Letter to Congress - History

Letter to Congress - History


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LETTER.

" We have now the honor to submit to the consideration of the United States, in Congress assembled, that Constitution which has appeared to us the most advisable.

" The friends of our country have long seen and desired, that the power of making war, peace, and treaties; that of levying money, and regulating commerce, and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities, should be fully and effectually vested in the general government of the Union. But the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident. Thence results the necessity of a different organization. It is obviously impracticable, in the federal government of these States, to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all. Individuals entering into society must give up a share of liberty, to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstances, as on the object to be obtained. It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered, and those which may be reserved. And on the present occasion this difficulty was increased by a difference among the several States, as to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interests.

" In all our deliberations on this subject we kept stead fly in our new that which appeared to us tile greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each State in the Convention to be less rigid in points of inferior magnitudts, than might have been otherwise expected. And thus the Constitution which we now present is the result pf a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession, which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.

"That it will meet the fall and entire approbition of every State is not, perhaps, to be expected. But each will doubtless consider, that had her interest alone been consulted, the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable and injurious to others. That it is liable to asfew exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all; and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish."

Mr. WILLIAMSON moved to reconsider the clause requiring three-fourths of each house to overrule the negative of the President, in order to strike out three-fourths and insert two-thirds. He had, he remarked, himself proposed threefourths instead of two-thirds; but he had since been convinced that the latter proportion was the best. The former puts too much in the power of the President.

Mr. SHERMAN was of the same opinion; adding that the States would not like to see so small a minority, and the President, prevailing over the general voice. In making laws, regard should be had to the sense of the people, who are to be bound by them; and it was more probable that a single man should mistake or betray this sense, than the Legislature.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. Considering the difference between the two proportions numerically, it amounts. in one House, to two members only; and in the other, to net more than five; according to the numbers of which tho Legislature is at first to be composed. It is the intereet, moreover, of the distant States, to prefer three-fourths, as they will be oftenest absent, and need the interposing cheek of the President. The excess, rather than the deficiency, of laws was to be dreaded. The example of New York shows that two-thirds is not sufficient to answer the purpose. Mr. HAMILTON added his testimony to the fact, that two-thirds in New York had been ineffectual, either where a popular object, or a legislative faction, operated; of which he mentioned some instances.

Mr. GERRY. It is necessary to consider the danger on the other side also. Two-thirds will be a considerable, perhaps, a proper, security. Three-fourths puts too much in the power of a few men. The primary object of the revisionary check of the President is, not to protect the general interest, but to defend his own department. If threefourths be required a few Senators, having hopes from the nomination of the President to offices, will combine with him and impede proper laws. Making the Vice President Speaker increases the danger.

Mr. WILLIAMSON was less afraid of too few then of too many laws. He was, most of all, afraid that the repeal of bad laws might be rendered too difficult by requiring three fourths to overcome the dissent of the President.

Colonel MASON had always considered this as one of the most exceptionable parts of the system. As to the numerical argument of Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, little arithmetic was necessary to understand that three-fourths was more than two-thirds, whatever the numbers of the Legislature might be. The example of New York depended on the real merits of the laws. The gentlemen citing it had no doubt given their own opinions. But perhaps there were others of opposite opinions, who could equally paint the abuses on the other side. His leading view was, to guard against too great an impediment to the repeal of laws.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS dwelt on the danger to the public interest from the instability of laws, as the most to be guarded against. On the other side, there could be little danger. If one man in office will not consent whore he ought, every fourth year another can be substituted. This term was not too long for fair experiments. Many good laws are not tried long enough to prove their merit. This is often the case with new laws opposed to old habits. The inspection laws of Virginia and Maryland, to which all are now so much attached, were unpopular at first.

Mr. PINCZKNEY was warmly in opposition to three-fourths, as putting a dangerous power in the hands of a few Senators headed by the President.

Mr. MADISON. When three-fourths was agreed to, the President was to be elected by the Legislature, and for seven years. He is now to be elected by the people, and for four years. The object of the revisionary power is twofold, —first, to defend the Executive rights; secondly, to prevent popular or factious injustice. It was an important principle in this and in the State Constitutions, to check legislative injustice and encroachments. The experience of the States had demonstrated that their checks are insufficient. We must compare the danger from the weakness of two-thirds, with the danger from the strength of threefourths. He thought on the whole, the former was the greater. As to the difficulty of repeals, it was probable that in doubtful cases, the policy would soon take place, of limiting the duration of laws, so as to require renewal instead of repeal.

