The Aboriginal inhabitants [native Americans] … with the faculties & the rights of men, breathing an ardent love of liberty and independance, & … [having] no desire but to be undisturbed … have been overwhelmed by the current [of immigrant Americans] … humanity enjoins us to teach them agriculture & the domestic arts; to encourage them to that industry … & to prepare them in time for that state of society, which to bodily comforts adds the improvement of the mind & morals. we have therefore liberally furnished them with the implements of husbandry & houshold use; we have placed among them instructors in the arts of first necessity; and they are covered with the Aegis [protection] of the law against aggressors from among ourselves.
Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Enlightened leaders seek improvement of marginalized members.
Thomas Jefferson had a lifelong interest in America’s native citizens and their improvement. He recognized they had the same rights and aspirations as all people. Although they wished to be left alone, they were being “overwhelmed” by white people pushing further and further west.
Inevitably, their prosperous future was in “agriculture & the domestic arts.” It was the white man’s responsibility to teach those arts for the natives’ improvement in body, soul and spirit. To that end, his administration had furnished both agricultural and household materials and instructors in their use. On top of this, they were protected by law from aggression by white settlers.
Jefferson believed that given enough time, the Indians could become farmers like the white men. Then they would no longer need vast expanses for hunting, and those lands could be opened for settlement. While some natives were assimilated, he greatly underestimated their attachment to their own culture and resistance to change.