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Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government

33. Native American Policy

Incorporating the Indians into American society was the most desirable outcome, but their traditional society resisted the change. To win their friendship and confidence, it was necessary to do everything possible to maintain peace, to respect their rights, to protect them from wrong, to establish commerce with them, and to train and encourage them to become productive members of society.

"The aboriginal inhabitants of these countries I have regarded with the commiseration their history inspires. Endowed with the faculties and the rights of men, breathing an ardent love of liberty and independence, and occupying a country which left them no desire but to be undisturbed, the stream of overflowing population from other regions directed itself on these shores. Without power to divert or habits to contend against, they have been overwhelmed by the current or driven before it. Now reduced within limits too narrow for the hunter's state, humanity enjoins us to teach them agriculture and the domestic arts, to encourage them to that industry which alone can enable them to maintain their place in existence and to prepare them in time for that state of society which to bodily comforts adds the improvement of the mind and morals." --Thomas Jefferson: 2nd Inaugural, 1805. ME 3:378

33.1 A Policy of Peace

"Our system is to live in perpetual peace with the Indians, to cultivate an affectionate attachment from them by everything just and liberal which we can do for them within the bounds of reason, and by giving them effectual protection against wrongs from our own people." --Thomas Jefferson to William H. Harrison, 1803. ME 10:368

"The most economical as well as the most humane conduct towards [the Indians] is to bribe them into peace and to retain them in peace by eternal bribes." --Thomas Jefferson to Charles Carroll, 1791. ME 8:177

"Peace... is all we desire of them, it having been a leading object of our present Government to guaranty them in their present possessions, and to protect their persons with the same fidelity which is extended to its own citizens. We ask nothing of them but that they will accept our peace, friendship and services." --Thomas Jefferson to C. W. F. Dumas, 1791. ME 8:197

"Towards the attainment of our two objects of peace and lands, it is essential that our agent acquire that sort of influence over the Indians which rests on confidence." --Thomas Jefferson to Andrew Jackson, 1803. ME 10:358

"We never wished to do [the Indians] an injury, but on the contrary, to give them all the assistance in our power towards improving their condition, and establishing them to support themselves and their families." --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 1807. ME 11:344

"We make to [the Indians] this solemn declaration of our unalterable determination, that we wish them to live in peace with all nations as well as with us, and we have no intention ever to strike them or to do them an injury of any sort, unless first attacked or threatened." --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 1807. ME 11:344

"I have nothing to recommend but the general office of preserving peace with such of the Indians whose conduct has not rendered chastisement necessary: peace and friendship with them is our desire and their interest." --Thomas Jefferson to Linctot, 1781. Papers 4:600

33.2 Respect for Native Rights

"I disapprove... [of the proposal] to subject the Indians to our laws without their consent,... [which is] so little in concord with our principles of government." --Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1818. (*) FE 10:115

"The want of [attention to the rights of Indians] is a principal source of dishonor to the American character. The two principles on which our conduct towards the Indians should be founded, are justice and fear. After the injuries we have done them, they cannot love us, which leaves us no alternative but that of fear to keep them from attacking us. But justice is what we should never lose sight of, and in time it may recover their esteem." --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Hawkins, 1786. ME 5:390

"I am of opinion that government should firmly maintain this ground: that the Indians have a right to the occupation of their lands, independent of the States within whose chartered lines they happen to be; that until they cede them by treaty or other transaction equivalent to a treaty, no act of a State can give a right to such lands; that neither under the present constitution, nor the ancient confederation, had any State or person a right to treat with the Indians, without the consent of the General Government;... that the government is determined to exert all its energy for the patronage and protection of the rights of the Indians, and the preservation of peace between the United States and them; and that if any settlements are made on lands not ceded by them, without the previous consent of the United States, the government will think itself bound, not only to declare to the Indians that such settlements are without the authority or protection of the United States, but to remove them also by the public force." --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Knox, 1791. ME 8:226

"It may be regarded as certain that not a foot of land will ever be taken from the Indians without their own consent. The sacredness of their rights is felt by all thinking persons in America, as much as in Europe." --Thomas Jefferson: Answers to de Meusnier Questions, 1786. ME 17:74

33.3 Promoting Commerce

"If we use forbearance and open commerce for [the Indians,] they will come to and give us time to attach them to us." --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 1808. ME 12:140

"The measure adopted of establishing trading houses among [the Indian tribes], and of furnishing them necessaries in exchange for their commodities at such moderated prices as leave no gain, but cover us from loss, has the most conciliatory and useful effect upon them, and is that which will best secure their peace and good will." --Thomas Jefferson: 3rd Annual Message, 1803. ME 3:354