The reconsideration being agreed to, —

On the question to insert two-thirds ih place of three

fourths, —

Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, (Mr. McHENRY, no,) North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye—6; Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, (General WASHINGTON, Mr. BLAIR, Mr. MADISON, no; Colonel MASON, Mr. RANDOLPH, aye,) no—4; New Hampshire, divided.

Mr. WILLIAMSON observed to the House, that no provision was yet made for juries in civil cases, and suggested the necessity of it.

Mr. GORHAM. It is not possible to discriminate equity cases from those in which juries are proper. The Representatives of the people may be safely trusted in this matter.

Mr. GERRY urged the necessity of juries to guard against corrupt judges. He proposed that the Committee last appointed should be directed to provide a clause for securing the trial by juries.

Colonel MASON perceived the difficulty mentioned by Mr. The jury cases cannot be specified. A general principle laid down, on this and some other points, would be sufficient. He wished the plan had been prefaced with a Bill of Rights, and would second a motion if made for the purpose. It would give great quiet to the people; and with the aid of the State Declarations, a bill might be prepared in a few hours.

Mr. GERRY concurred in the idea, and moved for a Committee to prepare a Bill of Rights.

Colonel MASON seconded the motion.

Mr. SHERMAN was for securing the rights of the people where requisite. The State Declarations of Rights are not repealed by this Constitution; and being in force are sufficient. There are many cases where juries are proper, which cannot be discriminated. The Legislature may be safely trusted.

Colonel MASON. The laws of the United States are to be paramount to State Bills of Rights.

On the question for a Committee to prepare a Bill of Rights, —

New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, aye—6; Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no—6; Massachusetts, absent.

The clause relating to exports being reconsidered, at the instance of Colonel MASON, —who urged that the restrictions on the States would prevent the incidental duties necessary for the inspection and safe keeping of their produce, and be ruinous to the staple States, as he called the five Southern States, —he moved as follows: " provided, nothing herein contained shall be construed to restrain any State from laying duties upon exports for the sole purpose of defraying the charges of inspecting, packing, storing and indemnifying the losses in keeping the commodities in the care of public officers, before exportation." In answer to a remark which he anticipated, to wit, that the States could provide for these expenses, by a tax in some other way, he stated the inconvenience of requiring the planters to pay a tax before the actual delivery for exportation.

Mr. MADISON seconded the motion. It would at least be harmless; and might have the good effect of restraining the States to bona fide duties for the purpose, as well as of authorizing explicitly such duties; though perhaps the best guard against an abuse of the power of the States on this subject was the right in the General Government to regulate trade between State and State.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS saw

Mr. DAYTON was afraid the proviso would enable Pennsylvania to tax New Jersey under the idea of inspection duties of which Pennsylvania would judge.

Mr. GORHAM and Mr. LANGDON thought there would be no security, if the proviso should be agreed to, for the States exporting through other States, against these oppressions of the latter. How was redress to be obtained, in case duties should be laid beyond the purpose expressed?

Mr. There will be the same security as in other cases. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court must be the source of redress. So far only had provision been made by the plan against injurious acts of the States. His own opinion was, that this was insufficient. A negative on the State laws alone could meet all the shapes which these could assume. But this had been overruled.

Mr. FITZSIMONS. Incidental duties on tobacco and dour never have been, and never can be, considered as duties on exports.

Mr. DICKINSON. Nothing will save the States in the situation of New Hampshire, New Jersey, Delaware, &c., from being oppressed by their neighbours, but requiring the assent of Congress to inspection duties. He moved that this assert should accordingly be required.

Mr. BUTLER seconded the motion.

Adjourned.


Abraham Lincoln's 1862 Annual Message to Congress, Final Remarks

Is it doubted, then, that the plan I propose, if adopted, would shorten the war, and thus lessen its expenditure of money and of blood? Is it doubted that it would restore the national authority and national prosperity, and perpetuate both indefinitely? Is it doubted that we here — Congress and Executive — can secure its adoption? Will not the good people respond to a united, and earnest appeal from us? Can we, can they, by any other means, so certainly, or so speedily, assure these vital objects? We can succeed only by concert. It is not “ can any of us imagine better?” but, “ can we all do better? ” The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.


