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Special Message

January 15, 1808

To the Senate of the United States:

Although it is deemed very desirable that the United States should obtain from the native proprietors the whole left bank of the Mississippi to a certain breadth, yet to obliterate from the Indian mind an impression deeply made in it that we are constantly forming designs on their lands I have thought it best where urged by no peculiar necessity to leave to themselves and to the pressure of their own convenience only to come forward with offers of sale to the United States.

The Choctaws, being indebted to certain mercantile characters beyond what could be discharged by the ordinary proceeds of their huntings, and pressed for payment by those creditors, proposed at length to the United States to cede lands to the amount of their debts, and designated them in two different portions of their country. These designations not at all suiting us, their proposals were declined for that reason, and with an intimation that if their own convenience should ever dispose them to cede their lands on the Mississippi we should be willing to purchase. Still urged by their creditors, as well as by their own desire to be liberated from debt, they at length proposed to make a cession which should be to our convenience. James Robertson, of Tennessee, and Silas Dinsmore were thereupon appointed commissioners to treat with them on that subject, with instructions to purchase only on the Mississippi. On meeting their chiefs, however, it was found that such was the attachment of the nation to their lands on the Mississippi that their chiefs could not undertake to cede them; but they offered all their lands south of a line to be run from their and our boundary at the Omochita eastwardly to their boundary with the Creeks, on the ridge between the Tombigbee and Alabama, which would unite our possessions there from Natchez to Tombigbee. A treaty to this effect was accordingly signed at Pooshapekanuk on the 16th of November, 1805; but this being against express instructions, and not according with the object then in view, I was disinclined to its ratification, and therefore did not at the last session of Congress lay it before the Senate for their advice, but have suffered it to lie unacted on.

Progressive difficulties, however, in our foreign relations have brought into view considerations other than those which then prevailed. It is now, perhaps, become as interesting to obtain footing for a strong settlement of militia along our southern frontier eastward of the Mississippi as on the west of that river, and more so than higher up the river itself. The consolidation of the Mississippi Territory and the establishing a barrier of separation between the Indians and our Southern neighbors are also important objects. The cession is supposed to contain about 5,000,000 acres, of which the greater part is said to be fit for cultivation, and no inconsiderable proportion of the first quality, on the various waters it includes; and the Choctaws and their creditors are still anxious for the sale.

I therefore now transmit the treaty for the consideration of the Senate, and I ask their advice and consent as to its ratification. I communicate at the same time such papers as bear any material relation to the subject, together with a map on which is sketched the northern limit of the cession, rather to give a general idea than with any pretension to exactness, which our present knowledge of the country would not warrant.


Thomas Jefferson, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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