Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes for a Conversation with George Hammond, [ca. 10 December 1792]

Notes for a Conversation with George Hammond

[ca. 10 Dec. 1792]

Heads of conversation with Mr. Hammond.

  • That I communicated to the President his information1 of the consent of the Western Indians to hold conferences of peace with us, in the presence of Govr. Simcoe.
    • took care to apprize him of the informality of the conversation—that it was accidental—private
    • the present to be considered equally so.2
    • unnecessary to note to him that nothing like a Mediation was suggested
      • 1. because so informal a conversation could not include so formal a thing as a Mediation.
      • 2. because an established principle of public law among the white nations of America that while the Indians included within their limits retain all other natl. rights no other3 white nation can become their patrons, protectors or Mediators, nor in any shape intermeddle between them and those within whose limits they are.
      • that Gr. Br. would not propose an example which would authorise us to cross our boundary and take under our protection the Indians within her limits.
      • 3. because should the treaty prove ineffectual, it would singularly commit the friendship of the two nations.
  • that the idea of Govr. Simcoe’s attendence was presented only as a thing desired by the Indians
  • that the consequences of this had been considered it is not necessary in order to effect a peace
    • our views so just, so moderate, that we have no fear of effecting peace if left to ourselves
    • if it cannot be effected, it is much better that nobody on the part of Engld. should have been present for however our government is persuaded of the sincerity of their assurances that they have not excited the Indians yet our citizens in general are not so. it will be impossible to persuade them the negociations were not defeated by Brit. agent
    • that therefore, tho we do not pretend to make the exclusion of Govr. Simcoe a sine qua non, provided he be there as a spectator, not as a party
      • yet we should consider his declining to attend either by himself or any other person as an instance of their friendship and as an evidence of it particularly calculated to make due impression on the minds of our citizens.
  • that the place (aux Glaise) fixed on by the Indians is extremely inconvenient to us because of the distance and difficulty of transporting provisions there.
    300,000 rations will probably be requisite, if 3000 Indians attend.
    • that if we had time we would have proposed some other place, e.g. the Maumee towns. But there not being time, we shall do our best to make provisions.
    • 1. we shall collect and carry as much as possible through the Miami channel.
    • 2. we shall hope for their permission to have purchases made in upper Canada and brought along the lake.

MS (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand; undated, but written on the other side of a sheet containing “Anas” entries for 10, 12 and 17 Dec. 1792; contains several emendations; entry in SJPL: “[Dec.] 10. 12. 17. notes on our affairs with the Northern Indians. conversn with Hammond on do.” Included in the “Anas.”

This document marked the definitive American rejection of a British diplomatic initiative that sought to reverse in part the verdict of 1783 by constricting the territorial limits of the United States. The initiative had been launched in March 1792 by Lord Grenville, the British foreign secretary, who, emboldened by Arthur St. Clair’s catastrophic defeat in December 1791, instructed George Hammond to make a formal offer of British mediation of the Indian war to the American government. Under the terms of this proposal Britain would evacuate the posts on American soil still occupied by her troops in contravention of the Treaty of Paris in return for the creation of a neutral Indian barrier state composed of a large portion of the Northwest Territory and possibly parts of northern Pennsylvania and New York. American and British settlement in the barrier state would be forever banned, and neither nation’s forces would occupy the western posts. In addition to restoring peace between the United States and the hostile Western tribes, Grenville believed that a neutral Indian state would guarantee the security of Canada, preserve British influence among the Indians, and provide suitable compensation to the British for alleged American infractions of the peace treaty. But since the erection of an Indian barrier state would involve enormous territorial concessions by the United States, Grenville advised Hammond to use his discretion in formally offering British mediation to the American government on these terms (Grenville to Hammond, 17 Mch., 25 Apr. 1792, Mayo, British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States 1791–1812,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1936 description ends , 25–9).

Hammond received Grenville’s instructions towards the end of May 1792 and realized immediately that they were premature. In Hammond’s view, the Washington administration’s evident determination to resolve the conflict in the Northwest Territory without British interference, its denial that the Indian tribes were sovereign nations, and the westward tide of American settlement all made it virtually certain that the United States would reject an official offer of British mediation along the lines proposed by the foreign secretary. Nevertheless, he unofficially discussed the merits of an Indian barrier state in very general terms with Hamilton, then with TJ, and finally with Henry Knox, all of whom opposed the plan. Under these circumstances, Hammond concluded that for the moment it would be futile to approach the American government with a formal proposal of British mediation and so informed Grenville, who accepted the young envoy’s estimate of the situation (Notes of Conversation with Hammond, 4 June 1792; Hammond to Grenville, 8 June, 3 July 1792, PRO: FO 4/15; Grenville to Hammond, 4 Aug. 1792, Mayo, British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., “Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States 1791–1812,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1936 description ends , 30–1).

But what Hammond could not accomplish directly, he sought to achieve by stealth. Turning to Lieutenant Governor Alured Clarke of Lower Canada and Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe of Upper Canada, who were under instructions from the British government to help him mediate the Indian war, Hammond explained why it was then inadvisable to make a direct offer of British mediation to the American government. At the same time he noted that the Washington administration might be amenable to British mediation if it suffered another devastating defeat at the hands of the Western Indians or if there was a request for British mediation by these tribes. In order to ensure the success of an Indian request for British mediation, Hammond carefully noted, it would have to appear to be the result of the “spontaneous reflexions” of the hostile tribes themselves, and it would require the support of all the tribes “bordering on the British possessions” in North America to achieve “the formation of a barrier so extensive as is contemplated in our respective instructions” (Hammond to Clarke and Simcoe, 11 July 1792, PRO: FO 116/2; see also Henry Dundas to Clarke and to Simcoe, 16 Mch. 1792, 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, Toronto, 1923–31, 5 vols. description ends , i, 125–6).