Letter to the President of Congress

The result of the proceedings of the grand Convention of the Officers, which I have the honor of enclosing to your Excellency for the inspection of Congress, will, I flatter myself, be considered as the last glorious proof of Patriotism which could have been given by Men who aspired to the distinction of a patriot Army and will not only confirm their claim to the justice, but will increase their title to the gratitude of their Country.

Having seen the proceedings on the part of the Army terminate with perfect unanimity, and in a manner entirely consonant to my wishes being impressed with the liveliest sentiments of affection for those who have so long, so patiently and so chearfully suffered and fought under my immediate direction having from motives of justice, duty and gratitude, spontaneously offered myself as an advocate for their rights and having been requested to write to your Excellency earnestly entreating the most speedy decision of Congress upon the subjects of the late Address from the Army to that Honble. Body, it now only remains for me to perform the task I have assumed, and to intercede in their behalf, as I now do, that the Sovereign Power will be pleased to verify the predictions I have pronounced of, and the confidence the Army have reposed in the justice of their Country.

And here, I humbly conceive it is altogether unnecessary, (while I am pleading the cause of an Army which have done and suffered more than any other Army ever did in the defence of the rights and liberties of human nature,) to expatiate on their Claims to the most ample compensation for their meritorious Services, because they are perfectly known to the whole World, and because, (altho’ the topics are inexhaustible) enough has already been said on the subject.

To prove these assertions, to evince that my sentiments have ever been uniform, and to shew what my ideas of the rewards in question have always been, I appeal to the Archives of Congress, and call on those sacred deposits to witness for me. And in order that my observations and Arguments in favor of a future adequate provision for the Officers of the Army may be brought to remembrance again, and considered in a single point of view without giving Congress the trouble of having recourse to their files, I will beg leave to transmit herewith an Extract from a representation made by me to a Committee of Congress so long ago as the 29th of January 1778. and also the transcript, of a Letter to the President of Congress, dated near Passaic Falls Octr. 11th. 1780 That in the critical and perilous moment when the last mentioned communication was made, there was the utmost danger of a dissolution of the Army would have taken place unless measures similar to those recommended had been adopted, will not admit a doubt. That the adoption of the Resolution granting half-pay for life has been attended with all the happy consequences I had foretold, so far as respected the good of the service let the astonishing contrast between the State of the Army at this instant, and at the former period determine. And that the establishment of funds, and security of the payment of all the just demands of the Army will be the most certain means of preserving the National faith and future tranquillity of this extensive Continent, is my decided opinion.

By the preceeding remarks it will readily be imagined that instead of retracting and reprehending (from farther experience and reflection) the mode of compensation so strenuously urged in the Inclosures, I am more and more confirmed in the Sentiment, and if in the wrong suffer me to please myself with the grateful delusion.

For if, besides the simple payment of their Wages, a farther compensation is not due to the sufferings and sacrifices of the Officers, then have I been mistaken indeed. If the whole Army have not merited whatever a grateful people can bestow, then have I been beguiled by prejudice, and built opinion on the basis of error. If this Country should not in the Event perform every thing which has been requested in the late Memorial to Congress, then will my belief become vain, and the hope that has been excited void of foundation. And “if, (as has been suggested for the purpose of inflaming their passions) the Officers of the Army are to be the only sufferers by this revolution if retiring from the Field, they are to grow old in poverty wretchedness and contempt. If they are to wade thro’ the vile mire of dependency and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honor,” then shall I have learned what ingratitude is, then shall I have realized a tale, which will imbitter every moment of my future life. But I am under no such apprehensions, a Country rescued by their Arms from impending ruin, will never leave unpaid the debt of gratitude.

Should any intemperate or improper warmth have mingled itself amongst the foregoing observations, I must entreat your Excellency and Congress it may be attributed to the effusion of an honest zeal in the best of Causes, and that my peculiar situation may be my apology. And I hope I need not, on this momentuous occasion make any new protestations of personal disinterestedness, having ever renounced for myself the idea of pecuniary reward. The consciousness of having attempted faithfully to discharge my duty, and the approbation of my Country will be a sufficient reccompense for my Services. I have the honor etc.


