Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to the House of Representatives, 8 February 1802

To the House of Representatives

Gentlemen of the
House of Representatives.

In compliance with your resolution of the 2d. inst. I have to inform you that, early in the preceding summer, I took measures for carrying into effect the act passed on the 19th. of Feb. 1799. chapter 115. and that of the 13th. of May 1800. mentioned in your resolution. the objects of these acts were understood to be, to purchase, from the Indians south of the Ohio, some portions of land peculiarly1 interesting to the Union, or to particular states; and the establishment of certain roads to facilitate communication with our distant settlements. Commissioners were accordingly appointed to treat with the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws & Creeks. as these nations are known to be very jealous on the subject of their lands, the Commissioners were instructed, as will be seen by the inclosed extract, to enlarge, restrain, or even to suppress propositions, as appearances should indicate to be expedient.   their first meeting was with the Cherokees. the extract from the speech of our Commissioners, and the answers of the Cherokee chiefs, will shew the caution of the former, and the temper of the latter: and that though our overtures to them were moderate, and respectful of their rights, their determination was to yield no accomodation.

The Commissioners proceeded then to the Chickasaws, who discovered, at first, considerable alarm and anxiety, lest land should be asked of them. a just regard for this very friendly nation, whose attachment to us has been invariable, forbade the pressure of anything disagreeable on them: and they yielded with alacrity the road through their country, which was asked, & was essential to our communication with the Missisipi territory.

The conferences with the Choctaws are probably ended, but as yet we are not informed of their result. those with the Creeks are not expected to be held till the ensuing spring.

Th: Jefferson

Feb. 8. 1802.

RC (DNA: RG 233, PM, 7th Cong., 1st sess.); endorsed by a House clerk as “Confidential” and as referred on 9 Feb. to a committee, consisting of John Stanly, John Rutledge, John Dawson, William Dickson, and John Fowler, on the petition of Memucan Hunt and others. PrC (DLC). Enclosures: (1) “Extract from Instructions given to Wm. R. Davie, James Wilkinson and Benjamin Hawkins Commissioners on the part of the UStates for holding conferences and signing a treaty or treaties with several Indian nations,” consisting of three paragraphs from Henry Dearborn’s instructions of 24 June 1801 emphasizing that the commissioners are to “pay the strictest attention to the disposition manifested by the Indians,” since the government’s proposals might excite the “ill humour which propositions for further cessions sometimes awaken in them”; it is necessary for the commissioners “to introduce the desires of the Government, in such a manner as will permit you to drop them, as you may find them illy received, without giving the Indians an opportunity to reply, with a decided negative, or raising in them unfriendly and inimical dispositions”; the commissioners are not to present proposals “in the tone of demands,” but as propositions, “assent to which the Government would consider as new testimonials” of the Indians’ friendship (Tr in DNA: RG 233, PM; in Meriwether Lewis’s hand). (2) “Extract from the speech of the Commissioners of the US. to the chiefs of the Cherokees assembled at South West point Sep. 4th. 1801,” an extensive extract of the record of a council held on 4–5 Sep., in which the commissioners, on behalf of “your father, the President,” ask the Cherokees’ permission for the development of roads to connect the Natchez settlements, Nashville, and South Carolina, and for “houses of entertainment” and ferries along the roads, for which the Cherokees will be paid rent; the commissioners stating also that the Indians’ “white brethren” want to purchase land, but the issue will not be pressed if the Cherokees do not wish to sell; Doublehead, answering for the Cherokees, replying that they do not want to sell any land and do not want the roads developed; the Cherokees also expressing dissatisfaction over encroachments by settlements on their land (Tr in same, in a clerk’s hand except the title, which is in TJ’s hand; FC in DLC, in a clerk’s hand except title in TJ’s hand, endorsed by TJ: “Cherokee conference”). Enclosures endorsed by a House clerk as “Confidential” and as referred to the committee on 9 Feb. Message and enclosures printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Indian Affairs, 1: 656–7. Enclosed in TJ to Nathaniel Macon, 8 Feb.

By the resolution passed by the House of Representatives on 2 Feb., the president was “requested to inform this House whether any, and what, measures have been taken for treating with the Indians South of the Ohio, in consequence of an act of Congress, passed the thirteenth of May, one thousand eight hundred, entitled ‘An act to appropriate a certain sum of money to defray the expense of holding a treaty or treaties with the Indians.’” John Stanly, a Federalist congressman from North Carolina, and John Dawson were appointed to present the resolution to TJ (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 4:80; Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ). For the acts of 19 Feb. 1799 and 13 May 1800, see TJ to the Senate, 22 Dec. 1801.

In accordance with TJ’s request for secrecy (see his cover letter to the speaker of the House, Macon, at 8 Feb. below), the journals of the House for 8–9 Feb. 1802 contain no mention of this message. The endorsements on the message and enclosures indicate that the House dealt with the papers off the record by nominally referring them on 9 Feb. to a committee established for another purpose three weeks earlier. On 19 Jan., Stanly had presented to the House a petition that Memucan Hunt and two others had made to the North Carolina General Assembly, along with some resolutions by the assembly, concerning lands in Tennessee granted in an earlier period under North Carolina authority. The House appointed Stanly, Rutledge, Dawson, Dickson, and Fowler, who were from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, respectively, as a select committee and referred the matter to them. Stanly reported for the committee on 24 Mch. According to the House journal, that report dealt only with the matter of the land claims. On 30 Apr., as the session drew to an end, the House postponed consideration of the land claims until Congress reconvened in the fall (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 4:55, 157, 229, 252).

In an act for military appropriations approved 1 May 1802, Congress allowed up to $40,000 for expenses of treaties held with Indians south of the Ohio. The sum was to include any of the $15,000 appropriated by the act of 13 May 1800 that had not already been spent. The new act, as the one of two years earlier had done, put a limit of $8 per day, exclusive of travel expenses, on the compensation of individual treaty commissioners (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 2:82, 183–4).

Hawkins, Wilkinson, and Andrew Pickens enclosed the minutes of their meeting with the Cherokees in a letter to Dearborn on 6 Sep. 1801 (Foster, Hawkins description begins Thomas Foster, ed., The Collected Works of Benjamin Hawkins, 1796–1810, Tuscaloosa, Ala., 2003 description ends , 383).

1Word interlined.

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