Cabinet Opinion on Sending an Agent to the Choctaws
[Philadelphia] June 1[–5]. 1793.
That an Agent be sent to the Choctaw nation to endeavor secretly to engage them to support the Chickasaws in their present war with the Creeks, giving them for that purpose arms and ammunition sufficient: and that it be kept in view that if we settle our differences amicably with the Creeks, we at the same time mediate effectually the peace of the Chickasaws & Choctaws, so as to rescue the former from the difficulties in which they are engaged, and the latter from those into which we may have been instrumental in engaging them.1
Altho’ I approve of the general policy of employing Indians against Indians; yet I doubt greatly, whether it ought to be exercised under the particular existing circumstances with Spain; who may hold herself bound to take the part of the Creeks, and criminate the U.S. for some degree of insincerity.2
My judgment ballanced a considerable time on the proposed measure; but it has at length decided against it, and very materially on the ground that I do not think the U. States can honorably or morally or with good policy embark the Chocktaws in the War, without a determination to extricate them from the consequences even by force. Accordingly it is proposed that in settling our differences with the Creeks, “we mediate effectually the peace of the Chickesaws and Choctaws” which I under⟨stand⟩ to mean, that we are to insist with the Creeks o⟨n⟩ such terms of peace for them a[s] shall appear to us equitable, and if refused will exert ourse⟨lves⟩ to procure them by arms. I am unwilling, all circumstances foreign and domestic considered, to embarrass the Government, with such an obligati⟨on⟩.3
DS, DLC:GW. The date and first paragraph are in Thomas Jefferson’s writing and signed by Jefferson and Henry Knox. The second paragraph and signature are by Edmund Randolph. The third paragraph and signature are by Alexander Hamilton.
Neither Hamilton nor GW attended this cabinet meeting, because of illness. Hamilton received the opinion on 3 June and added the last paragraph at some point before GW received the completed opinion on 5 June (Hamilton to Jefferson, 3 June, Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 14:513–14; Tobias Lear to Thomas Jefferson, 31 May; JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 161).
1. For a recent request by the Chickasaw for U.S. aid to help defend themselves and the Choctaws against neighboring Creek Indians, see William Blount to Knox, 23 Mar., and enclosures (ASP, Indian Affairs, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:441–43). Knox then forwarded Blount’s letter and its enclosures to GW (Tobias Lear to Knox, 20 April; JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 114–15). Knox’s response to the Chickasaws of 27 April 1793 reads: “Your father, General Washington … has understood, through Governor Blount, that you are greatly in want of arms, and ammunition, and corn; and therefore he has taken the earliest opportunity of proving to you his friendship, and the desire of being serviceable to you.
“It is his earnest desire to be at peace with all the Indian tribes, and he recommends the same measure to you. Nothing but the most dreadful necessity will justify a state of war. Such necessity, however, sometimes exists; but peace is always to be sought for with the greatest eagerness upon the first opportunity.” After a mention of U.S. hopes for peace with the northern Indians, Knox continued: “Your father, General Washington, will continue to love and cherish you; and if requisite, he will supply you further with articles necessary to your situation; and for which you will apply to the General commanding the army at Fort Washington” (ASP, Foreign Relations, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:288).
2. With Spanish encouragement, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek Indians in the fall of 1793 formed a loose confederation that was designed to prevent American encroachment upon their territory. This alliance and Spanish promises of support were formalized in the Treaty of Nogales, signed on 28 Oct. 1793 (see Holmes, Gayoso description begins Jack D. L. Holmes. Gayoso: The Life of a Spanish Governor in the Mississippi Valley, 1789–1799. Baton Rouge, La., 1965. description ends , 150–56).
3. No U.S. agent was sent to the Choctaws at this time.