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In 1793, when he was Secretary of State under President Washington, Thomas Jefferson wrote to the American commissioners to Spain in Madrid:
Giving medals and marks of distinction to the Indian chiefs…has been an ancient custom from time immemorial. The medals are considered as complimentary things, as marks of friendship to those who come to see us, or who do us good offices, conciliatory of their good will towards us, and not designed to produce a contrary disposition towards others. They confer no power, and seem to have taken their origin in the European practice, of giving medals or other marks of friendship to the negotiators of treaties and other diplomatic characters, or visitors of distinction. The British government, while it prevailed here, practiced the giving medals, gorgets, and bracelets to the savages, invariable. We have continued it, and we did imagine, without pretending to know, that Spain also did it.1
On August 17, 1805, among Sacagawea's people, the Shoshone Indians, Meriwether Lewis wrote:
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- 1. Thomas Jefferson to William Carmichael and William Short, the U.S. Commissioners to Spain, June 30, 1793. Paul Leicester Ford, ed., Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 10 vols. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1892-99), 6:336.