George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 1–7 December 1790

To Thomas Jefferson

[c.1–7 December 1790]

The P. requests that Mr J. would give the letter & statement herewith sent from the S. of War a perusal, & return it to him in the course of the day with his opinion as to the propriety of the manner of ⟨making⟩ the communication to Congress; and whether it ought not, at any rate, to be introduced in some such way, as this (if it is to pass thro him to Congress) “Pursuant to direction” “I submit”—&ca—or (if it is to go immediately from the War department to that body “I lay before Congress by direction of the P. of the U.S. the following Statement” &ca.

ADf, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

This draft was written on the address leaf of one of Jefferson’s letters to GW and docketed by GW “To Mr Jefferson & Colo. Hamilton.”

The enclosures presented to Jefferson and Hamilton for their consideration undoubtedly consisted of a letter and statement drafted by Henry Knox regarding Josiah Harmar’s expedition against the Indians in the Northwest Territory, intended to be presented to Congress. The Harmar expedition had been undertaken after the recess of Congress in late summer, and GW had directed Knox that the reasons for undertaking the expedition would have to be “laid fully before Congress” at the opening of the session in December (see GW to Knox, 2 Nov. 1790). During the course of the fall, Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, and Harmar neglected to keep Knox and GW informed about the progress of the expedition, and little more than rumors reached GW regarding its fate. In his letter to Knox of 19 Nov. 1790, GW confided that “from the silence which reigns,” he was “prepared for the worst; that is—for expence without honor or profit.” In that letter he reminded Knox of his intention to lay the matter before Congress at the opening of the session. Shortly after GW arrived in Philadelphia, Knox apparently presented him with a draft of a letter to Congress regarding the expedition and a long enclosure, titled “Statement of Information on the Expedition against the Indians Northwest of the Ohio,” consisting mainly of extracts from various sources documenting Indian depredations on the Northwest frontier. These were undoubtedly the documents GW presented to Jefferson and Hamilton to solicit their opinion on the most proper mode of transmitting them to Congress. No reply from either Jefferson or Hamilton has been found, but both men probably advised GW that Knox’s letter and statement should be presented directly to Congress by him under the president’s order. A decision was reached on this matter before 8 Dec. 1790, when GW presented his annual message to Congress. On 9 Dec. Knox’s letter and statement were presented to Congress.

In its final form Knox’s letter to Congress reads: “In obedience to the Orders of the President of the United States, I have the honor respectfully to submit to the Senate, a statement of the Information, on which the expedition against the Indians North-west of the Ohio, has been founded—And also the instructions to the Governor of the Western territory, and the Commanding Officer of the troops relative to the same object; together with an estimate of the expence with which the expedition will probably be attended” (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 5:1309–10; for the full text of Knox’s “Statement of Information on the Expedition against the Indians Northwest of the Ohio,” see ibid., 1310–58).

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