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June 11 1812: Jefferson on English Seductions



On June 11 1812, Thomas Jefferson continues his correspondence with John Adams.  Adams had asked a number of questions about the first nations and Jefferson in an expansive letter answers him. He addresses different theories concerning the first nations including those of Adair who believed that "Indians of American to be descended from the Jews,  the same laws, usages, rites and ceremonies, the same sacrifices, priests, prophets, fasts and festivals, almost the same religion, and that they all spoke Hebrew". Jefferson does not seem altogether convinced. Jefferson ends his letter with expressions of admiration for various tribes which then takes a darker hue when he thinks of the current political situation. He writes that some tribes are subject to "English seductions" which for Jefferson usually means corruption, vice and degeneration. He contrasts these tribes with the Cherokees who, according to him, are moving towards "a regular representative government." Jefferson explicitly ties the conquest of Canada with the defeat of the Indian threat by removing the English influence on the first nations. Jefferson concludes his letter:
On those who have made any progress, English seductions will have no effect.  But the backward will yield, and be thrown further back.  Those will relapse into barbarism and misery, lose numbers by war and want, and we shall be obliged to drive them with the beasts of the forest into the stony mountains. They will be conquered, however, in Canada. The possession of that country secures our women and children forever from the tomahawk and scalping knife, by removing those who excite them;  and for this possession orders, I presume, are issued by this time; taking for granted that the doors of Congress will re-open with a declaration of war.  That this may end in indemnity for the past, security for the future, and complete emancipation from Anglomany, Gallomany, and all the manias of demoralized Europe, and that you may live in health and happiness to see all this, is the sincere prayer of yours affectionately.
The Jefferson's complete letter is reproduced below.

To John Adams.
Monticello, June 11, 1812.

Dear Sir
By our post preceding that which brought your letter of May 21st, I had received one from Mr. Malcolm on the same subject with yours, and by the return of the post had stated to the President my recollections of him.  But both your letters were probably too late;  as the appointment had been already made, if we may credit the newspapers.

You ask if there is any book that pretends to give any account of the traditions of the Indians, or how one can acquire an idea of them?  Some scanty accounts of their traditions, but fuller of their customs and characters, are given us by most of the early travellers among them; these you know were mostly French.  Lafitan, among them, and Adair an Englishman, have written on this subject;  the former two volumes, the latter one, all in 4to.  But unluckily Lafitan had in his head a preconceived theory on the mythology, manners, institutions and government of the ancient nations of Europe, Asia and Africa, and seems to have entered on those of America only to fit them into the same frame, and to draw from them a confirmation of his general theory.  He keeps up a perpetual parallel, in all those articles, between the Indians of America and the ancients of the other quarters of the globe.  He selects, therefore, all the facts and adopts all the falsehoods which favor this theory, and very gravely retails such absurdities as zeal for a theory could alone swallow.  He was a man of much classical and scriptural reading, and has rendered his book not unentertaining.  He resided five years among the Northern Indians, as a Missionary, but collects his matter much more from the writings of others, than from his own observation.

Adair too had his kink.  He believed all the Indians of America to be descended from the Jews; the same laws, usages, rites and ceremonies, the same sacrifices, priests, prophets, fasts and festivals, almost the same religion, and that they all spoke Hebrew.  For, although he writes particularly of the Southern Indians only, the Catawbas, Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws and Choctaws, with whom alone he was personally acquainted, yet he generalizes whatever he found among them, and brings himself to believe that the hundred languages of America, differing fundamentally every one from every other, as much as Greek from Gothic, yet have all one common prototype.  He was a trader, a man of learning, a self-taught Hebraist, a strong religionist, and of as sound a mind as Don Quixote in, whatever did not touch his religious chivalry. His book contains a great deal of real instruction on its subject, only requiring the reader to be constantly on his guard against the wonderful obliquities of his theory.

The scope of your inquiry would scarcely, I suppose, take in the three folio volumes of Latin of De Bry. In these, facts and fable are mingled together, without regard to any favorite system. They are less suspicious, therefore, in their complexion, more original and authentic, than those of Lafitan and Adair.  This is a work of great curiosity, extremely rare, so as never to be bought in Europe, but on the breaking up and selling some ancient library.  On one of these occasions a bookseller procured me a copy, which, unless you have one, is probably the only one in America.

