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date: 19 September 2017

U.S. Indian Policy, 1783–1830

Summary and Keywords

From 1783 to 1830, American Indian policy reflected the new American nation-state’s desire to establish its own legitimacy and authority, by controlling Native American peoples and establishing orderly and prosperous white settlements in the continental interior. The Federalists focused on securing against Native American claims and attacks several protected enclaves of white settlement (Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee), established—often violently—during the Revolutionary War. They used treaties to draw a legal boundary between these enclaves and Indian communities, and annuities and military force to keep Indians on their side of the line. The Jeffersonian Republicans adopted a more expansive plan of development, coupled with the promotion of Native American dependency. Treaty commissioners persuaded chiefs to cede road easements and riverfront acreage that the government used to link and develop dispersed white settlements. Meanwhile, the War Department built trading factories whose cheap merchandise would lure Indians into commercial dependency, and agents offered Indian families agricultural equipment and training, hoping that Native American farmers would no longer need “extensive forests” to support themselves. These pressures helped engender nativist movements in the Old Northwest and southeast, and Indian men from both regions fought the United States in the War of 1812, reinforcing frontier settlers’ view that Indians were a security threat. After this war’s end, the United States adopted a strategy of containment, pressuring Indian leaders to cede most of their peoples’ lands, confining Indians to enclaves, financing vocational schooling for Indian children, and encouraging Native peoples voluntarily to move west of the Mississippi. This policy, however, proved too respectful of Indian autonomy for the frontier settlers and politicians steadily gaining influence in the national government. After these settlers elected one of their own, Andrew Jackson, to the presidency, American Indian policy would enter a much more coercive and violent phase, as white Americans redefined the nation-state as a domain of white supremacy ethnically cleansed of indigenous peoples.

Keywords: Democratic-Republicans, dispossession, Federalists, Indian factories, Indian land, Indian policy, Knox, Henry, Northwest Indian War, U.S. government, War of 1812

A New Empire, a Fictive Conquest, and a New War

Americans would eventually consider the American Revolution the founding episode of their nation-state, but in 1783, at the end of the War for American Independence, one could find little evidence of American nationalism. Within the territorial borders framed by the peace treaty with Great Britain, the United States comprised a patchwork of different communities, religious sects, and ethnic and racial groups. These included approximately 150,000 Native Americans from several dozen nations. American leaders used a different and, arguably, more accurate descriptive term for the new political order: empire. Like other empires, the United States was a large territorial polity encompassing many different peoples, equal in their claim on the central government for protection, but unequal in their social rank and entitlement to resources.

The United States’ federal government had little difficulty behaving imperially, and imperiously, toward American Indians. White settlers considered Native Americans an enemy race which had attacked them without provocation or mercy in the Revolutionary War, an inaccurate but compelling narrative. Members of the American Continental Congress displayed less desire for vengeance but still considered Indians outsiders and enemies. Congressional committees and postwar treaty commissioners implemented an Indian policy centered on indemnification: taking Native American lands as compensation for Indians’ wartime “barbarities,” and as the price of their receiving American protection. At treaty conferences with the Iroquois (1784), the eastern Great Lakes and Ohio Indians (1785), and the Shawnees (1786), federal commissioners demanded the cession of 30 million acres of land in modern Ohio. When Native American chiefs balked at these demands, the commissioners called them “conquered peoples,” threatened to attack them, and took hostages. At the concurrent Hopewell conference (1785–1786) with three southeastern Indian nations, all of whom resided within territory claimed by the southern states, federal commissioners took a less hostile but still unsatisfactory line. They told the Cherokees they would have to give up lands seized by white settlers in Kentucky and Tennessee, and offered the Chickasaws and Choctaws promises of trade that proved empty.

The threats to the Northwest Indians also proved hollow. The United States was hardly a nation in the 1780s, and its national government seemed hardly worthy of the name. It had little more than a bankrupt Congress that could not collect taxes, a tiny federal bureaucracy and army, and $50 million in leftover war debts. Indeed, the Congress had demanded such a large cession from the Lakes and Ohio Indians in order to create a “fund” of public lands it could sell to retire its debts. This soon proved an unrealistic plan. Native American men and women quickly learned that the United States government lacked the power to compel their obedience. It certainly lacked the means to help its subjects and friends. Promises to send American traders to Indian communities remained unfulfilled (most fur traders had been Loyalists in the Revolution), and assurances that the U.S. government would protect Indians from intruders became meaningless as white settlers smashed neutral Shawnee and Cherokee towns later in the decade.

White frontiersmen launched these raids as collective punishment for Native American attacks on their flatboats and farmsteads, attacks that several Indian nations had resumed in 1786 as it became obvious that the United States could neither enforce its demands nor protect their lands. The attackers belonged to a cohering pan-Indian alliance whose members favored a united Indian response to the Americans’ invasion. They borrowed ideology from the midcentury nativist movement, whose prophets had urged Indians to unite in rejecting both European culture and whites’ demand for land. The confederates also used the numerous interethnic ties, bonds of trade and marriage and cultural exchange, that eastern Indians had formed in previous centuries to build mutual trust and solidarity. By the end of that year warriors and captains from the Lakes region had created a new military confederacy, the United Indians, with regular council meetings, a coherent territorial agenda—no American settlements north of the Ohio River—and expanding foreign relations. British traders from Detroit and other posts on the Great Lakes, which Great Britain had retained as surety for the payment of American debts, supplied the confederates with weapons and provided a market for their plunder. The confederates also affiliated themselves with southeastern Indian groups, notably the disaffected Chickamauga band of Cherokees and a Creek faction led by Alexander McGillivray. The American empire had tried to bully its Indian subjects into submission. Instead, it had begun to turn them into a rival government.