Washington’s four essentials for America

In his letter Washington establishes 𠇏our things, which. are essential to the existence, of the United States as an independent Power”𠅏our things he felt would help guide America forward. They included: To have the country be unified “under one federal head.” For Americans to keep 𠇊 sacred regard to public justice.” To create a “proper peace establishment,” which at the time meant a peacetime military apparatus. And for Americans to focus on what unites them, which Washington felt “will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies and, in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community.”

These guiding principles weren&apost fully realized in Washington’s time. But he had hoped to impart some wisdom that would put this American experiment on the right path. “Liberty,” Washington wrote in his letter, “is the basis.”


Chief John Ross’s Letter to Congress (1836)

Context: The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Cherokee Chief John Ross to the US Congress after the ratification of the Treaty of New Echota, an agreement between the US government and a rival group of Cherokee leaders that had claimed to speak for the entire Cherokee Nation. Here, John Ross argues to Congress that the treaty is illegitimate.

…The instrument in question [the Treaty of New Echota] is not the act of our Nation we are not parties to its covenants it has not received the sanction of our people. The makers of it sustain no office nor appointment in our Nation, under the designation of Chiefs, Head men, or any other title, by which they hold, or could acquire, authority to assume the reins of Government, and to make bargain and sale of our rights, our possessions, and our common country. And we are constrained solemnly to declare, that we cannot but contemplate the enforcement of the stipulations of this instrument on us, against our consent, as an act of injustice and oppression, which, we are well persuaded, can never knowingly be countenanced by the Government and people of the United States nor can we believe it to be the design of these honorable and highminded individuals, who stand at the head of the Govt., to bind a whole Nation, by the acts of a few unauthorized individuals. And, therefore, we, the parties to be affected by the result, appeal with confidence to the justice, the magnanimity, the compassion, of your honorable bodies, against the enforcement, on us, of the provisions of a compact, in the formation of which we have had no agency.

In truth, our cause is your own it is the cause of liberty and of justice it is based upon your own principles, which we have learned from yourselves for we have gloried to count your Washington and your Jefferson our great teachers we have read their communications to us with veneration we have practised their precepts with success. And the result is manifest. The wildness of the forest has given place to comfortable dwellings and cultivated fields, stocked with the various domestic animals. Mental culture, industrious habits, and domestic enjoyments, have succeeded the rudeness of the savage state.

We have learned your religion also. We have read your Sacred books. Hundreds of our people have embraced their doctrines, practised the virtues they teach, cherished the hopes they awaken, and rejoiced in the consolations which they afford. To the spirit of your institutions, and your religion, which has been imbibed by our community, is mainly to be ascribed that patient endurance which has characterized the conduct of our people, under the laceration of their keenest woes. For assuredly, we are not ignorant of our condition we are not insensible to our sufferings. We feel them! we groan under their pressure! And anticipation crowds our breasts with sorrows yet to come. We are, indeed, an afflicted people! Our spirits are subdued! Despair has well nigh seized upon our energies! But we speak to the representatives of a Christian country the friends of justice the patrons of the oppressed. And our hopes revive, and our prospects brighten, as we indulge the thought. On your sentence, our fate is suspended prosperity or desolation depends on your word. To you, therefore, we look! Before your august assembly we present ourselves, in the attitude of deprecation, and of entreaty. On your kindness, on your humanity, on your compassion, on your benevolence, we rest our hopes. To you we address our reiterated prayers. Spare our people! Spare the wreck of our prosperity! Let not our deserted homes become the monuments of our desolation! But we forbear! We suppress the agonies which wring our hearts, when we look at our wives, our children, and our venerable sires! We restrain the forebodings of anguish and distress, of misery and devastation and death, which must be the attendants on the execution of this ruinous compact. […]


Letter to Congress - History

By President Andrew Jackson’s election in 1828, the only large concentrations of Indian tribes remaining on the east coast were located in the South. The Cherokee had adopted the settled way of life of the surrounding—and encroaching—white society. They were consequently known, along with the Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw, as one of the “Five Civilized Tribes.” “Civilization,” however, was not enough, and the Jackson administration forced most of these tribes west during the first half of the 1830s, clearing southern territory for the use of whites. Chief John Ross was the principal chief of the Cherokee in Georgia in this 1836 letter addressed to “the Senate and House of Representatives,” Ross protested as fraudulent the Treaty of New Echota that forced the Cherokee out of Georgia. In 1838, federal troops forcibly displaced the last of the Cherokee from their homes their trip to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) is known as the “Trail of Tears.”

