Gunston-Hall February 9th. 1792.
I thank you for your Favour of the 3d. which came to Hand last Night. I am not at all surprized at Govr. Morriss's Appointment as for the honourable or dishonourable Manner of doing it, he cares not a button. Our new Government is a Government of Stock-jobbing and Favourtism. It required no extraordinary Degree of Penetration, to forsee that it wou'd be so, from it's Formation. If any Man, of common Sense, doubts the first (independent of the Height to which Stock-jobbing is now arrived) let him attentively read the Secretary of the Treasury's Reports upon the Debt of the United States, and upon the Bank; and consider the Tendency, Spirit, and necessary Operation of the whole funding System. If he doubts the last, let him reflect upon several of the public Appointments; and after having weighed the Advantages, with the Expence of some of the Offices, examine the Fitness of the Officer to the Office. I will advert only to some of the diplomatic Appointments. The Money expended in our Mission to the Court of Lisbon will, I expect, procure the United States as many advantages, as if it had been thrown into the Channel of the Delaware; but not being informed whether the Queen of Portugal has any Taste for either Poetry, or Foppery, I am not able to apply the second Part of the Rule above recommended.
If a Negotiation is intended for demanding from Great Britain the Delivery of the Western Posts, according to Treaty, a Minister, for that Purpose, might be necessary; and I believe, without Compliment to Mr. Pinkney, that the Appointment to the Court of London is a proper one. But if a Commercial Treaty is the Object, I cou'd wish the Appointment had been spared; being persuaded, that in the present State of our Government, and real want of Knowledge, & Experience, in Subjects of this Nature, the less we dabble in Commercial Treaties, the better.
That a Minster to the Court of France, at this particular time, is proper, I have no Doubt; because it seems to be understood, as the Criterion of Approbation of their new Government. But to send, upon such an Occasion, a Man, who is known to execrate such a Government, is rather a Novelty in the diplomatic Code. There may be something, in the Etiquette of this Business, above my simple Comprehension; for I can reconcile it to Propriety, only by applying Mr. Pope's Maxim—Whatever is, is right.
Having never been in a military Line of Life, it is with Diffidence I give my Sentiments upon any military Subject; and I dare not venture further, than a few general Observations. That an offensive War with the Western Tribes of Indians is now a Matter of Necessity, can hardly be questioned; tho' I believe this Necessity is, in a great Measure, the Offspring of our own Misconduct. No longer ago than the year 1710, the blue Ridge of Mountains was the Boundary between us and the Indians. At the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, in 1768, the Ohio River was fixed as the Boundary between us and the western Indians. With this the Indians appear to have contented: and sound Policy wou'd have dictated to us, to have been contented with it too; at least, until the Country on this Side of the Ohio was well setled. Experience in this (as in almost everything) is the safest guide.
When our Ancestors first setled on the American Shores, they purchased, or obtained by Treaty (in some few Instances by force) from the Indian Nations, a small Tract of Country: the Settlement of this was the Means of destroying, or driving away the wild Game, and rendering the adjacent Country unfit for the savage Life. The Indians removed further back for the Convenience of hunting; and sold, upon easy terms, the Lands, which were no longer of much Use to them. And thus, by making Purchase after Purchase, our Settlements gradually advanced; and the Indian Natives, following the wild Game, gradually retired; so imperceptibly, that we are now at a Loss to know, what became of the numerous Tribes of Indians, who once inhabited Virginia; very few of them, comparatively speaking, having been destroyed by Wars with us.
Had we continued to pursue this safe and easy Plan, we shou'd have saved a great deal of Money, and prevented many horid Scenes, with the Effusion of much Blood. But unfortunately, the Avidity of Individuals to engross large Tracts of Land, and the vain Expectation of raising a Fund, from the Sale of the Western Lands, for the Extinction of the public Debt, extended our Views to the Indian Country over the Ohio, before we had setled the adjacent Lands. Our people begun to settle upon the Indian hunting Grounds, yet full of Game. And to compleat the Business, the whole Indian Country, as far West as the Missisippi, and as far North as the Lake of the Woods, was laid off into seperate States, and particular Names affixed to them, in a Map of the Territory of the United States, published by Mr. Hutchins, Geographer to the United States, with every Mark of official Authenticity. It is easy to conceive what Effect this wou'd have upon the Minds of the Indians, when explained to them, by their Neighbours, the British Officers, at the Western Ports, & in Canada. It was shewing the Indians (to use a Phrase of their own) that we were preparing to drive them from the Face of the Earth; and it is no Wonder, that it has created a general Confederacy of the Indian Tribes against us. This was one of those speculative theoretical Projects; which risques much Mischief, without a Possibility of doing any Good. Were we afraid that our Posterity wou'd not know how to lay off Geographical lines upon a Map, or give pretty Names to additional States when they shou'd become necessary? But "it was time that the United States shou'd take a permanent Form" is the only Reason I ever heard given for it. And Yet the Parent of this dangerous, whimsical (I had almost said childish) Project, is a Man for whose Integrity, Partriotism, & knowledge I have the highest Esteem. "Unthought of Follies cheat us in the Wise!"
