Front Page Titles (by Subject) CCLXXXIV: REMARKS ON A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE MANAGEMENT OF INDIAN AFFAIRS 1 - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. IV Letters and Misc. Writings 1763-1768
Return to Title Page for The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. IV Letters and Misc. Writings 1763-1768
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
CCLXXXIV: REMARKS ON A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE MANAGEMENT OF INDIAN AFFAIRS 1 - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. IV Letters and Misc. Writings 1763-1768 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. IV (Letters and Misc. Writings 1763-1768).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
REMARKS ON A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE MANAGEMENT OF INDIAN AFFAIRS1
The regulations in this Plan seem to me to be in general very good; but some few appear to want explanation, or farther consideration.
Clause 3. Is it intended by this clause to prevent the trade that Indians, living near the frontiers, may choose to carry on with the inhabitants, by bringing their skins into the settlements? This prevention is hardly practicable; as such trade may be carried on in many places out of the observation of government, the frontier being of great extent, and the inhabitants thinly settled in the woods, and remote from each other. The Indians, too, do not everywhere live in towns sufficiently numerous to encourage traders to reside among them; but in scattered families, here and there, often shifting their situation for the sake of better hunting; and if they are near the English settlements, it would seem to them very hard to be obliged to carry their skins for sale to remote towns or posts, when they could dispose of them to their neighbours, with less trouble and to greater advantage; as the goods they want for them, are and must be dearer at such remote posts.
4. The colony “laws for regulating Indian affairs or commerce” are the result of long experience, made by people on the spot, interested to make them good; and it would be well to consider the matter thoroughly, before they are repealed, to make way for new and untried schemes.
By whom are they to be repealed? By the colony assemblies, or by Parliament? Some difficulty will arise here.
13. The districts seem too large for this. The Indians under the care of the northern superintendent, by this plan, border on the colonies of Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia; the superintendent’s situation, remote from many of these, may occasion great inconvenience, if his consent is always to be necessary in such cases.
14. This seems too much to be done when the vastness of the district is considered. If there were more districts and smaller, it might be more practicable.
15 and 16. Are these agents or commissaries to try causes where life is concerned? Would it not be better to send the criminals into some civil, well-settled government or colony, for trial, where good juries can be had?
18. “Chief for the whole tribe; who shall constantly reside with the commissary,” &c. Provision must then be made for his maintenance, as particular Indians have no estates, but live by hunting; and their public has no funds or revenues. Being used to rambling, it would perhaps not be easy to find one, who would be obliged to this constant residence; but it may be tried.
22. If the agent and his deputies, and the commissaries, are not to trade, should it not be a part of their oath, that they will have no concern in such trade, directly or indirectly? Private agreements between them and the traders, for share of profits, should be guarded against; and the same care taken to prevent, if possible, private agreements between them and the purchasers of Indian lands.
31. —— “or trading at any other post,” &c. This should be so expressed as to make the master liable for the offence of the servant; otherwise it will have no effect.
33. I doubt the settling of tariffs will be a matter of difficulty. There may be differences of fineness, goodness, and value, in the goods of different traders, that cannot be properly allowed for by general tariffs. And it seems contrary to the nature of commerce, for government to interfere in the prices of commodities. Trade is a voluntary thing between buyer and seller; in every article of which each exercises his own judgment, and is to please himself. Suppose either Indian or trader is dissatisfied with the tariff, and refuses barter on those terms; are the refusers to be compelled? If not, why should an Indian be forbidden to take more goods for his skins than your tariff allows, if the trader is willing to give them; or a trader more skins for his goods, if the Indian is willing to give them? Where there are a number of traders, the separate desire of each to get more custom will operate in bringing down their goods to a reasonable price. It therefore seems to me, that trade will best find and make its own rates; and that government cannot well interfere, unless it will take the whole trade into its own hands (as in some colonies it does), and manage it by its own servants, at its own risk.
38. I apprehend that if the Indians cannot get rum of fair traders, it will be a great means of defeating all these regulations that direct the trade to be carried on at certain posts. The countries and forests are so very large, it is scarce possible to guard every part, so as to prevent unlicensed traders drawing the Indians and the trade to themselves, by rum and other spirituous liquors, which all savage people are so fond of. I think they will generally trade where they can get rum, preferably to where it is refused them; and the proposed prohibition will therefore be a great encouragement to unlicensed traders, and promote such trade. If the commissaries, or officers at the posts, can prevent the selling of rum during the barter for other goods, and until the Indians are about going away, it is perhaps all that is practicable or necessary. The missionaries will, among other things, endeavour to prevail with them to live soberly and avoid drunkenness.
39. The Indian trade, so far as credit is concerned, has hitherto been carried on wholly upon honor. They have among themselves no such thing as prisons or confinement for debt. This article seems to imply, that an Indian may be compelled by law to pay a debt of fifty shillings or under. Our legal method of compulsion is by imprisonment. The Indians cannot and will not imprison one another; and, if we attempt to imprison them, I apprehend it would be generally disliked by the nations, and occasion breaches. They have such high ideas of the value of personal liberty, and such slight ones of the value of personal property, that they would think the disproportion monstrous between the liberty of a man and a debt of a few shillings; and that it would be excessively inequitable and unjust, to take away the one for a default in payment of the other. It seems to me, therefore, best to leave that matter on its present footing; the debts under fifty shillings as irrecoverable by law, as this article proposes for the debts above fifty shillings. Debts of honor are generally as well paid as other debts. Where no compulsion can be used, it is more disgraceful to be dishonest. If the trader thinks his risk greater in trusting any particular Indian, he will either not do it, or proportion his price to his risk.
44. As the goods for the Indian trade all come from England, and the peltry is chiefly brought to England, perhaps it will be best to lay the duty here on the exportation of the one and the importation of the other, to avoid meddling with the question of the right to lay duties in America by Parliament here.
If it is thought proper to carry the trading part of this plan into execution, would it not be well to try it first in a few posts, to which the present colony laws for regulating the Indian trade do not reach; that by experience its utility may be ascertained, or its defects discovered and amended before it is made general, and those laws repealed to make way for it? If the Indians find by experience that they are better used in their trade at the posts under these regulations than at other places, may it not make them desirous of having the regulations extended to other places, and when extended better satisfied with them upon reflection and comparison?
[1 ]The Plan remarked upon was under the consideration of the ministry before the close of the year 1766, and, as I am inclined to think, after the commencement of 1765. I can go no nearer as to its date. It is needless to enter into the particulars of it, as the Remarks explain themselves; except perhaps as to the following points: