Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Virginia and Nicholas Trist; by descent to an anonymous donor; by gift to Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1956
Accession Number: 1956-38
Historical Notes: As Jefferson's secretary of war, Henry Dearborn helped form policy on Native Americans, the goal of which was to establish a strong western boundary by procuring lands along the Mississippi and its tributaries. "The Indians," Jefferson wrote to Dearborn in 1803,
being once closed in between strong settled countries on the Missisipi & Atlantic, will, for want of game, be forced to agriculture, will find that small portions of land well improved, will be worth more to them than extensive forests unemployed, and will be continually parting with portions of them, for money to buy stock, utensils & necessaries for their farms & families.1
Dearborn assisted in planning the Lewis and Clark Expedition and was also in charge of frontier trading posts, or "factories," which reinforced the government's presence on these boundaries.
Jefferson praised Dearborn for the "integrity, attention, skill, & economy with which you have conducted your department," adding, "should a war come on, there is no person in the US. to whose management & care I could commit it with equal confidence."2 Although Dearborn had enjoyed a celebrated military career prior to joining Jefferson's cabinet, his poor performance in the War of 1812 as a major-general led to his removal from command and honorable discharge from the army. Madison tried unsuccessfully to return Dearborn to the post of secretary of war. In 1822 Monroe appointed Dearborn as minister to Portugal, a post he held for two years before retiring from public service.3