George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the United States Senate, 11 August 1790

To the United States Senate

United States [New York]
August 11th 1790.

Gentlemen of the Senate,

Although the treaty with the Creeks 1 may be regarded as the main foundation of the future peace and prosperity of the South Western frontier of the United States, yet in order fully to effect so desireable an object the treaties which have been entered into with the other tribes in that quarter must be faithfully performed on our parts.

During the last year I laid before the Senate a particular statement of the case of the Cherokees.2 By a referrence to that paper it will appear that the United States formed a treaty with the Cherokees in November 1785—That the said Cherokees thereby placed themselves under the protection of the United States, and had a boundary assigned them.

That the white people settled on the frontiers had openly violated the said boundary by intruding on the Indian lands.

That the United States in Congress assembled did, on the first day of September 1788, issue their proclamation3 forbidding all such unwarrantable intrusions and enjoining all those who had settled upon the hunting grounds of the Cherokees to depart with their families and effects without loss of time, as they would answer their disobedience to the injunctions and prohibitions expressed at their peril.

But information has been received, that notwithstanding the said treaty and proclamation, upwards of five hundred families have settled on the Cherokee lands, exclusively of those settled between the fork of the French Broad and Holstin Rivers mentioned in the said treaty.

As the obstructions to a proper conduct on this matter have been removed since it was mentioned to the Senate on the 22nd of August 1789, by the accession of North Carolina to the present Union, and the cessions of the land in question, I shall conceive myself bound to exert the powers entrusted to me by the Constitution in order to carry into faithful execution the treaty of Hopewell, unless it shall be thought proper to attempt to arrange a new boundary with the Cherokees embracing the settlements, and compensating the Cherokees for the cessions they shall make on the occasion. On this point therefore I state the following questions, and request the advice of the Senate thereon.

1st Is it the Judgement of the Senate that overtures shall be made to the Cherokees to arrange a new boundary so as to embrace the settlements made by the white people since the treaty of Hopewell in November 1785?

2nd If so. Shall compensation to the Amot of [ ] dollars annually, or of [ ] dollars in gross, be made to the Cherokees for the land they shall relinquish, holding the occupiers of the land accountable to the United States for its value?

3rd Shall the United States stipulate solemnly to guarantee the new boundary which may be arranged?4

Go: Washington

LS, DNA: RG 46, First Congress, 1789–91, Records of Executive Proceedings, President’s Messages—Indian Relations; LB, DLC:GW.

In the summer of 1789, an agent of the Cherokee nation traveled to New York to present grievances to the federal government and to seek relief from the numerous squatters settling on lands guaranteed the Cherokee by the United States at the November 1785 Treaty of Hopewell, South Carolina. In response the president informed the Senate on 22 Aug. 1789, “As the Cherokees reside principally within the territory claimed by North Carolina, and as that State is not a member of the present Union, it may be doubted whether any efficient measures in favor of the Cherokees could be immediately adopted by the general Government.” North Carolina’s ratification of the federal Constitution on 21 Nov. 1789 and the cession of its western land claims on 12 Dec. 1789 removed that final excuse. Henry Knox had to admit to the president in January 1790 the inability of the federal government to remove the white families from the Cherokee lands south of the French Broad River. Instead, he recommended negotiating a new treaty with the Cherokee nation to redraw the boundaries set down at Hopewell and to indemnify the Indians for their alienated lands (see Cherokee Chiefs to GW, 19 May 1789 and note 1, Cherokee Nation to GW, 19 May 1789, Bennett Ballew to GW, 22 Aug. 1789, GW to the U.S. Senate, 22 Aug. 1789, Knox to GW, 4 Jan. 1790).

1For the Creek treaty recently presented to the Senate for ratification, see GW to the U.S. Senate, 4 Aug. 1790, 7 Aug. 1790 (second letter), and Proclamation, 14 Aug. 1790, n.5.

3The 1 Sept. 1788 proclamation of the Confederation Congress reads in part: “It being the firm determination of Congress to protect the said Cherokees in their rights according to the true intent and meaning of the said treaty The United States In Congress Assembled, have therefore thought fit to issue and they do hereby issue this their proclamation strictly forbidding all such unwarrantable intrusions, and hostile proceedings against the said Cherokees, and enjoining all those, who have settled upon the said hunting grounds, of the said Cherokees to depart with their families and effects without loss of time, as they shall answer their disobedience to the injunctions and prohibitions expressed in this resolution at their peril” (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 34:476–78).

4The Senate unanimously agreed to consider GW’s message when it was received and resolved the same day to “advise and consent that the President . . . do at his discretion cause the Treaty concluded at Hopewell with the Cherokee Indians to be carried into execution according to the Terms thereof, or to enter into arrangements for such farther Cession of Territory from the said Cherokee Indians as the Tranquility and Interest of the United States may require: provided the sum which may be stipulated to be paid to the said Cherokee Indians do not exceed One thousand Dollars annually; and provided further, that no person who shall have taken possession of any lands within the Territory assigned to the said Cherokee . . . shall be confirmed in any such possessions but by a compliance with such terms as Congress may hereafter prescribe.” The Senate also resolved to guarantee any new boundary that might be concluded (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 2:95–96).

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