Jedidiah Morse Remarks and Suggestions on the Indians of America in 1822

These remarks and suggestions I had prepared with much thought and labor, and at considerable length, conceiving the subject to have a very important bearing on the benevolent object of the government. But on reflection, that so many able, official reports had been made upon it by heads of Department and Committees of Congress, much more competent than myself to discuss and illustrate a subject of this complex and delicate nature, and that there are considerable diversities of opinion in respect to the plan most proper to be adopted and pursued, I have thought it would be prudent in me to lay aside what I had prepared, and to confine myself to a simple statement of my own opinion, as to the best manner of conducting the Indian Trade, and of the reasons which support this opinion.

Before I make this statement, it is proper to remark, that the present mode of carrying on the Indian trade, partly by Government, on the Factory system; and partly by licensed Traders, appears to have few, if any, advocates; and I presume will certainly and readily be abandoned. The question which seems to divide those who have considered this subject, is, whether the government shall take this trade wholly into their own hands, and provide a capital competent to the purpose; or give it up wholly into the hands of licensed Traders, duly regulated and restricted by

I give here these Remarks and Suggestions, as they were presented to the President and Congress. The Report on Indian Trade was given temporarily, and in this form is here inserted, while, in fact, it makes apart of the whole. This subject will be again resumed under the general head of Remarks unit Suggestions, which close this Report.

It appears from the tense of the official reports, which have been made on the subject, that the public feeling and opinion are, prevailingly, in favor of the latter course. The statement of my own views will, therefore, be predicated on the presumption, that this course will ultimately be adopted by Congress. It is in my opinion, decidedly the best course, the best adapted to raise and preserve the reputation of the Government in the estimation of Indians, and to secure for it their confidence and respect; the best fitted in all respects, to accomplish the great object of imparting to them the blessings of civilization and Christianity.

It is exceedingly important that every movement of the civil, military, commercial, and religious classes of the community, in reference to the improvement of the condition of the Indians, should be in unison and harmony; that there should be no interference, no collision, the one with the other. The strength and influence of each should be combined, on a well digested plan, and exerted with patience, perseverance, and with one mind, for the accomplishment of the end in view. All this is practicable; and if done, the blessing of heaven will ensure the desired success.

The Indian Trade, conducted by men of intelligence, with integrity, on correct principles, would yield a handsome profit to a Company, who should have secured to them by charter the exclusive benefits of it. Let such a Company be formed, of men of responsibility, as to monied capital; of respectability as to character; of men, especially, cordially disposed to promote the designs of the government in regard to the improvement of the condition of the Indians. Let none of a different character be admitted into the Company. Let this qualification be indispensable to membership. Let their charter be a liberal one, and provide for the establishment of branches, in sufficient number, to embrace the whole of the Indian population with which we have intercourse. Let it state particularly the obligations, and prescribe the duties, of this company, and the manner in which they shall conduct their intercourse with the Indians, and with the Military posts, and Education Families, which may be established from time to time, in and near the Indian Territories, constituting the theater of their trade. Let there always be carefully maintained a good understanding, and a friendly intercourse and co-operation, between the Traders and the Military posts, and the Education Families. Let this be particularly enjoined, as an indispensable duty. On this plan, there would be a reciprocal watch of the Military, Education Families, and Traders, over each other, to guard against, to check, or, in case of necessity, to expose, any misconduct in either. The government, on this plan, would have the best possible security of a faithful fulfillment of the respective duties of these several departments, and would find great relief from their present responsibilities to the Indians.

Let the Company who are to act under this charter, be selected and formed by the Government; be responsible to it, and removable by it for mal-practices. Let the Company appoint their own agents, and be responsible for their good behavior; and, with due regard to their charter, conduct all their affairs in their own way. For the privileges of this charter, require of the Company a reasonable and generous bonus, of a fixed sum, to be paid out of their profits, annually, into the Treasury of the U. States, to be added to the fund appropriated by Congress for the civilization of the Indians.

Among the advantages which would result from a plan of this kind, would be the following:—

  1. The Government would be relieved from a perplexing, unprofitable, burdensome, and, shall I add, undignified business and responsibility, which can be much better and more satisfactorily performed and borne by others, in the way proposed, than by the Government.
  2. The Indian Trading Fund of $300,000, now yielding no income to Government, and no substantial benefit to the Indians, which would not be made up to them by the new system proposed, would be withdrawn, and with it the salaries of all those who are now employed in managing it, amounting to the annual sum of $16,600. This latter sum, together with the interest of $300,000, ($18,000,) the $10,000 now given by Government, and the bonus of the chartered company, say $10,000 more, would constitute a fund of about $55,000, to be expended for the civilization of the Indians, without increasing the present burdens of the Government; a sum not too great to carry on, with energy, the extensive operations necessary to the full accomplishment of the liberal and benevolent views and projects of the Government.
  3. The Government would have the easy inspection and control of this trade, now conducted away from the notice of their eye, and so perplexing and difficult in its management; and this too without embarrassing interference with the concerns of the company.
  4. From all the information and facts I have received, I believe the plan now recommended would be the most acceptable to the Indians, would best secure their interests, promote their civilization, excite their respect for the Government; and most effectually cure two prominent evils, the intercourse of corrupt, and corrupting white people with the Indians, and the introduction of whiskey among them, and thus prevent wars, and promote peace among themselves, and with us.
  5. This plan would place the now unhappy and irritating competition between the British and American Indian Trade and Traders, on its proper and equal ground. Each company would know, and in the manner common in all cases of rivalry in trade, would maintain their respective rights; and where the interference of the Governments concerned should become necessary, it would devolve on the Companies to make application for redress of any wrongs, or for making any necessary arrangements in conducting this trade.

But to this plan it may be objected, that it tends to an unjust and injurious monopoly. If this be admitted, and the plan in consequence be rejected, I would respectfully suggest the following substitute. Let the trade be open to all men of fair character integrity and intelligence, and of friendly feelings to the plans pursuing by the government for the improvement of the Indians. Let Traders of this character, and of this character only, receive licenses, from men qualified and authorized to give them, and be required to plant themselves in some central spot within the sphere of their trade, in companies of four or five, or more, say within a quarter of a mile of each other, or nearer, in a little village of separate stores, like so many merchants. At this village, let it be required that all trade with the Indians be done; that they may enjoy all the advantages of commendable rivalry, purchasing where they can have the best goods, and on the best terms. Let there be a reasonable and liberal sum required for the licenses of these traders, to be added to the sum now consecrated to the education of Indians. At each of these trading villages, let an Education Family be established, to be useful and agreeable companions to the Traders, and to do all other things for the Indians, which like families do at other stations. An arrangement of the Indian trade in this manner, though more complex, and difficult to manage, would secure the advantages of the other, without the danger of monopoly, and in the opinion of very competent judges, would be preferable to any which can be adopted.

In case either of these plans shall be embraced by Government, there will be necessary an officer to be stationed at the seat of Government, who should have a general superintendance of all the Education establishments, so far as relates to the procuring and transmitting to the respective Education and Military stations, all the husbandry and mechanic tools and implements, provisions to be given to Indians on their visits, and in seasons of scarcity; funds, for erecting buildings for the accommodation of the Education Families, &c. which the Government will provide with the funds placed in its hands. This officer, whose title should correspond with the nature of his office, would have full employment, should the Education Families be multiplied, as they have been for the last twelve months, and as there is reason to believe they will be, in time to come.

Such are the plans for conducting the Indian trade, which I would respectfully submit to the consideration of the Government, and such the advantages which, I conceive, would result from the adoption of either.

All which is respectfully submitted by

JEDIDIAH MORSE. New-Haven, Nov. 1821.

The fourth and last article in my Instructions, is in these words—

IV. ” After you have collected your Materials, you will digest the whole into one body, and present it in such form, and accompany it with such reflections and suggestions, as you may deem necessary to accomplish the interesting objects, which it is intended to promote by your tour.”


Morse, Rev. Jedidiah. A Report to the Secretary of War of the United States on Indian Affairs, Printed by S. Converse, 1822.

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