James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Congress, 18 December 1811

To Congress

Washington December 18th 1811

I lay before Congress two letters received from Governor Harrison of the Indiana Territory, reporting the particulars and the issue of the expedition under his command, of which notice was taken in my communication of November 5th.

While it is deeply lamented that so many valuable lives have been lost in the action which took place on the 7th ulto., Congress will see with satisfaction the dauntless spirit and fortitude victoriously displayed by every discription of the troops engaged, as well as the collected firmness which distinguished their Commander, on an occasion requiring the utmost exertions of valor and discipline.1

It may reasonably be expected that the good effects of this critical defeat and dispersion of a combination of savages which appears to have been spreading to a greater extent, will be experienced not only in a cessation of the murders and depredations committed on our frontier, but in the prevention of any hostile incursions otherwise to have been apprehended.2

The families of those brave and patriotic Citizens who have fallen in this severe conflict, will doubtless engage the favorable attention of Congress.3

James Madison

RC and enclosures, two copies (DNA: RG 233, President’s Messages, 12A-D1; and DNA: RG 46, TP, Indiana); draft (DLC). Both RCs in the hand of Edward Coles, signed by JM. Draft undated; in the hand of William Eustis. Enclosures printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Indian Affairs, 1:776–80; for their contents, see nn. 1 and 2.

1The first enclosure is a copy of a fifteen-page letter from William Henry Harrison to Eustis, written from Vincennes on 18 Nov. 1811. Harrison described the final stages of his Wabash campaign from 3 Nov. through the events of the Battle of Tippecanoe on the morning of 7 Nov., including a list of the killed and wounded. Throughout the narrative Harrison was at pains to justify his management of the campaign, particularly his decision to encamp his forces on the evening of 6 Nov. rather than proceeding immediately to battle as many of his officers had urged him to do, and to explain the circumstances under which the Prophet’s supporters had been able to make their dawn attack before the American troops were ready to receive it. In response to the anticipated criticism that he might have adopted some means “to have made a more early discovery of the approach of the enemy,” Harrison argued that he could not have done so even if he had employed “two thirds of the army as out posts” since the Indians “in such a night would have found means to have passed between them.” The alternative would have been to have kept his forces “under arms the whole night, as they lay with their accoutrements on.” He conceded, nonetheless, that had the guards and sentinels “done their duty,” his army would have been better prepared.

2The second enclosure is a copy of Harrison’s three-page letter written to Eustis on 4 Dec. 1811 containing an account of “the late Confederacy under the prophet” as received from the Kickapoo Indians. According to this source, the Prophet and his fellow Shawnee were to be found at a small Huron village about twelve miles from their former residence, while their Potawatomi and Winnebago allies had dispersed and returned to their villages. The Kickapoo, for their part, had positively refused a request from the Prophet that he be permitted to retire to their townships. “These Chiefs say,” Harrison reported, “that all the Tribes who lost Warriors in the late action attribute their misfortune to the Prophet alone; that they constantly reproach him with their misfortunes, and threaten him with death; That they are all desirous of making their peace with the United States, & will send deputations to me for that purpose, as soon as they are informed that they will be well received.” Believing these statements to be generally correct, Harrison concluded that “our frontiers have never enjoyed more profound tranquility than at this time. No injury, of any kind, that I can hear of, has been done, either to the persons or property of our Citizens. Before the expedition, not a fortnight passed over without some vexatious depredation being committed.”

3After receiving JM’s message, Kentucky representative Stephen Ormsby moved a resolution to inquire into what provision might be made for Harrison’s soldiers and for the relief of the widows and orphans of those killed at Tippecanoe. His colleague Samuel McKee then offered a three-part resolution requesting the president to furnish information on whether any foreign power or their agents had any role in inciting the Indians, to provide evidence of hostility toward the U.S. on the part of the Prophet and the Shawnee before Harrison’s campaign, and to transmit to the House of Representatives the orders and authority vested in Harrison for the late campaign as well as any other information JM deemed proper to communicate (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 1st sess., 557–58).

Index Entries