"By pursuing a uniform course of justice toward [the Indian tribes], by aiding them in all the improvements which may better their condition, and especially by establishing a commerce on terms which shall be advantageous to them and only not losing to us, and so regulated as that no incendiaries of our own or any other nation may be permitted to disturb the natural effects of our just and friendly offices, we may render ourselves so necessary to their comfort and prosperity, that the protection of our citizens from their disorderly members will become their interest and their voluntary care. Instead, therefore, of an augmentation of military force proportioned to our extension of frontier, I proposed a moderate enlargement of the capital employed in that commerce, as a more effectual, economical, and humane instrument for preserving peace and good neighborhood with them." --Thomas Jefferson: 4th Annual Message, 1804. ME 3:371

"The method by which we may advance towards our object will be, 1. to press the encouragements to agriculture, by which they may see how little land will maintain them much better, and the advantage of exchanging useless deserts to improve their farms. 2. To establish among them a factory or factories for furnishing them with all the necessaries and comforts they may wish (spirituous liquors excepted), encouraging these and especially their leading men, to run in debt for these beyond their individual means of paying; and whenever in that situation, they will always cede lands to rid themselves of debt... 3. We should continue to increase and nourish their friendship and confidence by every act of justice and of favor which we can possibly render them." --Thomas Jefferson: On Indian Boundaries, 1802. ME 17:374

"The Indians can be kept in order only by commerce or war. The former is the cheapest. Unless we can induce individuals to employ their capital in that trade, it will require an enormous sum of capital from the public treasury, and it will be badly managed. A drawback for four or five years is the cheapest way of getting that business off our hands." --Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1808. ME 11:415

"Nothing ought more to be avoided than the embarking ourselves in a system of military coercion on the Indians. If we do this, we shall have general and perpetual war. When a murder has been committed on one of our stragglers, the murderer should be demanded... When the refusal to deliver the murderer is permanent and proceeds from the want of will and not ability, we should then interdict all trade and intercourse with them till they give us complete satisfaction. Commerce is the great engine by which we are to coerce them, and not war." --Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis, 1808. ME 12:140

"If they wish to remain on the land which covers the bones of their fathers, [we adjure them] to keep the peace with a people who ask their friendship without needing it, who wish to avoid war without fearing it. In war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them." --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 1807. ME 11:345

"We must make ever memorable examples of the tribe or tribes which shall have taken up the hatchet." --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 1807. ME 11:361

33.4 Encouraging Friendship

"The immediate acquisition of the land is of less consequence to us than their friendship and a thorough confidence in our justice." --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 1807. ME 11:354

"Nothing must be spared to convince [the Indians] of the justice and liberality we are determined to use towards them, and to attach them to us indissolubly." --Thomas Jefferson to John Sibley, 1805. ME 11:81

"It is our earnest desire to merit and possess [the Indians'] affections by rendering them strict justice, prohibiting injury from others, aiding their endeavors to learn the culture of the earth and to raise useful animals, and befriending them as good neighbors and in every other way in our power." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to the Delaware and Shawanee Nations, 1802. ME 16:392

"We ask [the Indians'] friendship and confidence no longer than we shall merit it by our justice." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to the Miami Nation, 1808. ME 16:443

"These people [i.e., the Indians] are becoming very sensible of the baneful effects produced on their morals, their health and existence, by the abuse of ardent spirits, and some of them earnestly desire a prohibition of that article from being carried among them. The legislature will consider whether the effectuating that desire would not be in the spirit of benevolence and liberality which they have hitherto practised toward these our neighbors, and which has had so happy an effect toward conciliating their friendship." --Thomas Jefferson: Special Message, 1802. ME 3:349

33.5 Incorporate as Citizens

"In truth, the ultimate point of rest and happiness for [the Indians] is to let our settlements and theirs meet and blend together, to intermix and become one people, incorporating themselves with us as citizens of the U.S. This is what the natural progress of things will of course bring on, and it will be better to promote than retard it. Surely it will be better for them to be identified with us and preserved in the occupation of their lands, than be exposed to the many casualties which may endanger them while a separate people." --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Hawkins, 1803. ME 10:363

"[To] incorporate with us as citizens of the United States... is certainly the termination of their history most happy for themselves; but in the whole course of this it is essential to cultivate their love. As to their fear, we presume that our strength and their weakness is now so visible that they must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them, and that all our liberalities to them proceed from motives of pure humanity only." --Thomas Jefferson William Henry Harrison, 1803. (*) ME 10:370

