the cheapest & most effectual instrument we can use for preserving the friendship of the Indians: is the establishment of trading houses among them. if we could furnish goods enough to supply all their wants, and sell them goods so cheap that no private trader could enter into competition with us, we should thus get rid of those traders who are the principal fomenters of the uneasiness of the Indians: and by being so essentially useful to the Indians we should of course become objects of affection to them. there is perhaps no method more irresistable of obtaining lands from them than by letting them get in debt, which when too heavy to be paid, they are always willing to lop off by a cession of lands.
To Henry Dearborn, August 13, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What’s a leader to do?
Dearborn (1751-1829) was Jefferson’s Secretary of War. This letter dealt with issues surrounding whites and Indians living on either side of the lower Ohio River. Whites were continually moving further west into Indian lands, and the President had to deal with the conflict that inevitably arose. He tried to do that in two ways, first to pacify the Indians and second, to encourage (or force) them to transfer ownership of some (or all) of their lands.
Here, Jefferson proposed an approach he favored for many years:
1. Establish trading stores for the Indians.
4. Drive out competition from private traders who stirred up trouble among the Indians.
2. Sell necessities at low prices, encouraging Indians to become farmers like the white men.
3. Be so helpful to the Indians they would come to like the white men.
The final sentence is uncharacteristic for this humane man. He proposed creating indebtedness in the Indians and then forgiving that debt in return for their relinquishing some of their land.