the bottom of Knox’s letter to Mathews H wrote: “Instead of the words ‘by calling etc to the word Georgia’ inclusively say ‘If the circumstances should require the employment of the Militia I am authorised to assure you that it may be done at the expence of the UStates and I am also directed to put under your direction the regular troops of the UStates &c.’ With this alteration approved. A Hamilton.”

Randolph’s opinion of Knox’s letter to Mathews, dated May 14, 1794, reads as follows: “It is a fixed principle with me, that the regular troops cannot be legally employed, as is contemplated in this letter; and that the militia cannot be so employed, except in the form pointed out by a law of congress. Instead therefore of the words on the second page, (which I think, ought to be struck out, as conveying an idea, to which I cannot subscribe, in the general shape given to it) I should approve of referring the governor to that law, as auxiliary to a case of necessity” (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

On May 14, 1794, Knox submitted to Washington his letter to Mathews: “I have the honor to submit to your consideration the draft of a letter to the Governor of Georgia modified according to the ideas suggested by the secretary of the treasury. It appears that the secretary of state is against the employment of regular troops, or of the militia excepting in the cases pointed out by a law of Congress” (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

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