[Red Clay Council Ground, Cherokee Nation, September 28, 1836]

It is well known that for a number of years past we have been harassed by a series of vexations, which it is deemed unnecessary to recite in detail, but the evidence of which our delegation will be prepared to furnish. With a view to bringing our troubles to a close, a delegation was appointed on the 23rd of October, 1835, by the General Council of the nation, clothed with full powers to enter into arrangements with the Government of the United States, for the final adjustment of all our existing difficulties. The delegation failing to effect an arrangement with the United States commissioner, then in the nation, proceeded, agreeably to their instructions in that case, to Washington City, for the purpose of negotiating a treaty with the authorities of the United States.

After the departure of the Delegation, a contract was made by the Rev. John F. Schermerhorn, and certain individual Cherokees, purporting to be a “treaty, concluded at New Echota, in the State of Georgia, on the 29th day of December, 1835, by General William Carroll and John F. Schermerhorn, commissioners on the part of the United States, and the chiefs, headmen, and people of the Cherokee tribes of Indians.” A spurious Delegation, in violation of a special injunction of the general council of the nation, proceeded to Washington City with this pretended treaty, and by false and fraudulent representations supplanted in the favor of the Government the legal and accredited Delegation of the Cherokee people, and obtained for this instrument, after making important alterations in its provisions, the recognition of the United States Government. And now it is presented to us as a treaty, ratified by the Senate, and approved by the President [Andrew Jackson], and our acquiescence in its requirements demanded, under the sanction of the displeasure of the United States, and the threat of summary compulsion, in case of refusal. It comes to us, not through our legitimate authorities, the known and usual medium of communication between the Government of the United States and our nation, but through the agency of a complication of powers, civil and military.

By the stipulations of this instrument, we are despoiled of our private possessions, the indefeasible property of individuals. We are stripped of every attribute of freedom and eligibility for legal self-defence. Our property may be plundered before our eyes violence may be committed on our persons even our lives may be taken away, and there is none to regard our complaints. We are denationalized we are disfranchised. We are deprived of membership in the human family! We have neither land nor home, nor resting place that can be called our own. And this is effected by the provisions of a compact which assumes the venerated, the sacred appellation of treaty.

We are overwhelmed! Our hearts are sickened, our utterance is paralized, when we reflect on the condition in which we are placed, by the audacious practices of unprincipled men, who have managed their stratagems with so much dexterity as to impose on the Government of the United States, in the face of our earnest, solemn, and reiterated protestations.

The instrument in question is not the act of our Nation we are not parties to its covenants it has not received the sanction of our people. The makers of it sustain no office nor appointment in our Nation, under the designation of Chiefs, Head men, or any other title, by which they hold, or could acquire, authority to assume the reins of Government, and to make bargain and sale of our rights, our possessions, and our common country. And we are constrained solemnly to declare, that we cannot but contemplate the enforcement of the stipulations of this instrument on us, against our consent, as an act of injustice and oppression, which, we are well persuaded, can never knowingly be countenanced by the Government and people of the United States nor can we believe it to be the design of these honorable and highminded individuals, who stand at the head of the Govt., to bind a whole Nation, by the acts of a few unauthorized individuals. And, therefore, we, the parties to be affected by the result, appeal with confidence to the justice, the magnanimity, the compassion, of your honorable bodies, against the enforcement, on us, of the provisions of a compact, in the formation of which we have had no agency.

In truth, our cause is your own it is the cause of liberty and of justice it is based upon your own principles, which we have learned from yourselves for we have gloried to count your [George] Washington and your [Thomas] Jefferson our great teachers we have read their communications to us with veneration we have practised their precepts with success. And the result is manifest. The wildness of the forest has given place to comfortable dwellings and cultivated fields, stocked with the various domestic animals. Mental culture, industrious habits, and domestic enjoyments, have succeeded the rudeness of the savage state.

