… you have contracted a great debt to some British traders …which you honestly wish to pay … it will be better for you to sell some of that [your land] to pay your debts … your lands are your own, my children, they shall never be taken from you by our people or any others. you will be free to keep or to sell as yourselves shall think most for your own good … We have lately obtained … all the country beyond the Missisipi called Louisiana … but it is very far off, and we would prefer giving you lands there, or money & goods as you like best, for such parts of your lands on this side the Missisipi as you are disposed to part with. should you have any thing to say on this subject now, or at any future time, we shall be always ready to listen to you.
Thomas Jefferson to the Chickasaw Nation Chiefs, March 7, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Reasonable leaders offer options, not demands.
In the previous post, the President thanked the loyal Chickasaws and urged them away from hunting for sustenance and toward agriculture. He offered the nation’s help to do that. Now, he raised the ante.
Since the tribe had become indebted to the British, selling some of their lands to the U.S. would erase that debt. Their remaining land would be adequate for farming. Even better, he could trade unpopulated land far away, west of the Mississippi River.
Regardless, Jefferson affirmed their land was theirs to do with as they pleased. Still, he was not averse to adding pressure to induce their sale. However “unenlightened” his stance might be regarded today, his administration’s conduct toward natives was far more respectful and benevolent than some of his successors.