We attempted, indeed, to form Treaties with the Indians, and to make Purchases. But in doing this, we conducted ourselves rather as Proprietors of the Soil, than as Purchasers; and prescribed certain Bounds, beyond which we wou'd still suffer them to live. These Bounds were extended much further westward, than was Yet necessary for our Settlements; and was therefore an unnecessary Intrusion upon their Room for hunting; which is their Means of Subsistence. The Indians, not thinking themselves in a Situation to make effectual Resistance, accepted our Presents, and seemed, tho' reluctantly, to acquiese in what we thought fit to dictate; but the Sense of Injury lay ranklin in their Hearts; and they have almost ever since, at various times, been carrying on a clandestine Predatory War against our frontier Inhabitants; until we were obliged, in our own Defence, to march an Army, as we have done these two last years, into their Country. Their unexpected Success in both Campaigns, the Booty they have taken, and the Alliances they have formed with numerous remote Tribes, has put an End to all Hopes of Peace, until we shall have effectually convinced them of the Superiority of the United States, by carrying a successful War into the Heart of their Country. The Government certainly owes Protection to the frontier Inhabitants, as much as to those setled in any other Part of the Country; and I can not think either Militia, or Companys of Rangers, by any Means, equal to this Purpose. In our present Circumstances, nothing but beating the Indians at Home, and shewing them, that their principal Towns are in our Power, will keep them quiet, and prevent their Ravages upon our Frontiers. For this a sufficient Body of Troops must be raised; but I hope upon a very different Plan from that of last Year. If the Men are enlisted in the back Parts of the adjacent States, Pensylvania, Maryland Virginia, & North Carolina, they will most of them be Hunters & Riphel-Men, inured to the Woods, and many of them accustomed to the Indian Mode of Warfare; and will be near enough to the Places of general Rendevous, to assemble in time, to march to the Indian Towns, before the Season is too far advanced to impede their Progress. From two or three thousand such Men as these, commanded by an active, vigilant Officer, capable of undergoing the Fatigues unavoidable in an Indian Campaign, we might reasonably expect success. But if the Men are enlisted at such a Distance that they can't reach the Place of Rendevous, until the Times of their Service are nearly expired, and the Season exhausted. If the Soldiers are pick'd up among the idle dissolute Vagabonds in our Towns, who were never in the Woods, and hardly known the But-end of a Firelock from the Muzzle; we have nothing to expect, but repeated Defeat & Disgrace.
I believe nobody expected that the last Campaign wou'd turn out so very unfortunately as it has done; but from the first Notoriety of the intended Plan of Operations, the Manner of enlisting the Men &c. I believe very few Men of Understanding expected any Good from it.
The funding System having, for the present at least, frustrated the Expectation of raising any considerable Sum from the Sale of the back Lands; I hope when ever we treat again with the Indians, we shall be more moderate in our Demands; and not strive to extend the Boundaries between us & them, further than is really necessary to ensure the safe Navigation of the Ohio River, and secure our actual Settlements, and Sales, on the west Side of it; and when that Part of the Country shall have been setled; we shall then find little Difficulty in purchasing the more westerly adjacent Lands; for the Reasons I have already given. And if the British Posts were given up to us, according to Treaty; and we cou'd bring the Indians to live, by cultivating the Ground; we shou'd probably hardly ever hear of another Indian War. I am, with great Regard and Esteem dear Sir Your sincere Friend & Servt.
P. S. Some Company coming to Gunston, upon a Visit, prevented my finishing this Letter, at the time it is dated; as I had intended.