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In gathering up and arranging the materials for a biographical sketch of Dr. Cutler, it becomes quite evident that an important chapter in the true history of the early settlement of the Ohio valley and the North-west has been omitted from current discussions and histories relating to that general subject.
This omission is not merely one of incidents and personalities, but extends to the staple facts that constitute true and reliable data for the guidance of such an inquiry. To do justice to a subject of so much importance, the conditions under which individual actors were compelled to exert their efforts must be understood.
The great organic law passed by Congress on the 13th of July, 1787, for the government of the North-west Territory, occupies and deserves a prominent place in the admiration of posterity ; but the reasons why some of its most valuable provisions were inserted, and its main features suddenly and favorably changed, have never been fully explained.
The reasons why a system of surveys was organized, and systematic and permanent occupation of the Ohio country was undertaken in direct connection with the application of the institutions of civil government, are not well understood.
Any thing like a satisfactory explanation of these, and many other similar inquiries in regard to vacant territory, must reach back to the earliest lines of policy adopted by Congress, even before its conquest from the British crown.
Not only the policy of Congress, but the rights of the army, arising from promised bounties, must be considered.
In placing before the reader the services performed by Dr. Cutler, and claiming for him whatever of merit attaches to his efforts, it is intended also to present as fully as practicable the services and merits of associates, and to give to contemporaneous circumstances and influences their full weight.
It will be seen that Congress and the army were the principal factors; that there was a concert of action, if not of design; that Congress sought to prepare the way for the occupation of the western wilderness, to make “rough places smooth, and the crooked places straight," while the army, with their Commander-in-Chief in full support, sought to retrieve losses, heal wounds, and find repose by encountering new risks, new hardships, and new dangers, in laying deep and broad the foundations of Christian civilization in “new states” " westward of the Ohio."
The service performed by Dr. Cutler was in bringing into harmonious action the lines of policy that were marked out by one party, and cordially accepted by the other.
As the agent of the Ohio Company of Associates, he succeeded in placing in the hands of an intelligent body of his fellow-citizens, mainly composed of officers of the army, the first application, on an efficient scale, of the land selling policy, and at the same time of the governmental policy of Congress. This effort brought him in direct contact with both parties. The narrative, mainly by himself and his contemporaries, will show the steps taken and results accomplished.
An important element in the true situation at that time is found in the connection which the Commander-in-Chief hail with efforts to organize the permanent occupation of the Ohio valley. His personal landed interests there, his efforts at colonization on these lands, his earnest espousal of the petition of the officers, his early direction of their attention to the Ohio valley as a resort in case of defeat, and the zeal with which he entered upon a comprehensive system of internal improvements, designed to connect the valley and the entire north-west with Virginia seaports, are sufficient evidences of co-operation to justify the introduction of some of his correspondence on the subject.
General Putnam's letters to Washington and to Fisher Ames disclose the true condition of affairs at that time.
If the reader will give careful attention to Washington's letter to Governor Harrison, Putnam's correspondence, and Dr. Cutler's Explanation, etc., it will be found that a harmony of views and opinions can be traced through them all that would indicate a preconcerted plan for presenting what was at that time the true situation of affairs, as well as the schemes of improvement and colonization that commanded their united attention.
These papers, with others of similar import, are valuable contributions to history, and afford explanations for the direction that Dr. Cutler gave to his negotiations with Congress. It will be clearly seen that the interests of Virginia were closely connected with the plans of the Ohio Company of Associates, and, as a result, harmony of action was secured ; that the motives for such harmony were strong enough to influence legislation in matters of the greatest importance.
No apology is required for placing Dr. Cutler's journals so fully before the reader; with other papers, they constitute the body of the volume.
It is well to bear in mind that the policy adopted by Congress, in regard to vacant territory, or the “ back country," was, in most respects, new and experimental.
The system of surveys was adopted after “long and painful deliberation.” The idea of making wild lands a basis of revenue and of public credit was novel. Neither the Colonies nor the British government had ever devoted vacant territory to that purpose.
The mode of settling was also new. Hitherto, the individual adventurer, either alone or with a few neighbors, encountered the dangers and hardships of pioneer life. Outside of Colonial or state jurisdiction, there was no law and no value to lands. Kentucky was settled in this way. It yielded no revenue, either to the parent state or nation, from sales of lands. But Congress adopted the policy of “ compact and progressive settlements," with territorial government projected over them in advance. In this way a control was established over the land as property, and lawful jurisdiction exercised over the inhabitants.
It will be found that the views of the Associates and of Washington were in entire harmony with those of Congress in these respects.
It was with all these elements of a new line of landed and territorial policy, constituting a new departure, that Dr. Cutler had to deal in his efforts to bring into practical use systems that had not been previously tried.
It will appear that the policy of “new states,” “ distinct governments” for the vacant territory, was announced before the Peace of ’83 gave Congress the full control; that it was under consideration of several committees from 1780 to 1787; that every state except Georgia was represented on those committees from time to time; that it must have received the consideration of over twenty different members during the above interval. The system for surveys and disposing of the lands was under the consideration of a grand committee, composed of a member from each state, and evidently received careful consideration before finally disposed of, May 20, 1785.
It is also true that the army gave early attention to the same subjects. The officers anticipated new states, and expected that surveys of the lands would be made by the government.
Dr. Cutler kept a daily record of his personal affairs, beginning in the year 1765, and ending the year of his death, 1823. Nine years are missing. Extracts from the years that have been preserved are given in the volume, and constitute an autobiography, needing little comment to add to its interest.
His correspondence while a member of Congress presents an interesting view of that period of political transition when the authors and most earnest supporters of the Constitution were set aside and only allowed to exert that influence which comes from an intelligent, patriotic, and talented minority. Portions only of Dr. Cutler's literary and scientific correspondence have been preserved and presented to the reader.