Exceptional Jefferson Presidential Address to the Cherokee Nation
Manuscript Document Signed, "Th: Jefferson," as President, 4 pages, 8" x 10", Washington, January 10, 1806, an address directed to “My Friends & Children Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation.” With one additional word, "inclosed" added to the text in Jefferson's hand. Laid into a slightly larger sheet, expected folds, else very fine condition.
This extraordinary manuscript, signed by President Thomas Jefferson, is his address, in the presidential role as “The Great White Father” of the Indian Nations, to his “Children,” the Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation. At the time of writing, the Cherokees had visited Washington to make a treaty defining their boundaries. The purchase of Louisiana and the control of the Mississippi River opened vast territories in the West, and the Indians, forced by the advance of the white pioneers, were crossing the rivers to new hunting grounds. Some of the Cherokees had migrated to the West, but others had remained in Georgia and Tennessee. This is a sterling example of Jefferson’s great eloquence, on this occasion following successful treaty negotiations.
Jefferson's message reads in full: “My Friends & Children Chiefs of the Cherokee Nation. Having now finished our business, & finished it I hope to mutual satisfaction, I cannot take leave of you without expressing the satisfaction I have received from your visit. I see, with my own eyes, that the endeavors we have been making to encourage & lead you on in the way of improving your situation have not been unsuccessful; it has been like grain sown in good ground, producing abundantly. You are becoming farmers, learning the use of the plough & the hoe, enclosing your grounds & employing that labour in their cultivation which you formerly employed in hunting & in war; & I see handsome specimens of cotton cloth, raised, spun & wove by yourselves. You are also raising cattle & hogs for your food & horses to assist your labours; go on, my Children, in the same way, & be assured the further you advance in it the happier & more respectable you will be. Our brethren whom you have happened to meet here from the west & the north west, have enabled you to compare your situation now with what it was formerly. They also make the comparison. They see <2> how far you are ahead of them, & by seeing what you are they are encouraged to do as you have done. You will find your next want to be mills to grind your corn, which by relieving your women from the loss if time in beating it into meal, will enable them to spin & weave more. When a man has inclosed & improved his farm, built a good house on it, & raised plentiful stocks of animals, he will wish when he dies that these things should go to his wife & children, whom he loves more than he does his other relations, & for whom he will work with pleasure during his life. You will therefore find it necessary to establish laws for this. When a man has property earned by his own labour he will not like to see another come & take it from him, because he happens to be stronger, or else to defend it by spilling blood. You will find it necessary then to appoint good men, as judges, to decide contests between man & man, according to reason, & to the rules you shall establish. If you wish to be aided by our council & experience in these things we shall always be ready to assist you with our advice.
My Children, it is unnecessary for me to advise you against spending all your time & labor in warring with & destroying your fellow men, & wasting your own numbers. You already see the folly & the inequity if it. <3> Your young men however are not yet sufficiently sensible of it. Some of them cross the Mississippi to go & destroy people who never did them an injury. My Children this is wrong, & must not be. If we permit them to cross the Mississippi to war with the Indians on the other side of that river, we must let those Indians cross the river to take revenge on you. I say again, this must not be. The Mississippi now belongs to us, it must not be a river of blood. It is now the water path along which all our people of Natchez, St. Louis, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, & the western parts of Pennsylvania & Virginia are constantly passing, with their property to & from N Orleans. Young men going to war are not easily restrained. Finding our people on the river, they will rob them, perhaps kill them. This would bring on a war between us and you. It is better to stop this in time, by forbidding your young people to go across the river to make war. If they go to visit, or to live with the Cherokees on the other side of the river we shall not object to that. That country is ours. We will permit them to live in it.
My Children, this is what I wished to say to you. To go on in learning to cultivate the earth, and to avoid war. If any of your neighbors injure you, our beloved men whom we place with you will endea <4> vor to obtain justice for you & we will support them in it. If any of your bad people injure your neighbors, be ready to acknowledge it & to do them justice. It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it. Tell all your chiefs, young men women & children that I take them by the hand & hold it fast, that I am their father, wish their happiness & well being, & am always ready to promote their good.
My Children, I thank you for your visit, & pray to the Great Spirit who made us all & planted us all in this land to live together like brothers, that he will conduct you safely to your homes & grant you to find your families & your friends in good health."
A month earlier, in Jefferson’s 1805 Message to Congress (now called the State of the Union Address), he wrote that “our Indian neighbors 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 … ”
Provenance: The Collection of Nathaniel Stein, Sotheby’s, New York 30 January 1979, lot 98.
This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.
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