"Made by the same Great Spirit and living in the same land with our brothers, the red men, we consider ourselves as of the same family; we wish to live with them as one people and to cherish their interest as our own." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to Indian Nations, 1802. ME 16:390

"To live in peace with all the world... is what we wish all our red children to do, and to consider themselves as brethren of the same family, and forming with us but one nation." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to Kitchao Geboway, 1808. ME 16:454

"Convinced of its soundness, I feel it consistent with pure morality to lead [the Indians] towards [becoming citizens,] to familiarize them to the idea that it is for their interest to cede lands at times to the United States, and for us to procure gratifications to our citizens from time to time by new acquisitions of land." --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Hawkins, 1803. ME 10:363

"I shall rejoice to see the day when the red men, our neighbors, become truly one people with us, enjoying all the rights and privileges we do and living in peace and plenty as we do, without anyone to make them afraid, to injure their persons or to take their property without being punished for it according to fixed laws." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to the Cherokee Chiefs, 1808. ME 16:434

"We wish for their own good to give [the Indians] full participation of the benefits of our free and mild government." --Thomas Jefferson to ________, 1780. Papers 3:271

33.6 Introducing Civilization

"The principles of humanity, the precepts of the Gospel, and the general wish of our country... have directed the public endeavors to ameliorate the condition of the Indian natives, by introducing among them a knowledge of agriculture and some of the mechanic arts, by encouraging them to resort to these as more certain and less laborious resources for subsistence than the chase; and by withholding from them the pernicious supplies of ardent spirits." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Ellicot Thomas et al., 1807. ME 16:289

"I am safe in affirming that the proofs of genius given by the Indians of North America place them on a level with whites in the same uncultivated state." --Thomas Jefferson to General Chastellux, 1785. ME 5:5, Papers 8:185

"Our experience with the Indians has proved that letters are not the first, but the last step in the progression from barbarism to civilization. Our Indian neighbors will occupy all the attentions we may spare, towards the improvement of their condition." --Thomas Jefferson to James Pemberton, 1808. ME 12:75

"The continued efforts to introduce among [our Indian neighbors] the implements and the practice of husbandry, and of the household arts, have not been without success;... they are becoming more and more sensible of the superiority of this dependence for clothing and subsistence over the precarious resources of hunting and fishing; and already we are able to announce, that instead of that constant diminution of their numbers, produced by their wars and their wants, some of them begin to experience an increase of population." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Annual Message, 1801. ME 3:328

"In order peaceably to counteract [their] policy [of refusing absolutely all further sale of their land], and to provide an extension of territory which the rapid increase of our numbers will call for, two measures are deemed expedient. First: to encourage them to abandon hunting, to apply to the raising stock, to agriculture and domestic manufactures, and thereby prove to themselves that less land and labor will maintain them in this, better than in their former mode of living. The extensive forest necessary in the hunting life will then become useless, and they will see advantage in exchanging them for the means of improving their farms and of increasing their domestic comforts. Secondly: to multiply trading-houses among them, and place within their reach those things which will contribute more to their domestic comfort than the possession of extensive but uncultivated wilds. Experience and reflection will develop to them the wisdom of exchanging what they can spare and we want, for what we can spare and they want. In leading them thus to agriculture, to manufactures, and civilization; in bringing together their and our settlements, and in preparing them ultimately to participate in the benefits of our government, I trust and believe we are acting for their greatest good." --Thomas Jefferson: Confidential Message on Western Exploration, 1803. ME 3:490

"Our Indian neighbors are advancing, many of them with spirit and others beginning to engage, in the pursuits of agriculture and household manufacture. They are becoming sensible that the earth yields subsistence with less labor and more certainty than the forest, and find it their interest, from time to time, to dispose of parts of their surplus and waste lands for the means of improving those they occupy, and of subsisting their families while they are preparing their farms." --Thomas Jefferson: 5th Annual Message, 1805. ME 3:392

"I suppose it will be the interest of the United States to encourage the wandering tribes... to reduce themselves to fixed habitations whenever they are so disposed. The establishment of towns, and growing attachment to them, will furnish, in some degree, pledges of their peaceable and friendly conduct." --Thomas Jefferson: Special Message, Dec. 30, 1808. ME 3:486

"Habits of industry, easy subsistence, attachment to property, are necessary to prepare their minds for the first elements of science, and afterwards for moral and religious instruction. To begin with the last has ever ended either in effecting nothing, or ingrafting bigotry on ignorance, and setting them to tomahawking and burning old women and others as witches." --Thomas Jefferson to James Pemberton, 1807. ME 11:395

