MacPherson, Christopher: Petition, Richmond City
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298 The Adams-Jefferson Letters I think these Prophecies are not only unphilosophical and inconsistent with the political Safety of States and Nations; but that the most sincere and sober Christians in the World ought upon their own Principles to hold them impious, for nothing is clearer from their Scriptures than that Their Prophecies were not intended to make Us Prophets. Pardon this strange Vagary. I want only to know something more than I do about the Richmond and Wabash Prophets. Called to Company and to dinner I have only time to repeat the Assurances of the Friendship and Respect of John Adams
Jefferson to Adams Monticello Apr. 20. 12.
Dear Sir I have it now in my power to send you a piece of homespun in return for that I received from you. [superscript 46] Not of the fine texture, or delicate character of yours, or, to drop our metaphor, not filled as that was with that display of imagination which constitutes excellence in Belles lettres, but a mere sober, dry and formal piece of Logic. Ornari res ipsa negat. [superscript 47] Yet you may have enough left of your old taste for law reading to cast an eye over some of the questions it discusses. At any rate accept it as the offering of esteem and friendship. You wish to know something of the Richmond and Wabash prophets. Of Nimrod Hewes I never before heard. Christopher Macpherson I have known for 20. years. He is a man of color, brought up as a bookkeeper by a merchant, his master, and afterwards enfranchised. He had understanding enough to post up his ledger from his journal, but not enough to bear up against Hypochondriac affections and the gloomy forebodings they inspire. He became crazy, foggy, his head always in the clouds, and rhapsodising what neither himself nor any one else could understand. I think he told me he had visited you personally while you were in the
POSTERITY MUST JUDGE 299 administration, and wrote you letters, which you have probably forgotten in the mass of the correspondencies of that crazy class, of whose complaints, and terrors, and mysticisms, the several presidents have been the regular depositories. Macpherson was too honest to be molested by anybody, and too inoffensive to be a subject for the Mad-house; altho', I believe, we are told in the old Book that 'every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, thou shouldest put him in prison and in the stocks.' The Wabash prophet [Tenskwatawa] is a very different character, more rogue than fool, if to be a rogue is not the greatest of all follies. He arose to notice while I was in the administration, and became of course a proper subject of enquiry for me. The enquiry was made with diligence. His declared object was the reformation of his red brethren, and their return to their pristine manner of living. He pretended to be in constant communication with the great spirit, that he was instructed by him to make known to the Indians that they were created by him distinct from the Whites, of different natures, for different purposes, and placed under different circumstances, adapted to their nature and destinies: that they must return from all the ways of the Whites to the habits and opinions of their forefathers. They must not eat the flesh of hogs, of bullocks, of sheep etc. the deer and buffalo having been created for their food; they must not make bread of wheat, but of Indian corn. They must not wear linen nor woollen, but dress like their fathers in the skins and furs of wild animals. They must not drink ardent spirits; and I do not remember whether he extended his inhibitions to the gun and gunpowder, in favor of the bow and arrow. I concluded from all this that he was a visionary, inveloped in the clouds of their antiquities, and vainly endeavoring to lead back his brethren to the fancied beatitudes of their golden age. I thought there was little danger of his making many proselytes from the habits and comforts they had learned from the Whites to the hardships and privations of savagism, and no great harm if he did. We let him go on therefore unmolested. But his followers increased till the English thought him worth corruption, and found him corruptible. I suppose his views were then changed; but his proceedings in consequence of them were after I left the administration, and are therefore unknown to me; nor have I ever been informed what were the particular acts on his part which produced an actual commencement of hostilities on ours. [superscript 48] I have no doubt however that his subsequent proceedings are but a chapter apart, like that of [John]
46. The Proceedings of the Government of the United States, in maintaining the Public Right to the Beach of the Mississippi, Adjacent to New-Orleans, against the Intrusion of Edward Livingston. Prepared for the Use of Counsel, by Thomas Jefferson (N. Y., 1812); reprinted in H[enry] A. Washington, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, D.C., 1853-54), VIII, 503-604. Livingston had acquired alluvial lands in New Orleans as payment for legal fees, but he was dispossessed of them by the United States as sovereign of the soil. He brought action in the federal court in New Orleans to recover damages, without success. William S. Carpenter, "Livingston, Edward," DAB, XI, 310. 47. "The subject itself refuses to be embellished." 48. Indian resistance, led by Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet, against American expansion west of Ohio, culminated in the Battle of Tippecanoe, Nov. 7, 1811. Although General William Henry Harrison's "victory" was greatly exaggerated, it did end the possibility of an Indian confederacy. Glenn Tucker, Poltroons and Patriots. . . (N. Y., ), I, Chap. VII.
[tab on right edge: Lester J. Cappon, ed. The Adams-Jefferson Letters, Vol. II (Chapel Hill, 1959)]