We have learned your religion also. We have read your Sacred books. Hundreds of our people have embraced their doctrines, practised the virtues they teach, cherished the hopes they awaken, and rejoiced in the consolations which they afford. To the spirit of your institutions, and your religion, which has been imbibed by our community, is mainly to be ascribed that patient endurance which has characterized the conduct of our people, under the laceration of their keenest woes. For assuredly, we are not ignorant of our condition we are not insensible to our sufferings. We feel them! we groan under their pressure! And anticipation crowds our breasts with sorrows yet to come. We are, indeed, an afflicted people! Our spirits are subdued! Despair has well nigh seized upon our energies! But we speak to the representatives of a Christian country the friends of justice the patrons of the oppressed. And our hopes revive, and our prospects brighten, as we indulge the thought. On your sentence, our fate is suspended prosperity or desolation depends on your word. To you, therefore, we look! Before your august assembly we present ourselves, in the attitude of deprecation, and of entreaty. On your kindness, on your humanity, on your compassion, on your benevolence, we rest our hopes. To you we address our reiterated prayers. Spare our people! Spare the wreck of our prosperity! Let not our deserted homes become the monuments of our desolation! But we forbear! We suppress the agonies which wring our hearts, when we look at our wives, our children, and our venerable sires! We restrain the forebodings of anguish and distress, of misery and devastation and death, which must be the attendants on the execution of this ruinous compact.

In conclusion, we commend to your confidence and favor, our well-beloved and trust-worthy brethren and fellow-citizens, John Ross, Principal Chief, Richard Taylor, Samuel Gunter, John Benge, George Sanders, Walter S. Adair, Stephen Foreman, and Kalsateehee of Aquohee, who are clothed with full powers to adjust all our existing difficulties by treaty arrangements with the United States, by which our destruction may be averted, impediments to the advancement of our people removed, and our existence perpetuated as a living monument, to testify to posterity the honor, the magnanimity, the generosity of the United States. And your memorialists, as in duty bound, will ever pray. Signed by Ross, George Lowrey, Edward Gunter, Lewis Ross, thirty-one members of the National Committee and National Council, and 2,174 others.

Source: John Ross, The Papers of Chief John Ross, vol 1, 1807� , Norman OK Gary E. Moulton, ed. University of Oklahoma Press, 1985, p. 458�.


Jefferson's Confidential Letter to Congress

This is called "Jefferson's Confidential Letter to Congress," and it certainly is more than it seems. It's often put with the collection of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery materials. And essentially it's the letter where he asks for money from Congress, for getting money for the Corps of Discovery. And he asked for $2,500, but it's not till the very end. And what's interesting about it and the reason I like it and I teach with it, is because it's clearly not about the money. He's trying to tell Congress a much bigger story, and you really get a large idea in this one little letter of his whole theory of where the country should go and expansion and his philosophy of expansion and Indian policy and where Congress fits into it.

At the beginning you get no indication that he's going to be asking for money and what it's for or anything like that. But I think the most important phrase here is that he ends with "the public good" because that's going to be a theme throughout the letter.

Then he says, "The Indian tribes residing within the limits of the United States have, for a considerable time, been growing more and more uneasy at the constant diminution of the territory they occupy, although affected by their own voluntary sales, and the policy has long been gaining strength with them of refusing absolutely all further sale on any conditions, insomuch at this time, it hazards their friendship and excites dangerous jealousies in their minds to make any overture for the purchase of the smallest portions of their land. Very few tribes only are not yet obstinately in these dispositions."

So basically he's saying that, you know, we've been purchasing land from these Indian tribes, and all of a sudden they're not very happy about it anymore and they won't do it anymore, so we're going to have to figure something else out.

"First, to encourage them to abandon hunting, to apply to the raising stock, to agriculture and domestic manufacture, 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 forests 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."

This is my favorite part of this letter, because it's basically trying to ask the Indians to do what he wants everybody to do: to be yeoman farmers. And a yeoman farmer is Jefferson's dream of the agrarian nation. The self-reliant, independent farmer who lives off his own land, and the idea that everybody will have their own land and nobody, you know, will be dependent on anybody else, and we will all be equal.

