Alexander Hamilton Papers
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Conversation with George Backwith, [15 May 1791]

Conversation with George Beckwith1

[ May 15, 1791]2

73   “If the United States were at war with a great or respectable nation, the case would be different, a foreign mediation under certain circumstances might be desirable; in that case, the manner of the application would be official, and of course not to any public officer of that country abroad, but to the administration at home; on the present occasion, the thing in its existing shape is inadmissible, and I could not submit such a paper to the President’s consideration—the objects of warfare are certain vagrant Indian Tribes who cannot be considered to be on the footing in which such a system as this would place them, however it may be our interest and policy to close hostilities, which are attended with trouble and expence, and which indeed may be excited by our frontier people, from interested motives: as an Indian war leads to the spending money in their country as well as to the gratification of their individual resentments.”

[Beckwith]   In suggesting the measure of an interference or rather of a pacific recommendation on the part of Lord Dorchester, I acted altogether as an individual, and my judgment led me to this from the sense of the thing, and from my conceiving the fomenting such a war could never be any object for such a government as yours. On the contrary I have concluded from those explanations which I have received by your means, of matters in the western Country, that your trading interests would be advanced, by the re-establishment of peace. We shall take occasion in the course of the summer to mark a pacific disposition to the Indians in general and to those hostile tribes in particular. We shall suggest to them the idea of a meeting to discuss the objects of difference, and if Lord Dorchester would suggest that a friendly accomodation and settlement would be a pleasing circumstance to your Government, it might have a tendency to promote it; in all this, I do not speak ministerially to you, although I am sure the thing is so, and that it would not only advance this object but tend to forward the establishment of those greater national points which I have frequently touched upon in our different conversations.”

D, Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

1This document was enclosed in Lord Dorchester to Lord Grenville, June 14, 1791.

The background of this conversation was the ceaseless warfare on the western frontier between the Americans and several of the more hostile Indian tribes. After the failure of an expedition organized and commanded by Brigadier General Josiah Harmar in the fall of 1790, and with the continuing news of Indian depredations, Congress on March 3, 1791, in Section 15 of “An Act for raising and adding another Regiment to the Military Establishment of the United States, and for making farther provision for the protection of the frontiers,” appropriated $312,686 for a new campaign (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 224). Before the actual preparation for the campaign, Major General Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, was to wait for the results of the negotiations of several agents who had been sent to the Indians to attempt to make peace (see “Conversation with George Beckwith,” July 12, 1791).

H’s remarks were in answer to Beckwith’s “proposal that Lord Dorchester should intervene to effect peace between the United States and the Indians” (Brymner, Canadian Archives, 1890 description begins Douglas Brymner, ed., Report on Canadian Archives, 1890 (Ottawa, 1891). description ends , 388).

2Beckwith did not date this conversation. In a calendar of Canadian state papers Beckwith’s communication is printed under the date of May 15, 1791 (Brymner, Canadian Archives, 1890 description begins Douglas Brymner, ed., Report on Canadian Archives, 1890 (Ottawa, 1891). description ends , 288).

3“7” was Beckwith’s code number for H.

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