"The plan of civilizing the Indians is undoubtedly a great improvement on the ancient and totally ineffectual one of beginning with religious missionaries. Our experience has shown that this must be the last step of the process. The following is what has been successful: 1st, to raise cattle, etc., and thereby acquire a knowledge of the value of property; 2d, arithmetic, to calculate that value; 3d, writing, to keep accounts, and here they begin to enclose farms, and the men to labor, the women to spin and weave; 4th, to read 'Aesop's Fables' and 'Robinson Crusoe' are their first delight." --Thomas Jefferson to James Jay, 1809. ME 12:270

"On our part, we shall endeavor in all things to be just and generous towards [the Indians], and to aid [them] in meeting those difficulties which a change of circumstances is bringing on. We shall, with great pleasure, see [their] people become disposed to cultivate the earth, to raise herds of the useful animals, and to spin and weave, for their food and clothing. These resources are certain; they will never disappoint [them]; while those of hunting may fail and expose [their] women and children to the miseries of hunger and cold." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to the Indian Nations, 1802. ME 16:390

"With [every barbarous people], force is law. The stronger sex imposes on the weaker. It is civilization alone which replaces women in the enjoyment of their natural equality, that first teaches us to subdue the selfish passions, and to respect those rights in others which we value in ourselves." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.VI, 1782. ME 2:84

"Both duty and interest then enjoin that we should extend to them the blessings of civilized life, and prepare their minds for becoming useful members of the American family." --Thomas Jefferson to Ellicot Thomas et al., 1807. ME 16:289

33.7 Obstacles to Incorporation

"The endeavors to enlighten [the Indians] on the fate which awaits their present course of life, to induce them to exercise their reason, follow its dictates and change their pursuits with the change of circumstances have powerful obstacles to encounter; they are combated by the habits of their bodies, prejudices of their minds, ignorance, pride, and the influence of interested and crafty individuals among them who feel themselves something in the present order of things, and fear to become nothing in any other." --Thomas Jefferson: 2nd Inaugural, 1805. ME 3:379

"[Crafty individuals] inculcate a sanctimonious reverence [in the Indians] for the customs of their ancestors: that whatsoever they did must be done through all time; that reason is a false guide and to advance under its counsel in their physical, moral, or political condition is perilous innovation; that their duty is to remain as their Creator made them, ignorance being safety and knowledge full of danger. In short,... among them is seen the action and counteraction of good sense and bigotry. They, too, have their anti-philosophers who find an interest in keeping things in their present state, who dread reformation and exert all their faculties to maintain the ascendency of habit over the duty of improving our reason and obeying its mandates." --Thomas Jefferson: 2nd Inaugural, 1805. ME 3:379

"The best conduct we can pursue to countervail these movements among the Indians is to confirm our friends by redoubled acts of justice and favor, and to endeavor to draw over the individuals indisposed towards us." --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 1807. ME 11:325

"I am not afraid of new inventions or improvements, nor bigoted to the practices of our forefathers. It is that bigotry which keeps the Indians in a state of barbarism in the midst of the arts [and] would have kept us in the same state even now." --Thomas Jefferson to Robert Fulton, 1810. ME 12:380

"If we can form for them a simple and acceptable plan of advancing by degrees to a maturity for receiving our laws, the example will have a powerful effect towards stimulating the other tribes in the same progression, and will cheer the gloomy views which have overspread their minds as to their own future history." --Thomas Jefferson to James Pemberton, 1808. ME 12:75

33.8 The Tragic Outcome

"The interested and unprincipled policy of England [in the War of 1812] has defeated all our labors for the salvation of these unfortunate people. They have seduced the greater part of the tribes within our neighborhood, to take up the hatchet against us, and the cruel massacres they have committed on the women and children of our frontiers taken by surprise, will oblige us now to pursue them to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach." --Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, 1813. ME 14:24

"No nation rejecting our friendship, and commencing wanton and unprovoked war against us, shall ever after remain within our reach; it shall never be in their power to strike us a second time." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to Indian Nations, 1808. ME 16:431

"We have cut off all possibility of intercourse and of mutual aid, and may pursue at our leisure whatever plan we find necessary to secure ourselves against the future effects of their savage and ruthless warfare. The confirmed brutalization, if not the extermination of this race in our America, is therefore to form an additional chapter in the English history of the same colored man in Asia, and of the brethren of their own color in Ireland, and wherever else Anglo-mercantile cupidity can find a two-penny interest in deluging the earth with human blood." --Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, 1813. ME 14:21

ME, FE = Memorial Edition, Ford Edition.   See Sources.

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