I am happy to learn you have been … made sensible of those things … which are hurtful …; and particularly … the ruinous effects which the abuse of spirituous liquors have produced upon them [your people]. It has weakened their bodies, enervated their minds, exposed them to hunger, cold, nakedness, and poverty, kept them in perpetual broils, and reduced their population … Spirituous liquors are not in themselves bad … it is the improper and intemperate use of them …which makes them injurious.. But as you find that your people cannot refrain from an ill use of them, I greatly applaud your resolution not to use them at all ….
Persuade our red brethren then to be sober, and to cultivate their lands; and their women to spin and weave for their families. You will soon see your women and children well fed and clothed, your men living happily in peace and plenty, and your numbers increasing from year to year … You are our brethren of the same land; we wish your prosperity as brethren should do. Farewell.
Thomas Jefferson to Brother Handsome Lake, November 3, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Handsome Lake became a spiritual leader among the Seneca Indians and was half-brother to a Seneca chief, Cornplanter. Perhaps an alcoholic, Handsome Lake received visions on his death-bed in 1799, recovered, and preached a new morality to his people. Known as the Code of Handsome Lake, it emphasized family values, seasonal celebrations, and a prohibition against alcohol.
Known as a wine fancier, Jefferson didn’t drink “spirituous” (hard or distilled) liquor and encouraged others in the same moderation. He commended Lake’s leadership in the regard.
More than half of this letter dealt with the sale of Seneca lands to the government. Jefferson encouraged such sales as a necessary step in encouraging the Indians to become farmers. Refraining from alcohol and tilling the soil, Jefferson believed, could have only beneficial effects for the Seneca people.
Read more about Handsome Lake and the Code of Handsome Lake.
Besides moderation & farming, Mr. Jefferson has more wisdom for your audience!
Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739