Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 13 March 1793

To George Washington

Mar. 13. 93.

Th: Jefferson has the honor to inclose to the President draughts of the instruments which he suggested as proper to be given formally to each tribe of Indians whose circumstances may call for such a1 manifestation of our views with respect to them. The first is a Letter of protection of the ordinary tenor, except that it declares a protection of the lands as well as the persons and other property, and would be signed by the President2 under the great seal. The second contains extracts from the late law of the US. and contains 1. those paragraphs which would shew to the Indians that our laws will punish injuries done them as if done to ourselves. 2. those paragraphs which may answer the purpose of directing those on the spot, when any injury is committed, how and where they are to proceed. If the furnishing such papers should be approved, it will be best to have them printed, on parchment, with the seal, and put into tin cases, so as to give them marks of solemnity which may strike those to whom they are given, or to whom they shall be shewn.

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); endorsed by Tobias Lear. PrC (DLC); partially overwritten in a later hand. Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 59, SDC). Tr (same). Recorded in SJPL. Enclosure: Extracts from Act to regulate Trade and Intercourse with the Indian Tribes, 1 Mch. 1793, comprising sections 4–5, part of section 8, and sections 10–12 (PrC of Tr in DLC: TJ Papers, 96: 16473-6; undated; in a clerk’s hand, partially overwritten in a later hand). Other enclosure printed below.

With this letter and its enclosures TJ sought both to improve American relations with friendly Indians and to publicize and render effectual the criminal sanctions against unauthorized land purchases from Indians that he had helped insert in the recently enacted Indian trade and intercourse law (see enclosure to TJ to George Washington, 13 Jan. 1793). The paragraphs from the statute of 1 Mch. 1793 that TJ extracted for circulation with the presidential letter of protection included sections specifying that crimes against the persons and property of Indians were subject to the same penalties as similar crimes against whites and that purchases of land from Indians without federal sanction were both invalid and grounds for fines and imprisonment, as well as sections indicating the procedures to be used in bringing offenders to justice. He understandably decided against including the sections of the law placing restrictions on who might conduct trade with Indians (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , iii, 1442–5).

On this date the President circulated both enclosures among the rest of his Cabinet. Alexander Hamilton approved the extracts from the law but expressed concern that the letter of protection might “at some time produce inconveniencies.” Henry Knox approved both documents, while Edmund Randolph agreed “to consider of them.” Washington ultimately approved the documents (albeit with the significant change noted below), for on 23 Mch. TJ transmitted for the President’s signature the “letters printed on parchmt. which are proposed to be given to the Indian tribes, together with extracts from the law regulating trade & intercourse with the Indian tribes.” Seven copies were given to members of a delegation of Illinois and Wabash Indians taking their leave of the President on 7 May 1793; the remaining copy was signed and sealed and “taken back to the Office of the Secretary of State” (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 889, 102, 130). The set received by the Kaskaskias (printed texts on parchment in ICHi; letter dated 7 May 1793 signed by Washington and TJ; extracts certified by TJ on 7 May 1793) indicates that, while the extracts from the law were unaltered, the letter of protection had been changed in one important particular. TJ’s draft had enjoined both citizens and non-citizens of the United States from harming the persons or infringing the property rights of Indians under the nation’s peace and protection, and had similarly warned citizens and non-citizens alike against purchasing land from them. As actually issued, however, the letter of protection guaranteed Indian rights only against infringement by American citizens, although the prohibition of land purchases by non-citizens as well as citizens remained.

1Here TJ canceled “mark of our.”

2Preceding two words interlined in place of “yourself.”

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