You ask further, if the Indians have any order of priesthood among them, like the Druids, Bards or Minstrels of the Celtic nations ?  Adair alone, determined to see what he wished to see in every object, metamorphoses their Conjurers into an order of priests, and describes their sorceries as if they were the great religious ceremonies of the nation.  Lafitan called them by their proper names, Jongleurs, Devins, Sortileges ;  De Bry praestigiatores ;  Adair himself sometimes Magi, Archimagi, cunning men, Seers, rain makers ;  and the modern Indian interpreters call them conjurers and witches.  They are persons pretending to have communications with the devil and other evil spirits, to foretell future events, bring down rain, find stolen goods, raise the dead, destroy some and heal others by enchantment, lay spells, etc.  And Adair, without departing from his parallel of the Jews and Indians, might have found their counterpart much more aptly, among the soothsayers, sorcerers and wizards of the Jews, their Gannes and Gambres, their Simon Magus, Witch of Endor, and the young damsel whose sorceries disturbed Paul so much ;  instead of placing them in a line with their high-priest, their chief priests, and their magnificent hierarchy generally.  In the solemn ceremonies of the Indians, the persons who direct or officiate, are their chiefs, elders and warriors, in civil ceremonies or in those of war ;  it is the head of the cabin in their private or particular feasts or ceremonies;  and sometimes the matrons, as in their corn feasts.  And even here, Adair might have kept up his parallel, with ennobling his conjurers.  For the ancient patriarchs, the Noahs, the Abrahams, Isaacs and Jacobs, and even after the consecration of Aaron, the Samuels and Elijahs, and we may say further, every one for himself offered sacrifices on the altars.  The true line of distinction seems to be, that solemn ceremonies, whether public or private, addressed to the Great Spirit, are conducted by the worthies of the nation, men or matrons, while conjurers are resorted to only for the invocation of evil spirits.  The present state of the several Indian tribes, without any public order of priests, is proof sufficient that they never had such an order.  Their steady habits permit no innovations, not even those which the progress of science offers to increase the comforts, enlarge the understanding, and improve the morality of mankind.  Indeed, so little idea have they of a regular order of priests, that they mistake ours for their conjurers, and call them by that name.

So much in answer to your inquiries concerning Indians, a people with whom, in the early part of my life, I was very familiar, and acquired impressions of attachment and commiseration for them which have never been obliterated.  Before the Revolution, they were in the habit of coming often and in great numbers to the seat of government, where I was very much with them.  I knew much the great Ontassete, the warrior and orator of the Cherokees;  he was always the guest of my father, on his journeys to and from Williamsburg.  I was in his camp when he made his great farewell oration to his people the evening before his departure for England.  The moon was in full splendor, and to her he seemed to address himself in his prayers for his own safety on the voyage, and that of his people during his absence ;  his sounding voice, distinct articulation, animated action, and the solemn silence of his people at their several fires, filled me with awe and veneration, although I did not understand a word he uttered.  That nation, consisting now of about 2,000 warriors, and the Creeks of about 3,000 are far advanced in civilization.  They have good cabins, enclosed fields, large herds of cattle and hogs, spin and weave their own clothes of cotton, have smiths and other of the most necessary tradesmen, write and read, are on the increase in numbers, and a branch of Cherokees is now instituting a regular representative government.  Some other tribes are advancing in the same line.  On those who have made any progress, English seductions will have no effect.  But the backward will yield, and be thrown further back.  Those will relapse into barbarism and misery, lose numbers by war and want, and we shall be obliged to drive them with the beasts of the forest into the stony mountains.  They will be conquered, however, in Canada.  The possession of that country secures our women and children forever from the tomahawk and scalping knife, by removing those who excite them;  and for this possession orders, I presume, are issued by this time;  taking for granted that the doors of Congress will re-open with a declaration of war.  That this may end in indemnity for the past, security for the future, and complete emancipation from Anglomany, Gallomany, and all the manias of demoralized Europe, and that you may live in health and happiness to see all this, is the sincere prayer of yours affectionately.

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