Hammond’s thinly veiled suggestion that the goal of British mediation should be pursued by other means struck a responsive chord in Simcoe, who had a grandiose vision of the role the recently created province of Upper Canada was destined to play in the future of the British Empire. Convinced that the American experiment in republicanism was doomed to failure by the inherent defects of popular government, Simcoe firmly believed that the creation of a model British government and society in Upper Canada would make the American people aware of the error of independence and lead to their reunion with the mother country. But he also feared that this vision would be endangered by the conclusion of a separate peace between the Western Indians and the United States because he believed that this would destroy British influence over these tribes and lead them to take up arms against Upper Canada, making it impossible for the province to develop along the lines he regarded as essential to his goal of Anglo-American union. Accordingly, at the end of August 1792, he dispatched Alexander McKee, the deputy superintendent of Indian affairs at Detroit, on a special mission to the Indian council at the Glaize, with instructions to induce the Indians “of themselves to solicit the King’s good Offices” in mediating their conflict with the United States as the first step in the establishment of a barrier state (Simcoe to McKee, 30 Aug. 1792, and to Hammond, 27 Sep. 1792, 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, Toronto, 1923–31, 5 vols. description ends , i, 207–9, 214–17; see also same, 17–18, 30, 173–4, 199–204; and S. F. Wise, “The Indian Diplomacy of John Graves Simcoe,” Canadian Historical Association, Report, [1953], 36–44).

McKee’s mission was a success in every way from the British point of view. The Glaize council decided early in October 1792 to enter into peace negotiations with the Washington administration the following spring for the express purpose of establishing the Ohio River as a permanent boundary with the United States. It also requested McKee to ask Simcoe to act as mediator in the projected negotiations with the United States. Simcoe communicated these results to Hammond and later asked him how he should respond to the Indian request for his mediation (Proceedings of Glaize Council, 30 Sep., 9 Oct. 1792; Simcoe to Hammond, 17 Nov. 1792; Hammond to Simcoe, 27 Nov. 1792, 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, Toronto, 1923–31, 5 vols. description ends , i, 218–29, 262, 267).

But Hammond was unable to translate McKee’s successful intercession with the Indians into any tangible diplomatic advantage for the British. Aware that the United States government was still not open to a formal offer of British mediation, Hammond decided again to consult informally with American officials about the Indian request for Simcoe’s services. Thus, late in November 1792, he turned first to Hamilton, his closest confidant among Washington’s cabinet members, and unofficially urged the beneficial effects of Simcoe’s mediation. Hamilton thanked the British minister for the information about the Glaize council, of whose deliberations the American government had hitherto been in total ignorance, but reiterated his opposition to British mediation of the Indian war (Hammond to Simcoe, 27 Nov. 1792, same, i, 267–8). Hammond then sought to convince TJ of the advantages of Simcoe’s mediation. But the Secretary of State avoided any comment on the substance of this proposal and merely promised to inform the President without delay of the information about the council at the Glaize. In consequence, Hammond was obliged to inform Simcoe that the United States government “still persevere in their determination to endeavour to effect a pacification solely by their own exertions, and not to require or admit our intervention or assistance in settling the conditions of it,” though he did not altogether abandon hope that this attitude might change (Hammond to Simcoe, 27 Nov. 1792, same, 268; see also Hammond to Grenville, 4 Dec. 1792, PRO: FO 4/16).

In the end TJ decided to make a more formal response to Hammond on the subject of British mediation because of the exigencies of Indian-American relations. Early in December 1792 the Washington administration was officially informed by the Six Nations of the willingness of the Western Indians to enter into peace talks. In the course of transmitting this information, however, the Six Nations, who had been employed by the administration to offer peace on its behalf to the Western tribes at the Glaize, called attention to the Indian request for Simcoe’s mediation but downplayed their demand for an Ohio River boundary with the United States (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Indian Affairs, i, 322–4). Since the administration was eager for negotiations with the hostile tribes but averse to British mediation, TJ drafted the document above so as to leave no room for doubt in the British minister’s mind that the United States government was unalterably opposed to the Indian request for Simcoe to serve as mediator. He then showed this document to the President, who approved it, after which it was sanctioned during a cabinet meeting on 10 Dec. Two days later TJ conveyed the substance of it to Hammond in the course of a lengthy conversation, which finally convinced the British minister that “the resolution of this government not to admit the interposition of his Majesty’s good offices is fixed and invariable, and that it is determined to rely wholly on its own exertions to effect a peace” (Notes of Cabinet Meeting on Indian Affairs, 10 Dec. 1792; Notes of a Conversation with Hammond, 12 Dec. 1792, and note containing Hammond’s account of the conversation; Hammond to Grenville, 1 Jan. 1793, PRO: FO 116/3). Consequently, Hammond made no further effort during TJ’s tenure as Secretary of State to pursue the chimerical goals of British mediation and an Indian barrier state.

1Preceding two words written over what appears to be “what he said,” erased.

2Line inserted during revision.

3Word interlined.

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