And basically he's saying we need to convince the Indians of this, too, and once they just farm they won't need any of that hunting land, and we can then easily take it from them. It won't be this big struggle. And, so this is basically a policy of assimilation. "We need them to be like us, and then they won't need all that land anymore.'

And then 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 to agriculture, to manufactures, and to civilization, in bringing together their and our settlements, and in preparing them ultimately to participate in the benefit of our governments, I trust and believe we are acting in their greatest good."

So again, we make them like our stuff, we trade stuff with them. They become sort of part of our economic system, and they become more like us, and we won't have necessarily all this conflict.

And then finally gets to that last paragraph. "While the extension of the public commerce among the Indian tribes may deprive of that source of profit such of our citizens as are engaged in it, it might be worthy the attention of Congress, in their care of individual as well as in the general interest, to the point in another direction, the enterprise of these citizens as profitably for themselves and more usefully for the public."

This again he's talking about that greater good. Yeah, there's people making money, individuals making money, but this is the bigger picture.

"It is, however, understood, that the country on that river is inhabited by numerous tribes, who furnish great supplies of furs and peltry to the trade of another nation, carried on in a high latitude through an infinite number of portages and lakes, shut up by ice through a long season. The commerce on that line could bear no competition with that of the Missouri, traversing a moderate climate, offering no competition to the best accounts, a continued navigation from its source, and possibly, with a single portage from the Western Ocean, and finding to the Atlantic a choice of channels through the Illinois or Wabash, the lakes of the Hudson, through the Ohio, the Susquehanna, or the Potomac or James rivers, and through the Tennessee and Savannah rivers."

That one line is a little sneak in here of a very important concept, which people argue was the principal reason for the Lewis and Clark expedition, and that was the Northwest Passage, all those rivers he's talking about. This theory that he has, sitting in Virginia, that there's an all-water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And so while we're doing this stuff with the trading houses, you know, we might just be able to find this all-water route to the Pacific.

I guess you tend to hear about the Louisiana Purchase. He's surprised, and just happens, "Oh, I wasn't thinking that at all." But you see with the date of this letter in January of 1803, that he was thinking about this area a lot before the opportunity presented itself and might have already heard rumors that France wanted to dump this land. Spain had been caring for it for a while. France was now not able to deal with all that territory. And certainly, he was not perhaps anticipating the whole block of it, but he certainly had his eye on it.

Well, we talk a lot about Jefferson's theory of the agrarian nation beforehand. I talk a lot about the yeoman farmer and the values of property and the whole—John Locke's vision of life, liberty, and property, not the pursuit of happiness, but that idea of property, even though it's dropped from the Declaration of Independence, still maintains, you know, great power and investment in his mind.

And so we talk a lot, especially when we talk about the West, of that idea of the agrarian nation. This vision that this is America's garden, and it's going—this is how we're going to be different from Europe. This is how we're going to get away from the original sin of slavery. We're not going to depend on anybody.

I give a little background about Washington's civilization program and the role that Indians play in the Constitution, then I sort of give them this and it pulls it all together a little bit, Jefferson ties it all together. And then the next day we talk about Lewis and Clark, basically, and they read his instructions. We don't pick apart every sentence necessarily, but I sort of just ask them to get into groups and outline the argument. Outline how he gets from the beginning to asking for money. What is his argument and what is he asking them to do? Why is he putting this in terms of commerce, and what does that have to do with Indians? Where do Lewis and Clark, you know, come in in all of this? How does he convince Congress that it's in their interest to fund this expedition?

Sometimes I have them read the original and sometimes I give them both, because if they really try—Jefferson has pretty good handwriting, and so they can get most of it. You know, the limitations are it's a little wordy in areas. And it is a complex argument, but that's kind of the point of the document. That's why I like it, because he makes a very simple request very complicated.

I think there's a lot of different documents as I said that would be a lot simpler, like the list given to the Indians. But, that gets specifically to the Lewis and Clark expedition. And what I think is a bonus about this is it's the precursor to the Lewis and Clark expedition, and it gives the plan in the beginning, that it wasn't all just haphazard, and that even though plans didn't always go well, over and over, the United States really did stick to Jefferson's vision as best it could. Just kept insisting the West was this place for an agrarian nation, and we're going to make it so, until [our nature] comes back and says, "No, that's not—this is not like the East. This is a different place." Even great men like Jefferson perhaps misunderstood it, but this misunderstanding is important to understand, because it had ramifications.


