Thomas Jefferson Papers

VII. Governor of the Northwest Territory to the Secretary of State, 2 February 1791

VII. Governor of the Northwest Territory to the Secretary of State

[Philadelphia] febry. 2d. 1791


A few days I submitted to the Attorney General the form of a Patent for the confirmation of the Lands held by the Inhabitants on the Missisippi and at Post St. Vincennes. I had conceived myself authorised By the Instructions of Congress of the 29th. of August [1788]1 to grant such Patents of confirmation and that it was expected from me but the Attorney is of Opinion that the Instructions does not give the Power, that no Power to that End is in Existence, and consequently, a Law for the purpose is necessary. I would beg the favor Sir that you will bring the Subject before Congress, for it is of importance that those People be quieted in their Possessions as soon as possible. With great Respect &c.

Dft (O: St. Clair Papers); at foot of text: “Mr. Jefferson Esqr. Secretary of State.” Entry in SJL indicates that RC (missing) was written from Philadelphia and received the same day.

The opinion of the Attorney General has not been found. St. Clair’s request for it appears in an undated letter written probably in late Jan. 1791: “I shall be very much obliged to you Sir for your Advice about the Possessions of the ancient Settlers on the Missisippi, and that if you think it necessary, you would bring the doubtful points I have mentioned before the President of the united States, and permit me to observe, Sir, that when the very great Distance that Country is and ever will be from the Seat of the Government, there seems to be a necessity for the Titles of Confirmation being made within the Territory or at least a Provision that they may be put on record there” (Dft in O: St. Clair Papers; full text in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , ii, 319–20, where the conjectured date is assigned to 1790 and probably to December; in view of the above letter to TJ however, a later date would seem more plausible). Randolph may have given his opinion in conversation as he had done earlier on the question of the distinction between laws enacted and laws adopted by the territorial legislature (same, II, 319). He also no doubt suggested that the matter of obtaining legal authority for issuing patents confirming the titles of Illinois inhabitants should be laid before the Secretary of State, hence the above letter.

1Preceding ten words are placed in inverted order to accord with markings on Dft indicating that St. Clair wished RC (missing) to read as above.

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