‘Dear Mom and Dad:’ A Look Inside the Letter Collections of the Veterans History Project

The summer between fourth and fifth grade saw my first few weeks away from family. As we prepared for my two weeks at summer camp, my mother and I roamed from one store aisle to another, picking out bars of soap, a new toothbrush, comic books (of course) and then, rather insistently, she directed us towards the stationery aisle. Miles away from home, with no means of call or casual communication, a ream of paper and a pencil ensured that we’d stay in touch. To this day, I’ll happen across letters that she tucked between the pages of photo albums!

In addition to the veterans’ oral history recordings collected, preserved and made accessible through the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, thousands of letters and personal correspondence cement the connection from the Homefront to the frontline.

Rubbing of Mark Ryan Black’s name taken from Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Mark Ryan Black Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC2001/001/12749.

Tragedy is the very nature of war, and accordingly, there are many VHP collections that consist entirely of posthumously donated period correspondence. For example, the Mark Ryan Black collection includes dozens of audio letters and photographs from his 1966 tour in Vietnam. In 2007, his mother donated these materials to the Library of Congress.

At the sunset of the “Greatest Generation,” VHP regularly receives posthumous donations of correspondence as well as photographs—originals carefully preserved by veterans’ families. By adding these materials to the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, they’ve ensured that their loved ones’ experiences—and their memory—are part of our national heritage.

In addition to an oral history, Kenje Ogata donated more than 100 pieces of correspondence, including this reassuring V-Mail message after he was shot down over occupied Europe. Kenje Ogata Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/76800.

Offering an additional layer of interpretation, letter collections capture the emotion of an era. In the case of Army Air Force veteran Kenje Ogata, a correspondence series of more than 100 letters documents his personal struggle with the institutionalized discrimination experienced by patriotic Japanese-American GIs. Complemented by a contemporary oral history, this intersection of raw emotion and reflection affords unique insight.

For the past 16 years, VHP has welcomed the first person narratives of all U.S. veterans who served since World War I, as well as collections of materials donated by the loved ones of deceased veterans. Find out how to participate at www.loc.gov/vets.

Another correspondence-themed blog post, written by VHP Reference Specialist Megan Harris, is available here.

One Comment

I have hundreds of letters written by my late husband while he was in Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia. Of course, many contain extremely personal messages, which were meant for my eyes only. Would it be acceptable for your collection if I copied the letters with those passages removed? My husband was a prolific writer, and his detailed descriptions of the small events that make up a day in a war zone could be very iinteresting — or not. Please let me know if there would be any interest. Sincerely, Hope Jinks

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What to ask your member of Congress in your letter?

The "ask" is one of the most important components of your letter to your Congressman.

Here are some examples of asks that you can include in your letter:

Co-sponsor a piece of legislation ,

Include a request in their appropriations letter ,

Make a speech about your issue on the House floor,

Hold a Senate hearing on your issue ,

Vote yes or no on a specific Bill,

Vote yes or no in a committee markup ,

Add an amendment during a markup,

Publicly support an issue,

Make comments about your issue at a local event ,

Meet with influential constituents to discuss the issue you are advocating for .


1789-1815

During its first quarter century, the new United States government had to find its way in the world while attending to the nation’s business. Leaders met with Indian nations and faced often-hostile relations with European powers while coping with conflicts between emerging political parties and working out relationships among the three new branches of government.

The First Congress (1789–1791) laid the foundation built upon by future congresses: It inaugurated the president, created government departments, established a system of courts, passed the Bill of Rights, and enacted laws needed by the new country to raise money and provide for other essential needs. Meeting first in New York City and then in Philadelphia, legislators moved in 1800 to the new Capitol in the District of Columbia.

The founding era concluded with the War of 1812. As the nation fought to confirm its independence from Great Britain, British forces invaded Washington in the summer of 1814 and set fire to its public buildings, including the Capitol. Despite the turbulence and uncertainty of these times, the nation successfully developed a functioning government based on the principles of representation.


Watch the video: Washingtons Letter to Congress