U.S. Indian Policy, 1783–1830Click to view larger

Figure 1. Portrait of General Henry Knox by Charles Wilson Peale (1778). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum, Accession Number 68.222.5.

The American Congress’s Secretary at War and de facto chief law enforcement officer, Henry Knox, watched the frontier war and the growth of an Indian confederacy with mounting alarm. In a series of reports between 1787 and 1789, he proposed a partial reset of national Indian policy. Rather than continue to regard Native Americans as conquered peoples, Knox suggested that the U.S. government should follow European examples and treat them as business partners and allies. Pay Indians for their earlier land cessions, Knox advised, and provide their chiefs with gifts, medals, and other tokens of attachment and esteem. The United States also needed sufficient military force to keep the peace, to punish Indians who violated new treaties and to restrain whites who wanted to seize Indians’ remaining lands or harm their persons. Secretary Knox’s reports proved influential, in part because he appealed in them to the honor and enlightened good sense of American patricians, some of whom either served in the Continental Congress or in the stronger national government that succeeded it. These patricians included Knox’s friend and former superior, George Washington, who when he became president in 1789 retained the secretary in his old position. Congress had by then already begun to implement part of Knox’s policy by authorizing a new treaty with the Northwest Indians, in which the governor of the Northwest Territory would pay them for their earlier land cession. The secretary’s other proposals would have to wait until the federal government acquired sufficient power and resources to sustain them. As it turned out, Knox would not have to wait long.

The Federalist Quest for Order and the War They Made

While their political opponents accused them of manufacturing a crisis in order to seize power, the members of the Federalist movement, who framed and ratified the U.S. Constitution (1787) and dominated the strong national government it created, believed that such a crisis actually afflicted the United States. Episodes of disorder and violence had cropped up throughout the 1780s in rural courthouse towns and state capitals, in the war-torn Ohio Valley and on the high seas, while the federal Congress and its officials looked on ineffectually. The new regime of 1787 would have the ability to collect taxes, raise an army, enforce federal laws, maintain order, and assuage at least some of the Federalists’ fears.

The Federalists drew most of their political support from eastern cities and preferred to concern themselves with Atlantic commerce. However, they had to pay attention to the Trans-Appalachian West. The U.S. government had in 1784 taken responsibility for the region between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, also known as the Northwest Territory, and federal officials hoped that sales of land in that territory, from the cession that the Lakes and Ohio Indians had ostensibly made in 1785, could help retire the United States’ war debts. Moreover, Federalist leaders like Knox and Washington believed that a protracted war between Indians and white settlers would undermine the integrity of the national government, which was supposed to guarantee protection to all its peoples. Conversely, the growth of orderly, loyal settler enclaves close to the old Appalachian frontier would contribute to the United States’ population and prosperity. Slow, cautious expansion, accompanied by the westward extension of federal political authority, became the Federalists’ goal on the frontier.

To govern restive white frontiersmen, the U.S. Congress established temporary, quasi-colonial governments over most of the new settler enclaves: the Northwest Territory (1787), the Southwest Territory (future Tennessee, 1789), Mississippi (1798), and Indiana (1800). These governments vested strong executive powers in federally appointed judges and governors. They also, however, placed law enforcement in the hands of settler-controlled institutions, namely juries and militias, and provided for the eventual creation of new state governments as each territory’s free population grew. They thus gave white settlers an immediate measure of local control and eventual representation in the national government, neither of which boded well for Native Americans.

Federalist policy-makers did take into account the possibility that state governments might interfere with federal Indian policy. The centerpiece of their policy thus became the treaty, a diplomatic and legal agreement which Congress had used in the 1780s to place Native Americans under its authority and take their lands. Now Indian treaties acquired new purposes: to make peace with Indian nations who had reminded Americans not to trifle with them, and—just as importantly—to exclude the state governments from the conduct of Indian relations. While the 1787 Constitution had not given the U.S. government explicit control of Indian policy, it had made treaties a federal monopoly. The 1790 Indian Trade and Intercourse Act underscored this clause by barring the states from making treaties with Native Americans. Exercising their prerogative, the president authorized and the Senate approved twelve Indian treaties between 1789 and 1798. The signatories included leaders of the Creeks, the Cherokees, the Northwest Indians, and the Iroquois. The agreements established boundary lines between these nations and white settlement zones in western New York, the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, and Georgia. In some cases the treaties provided that white surveyors and Native chiefs would mutually mark these lines. The boundaries usually incorporated into the United States lands that federal commissioners had previously forced Indians to cede, like a 30-million-acre tract in modern Ohio or the region between the Holston and French Broad Rivers in Tennessee. This made the treaties unpopular with many Native American men and women, and the Federalists attempted to buy off Indian protestors with annuities: annual payments of goods and cash that would ostensibly replace the economic value of Indians’ lost hunting territory. Since, however, most Indians considered land as much a source of their independence and identity as an economic asset, and since in any case annuity payments went first to Native American chiefs (who did redistribute some of the funds to their followers), they seldom assuaged the misgivings of the rank and file.

Other treaty articles offered Indians various federal protections, but these protections proved ineffective. Some restricted the movement of whites across Indian borders, limiting travel to holders of government passes and trading licenses. Other clauses obliged Indians to extradite white criminals who committed crimes within their territory, including offenses against Indians. A series of federal Trade and Intercourse Acts, passed and modified by Congress between 1790 and 1802, gave statutory support to these provisions and criminalized white intrusions on Native American territory. As so often happened in Indian country, though, these regulations proved too extensive for the weak new federal government to enforce. White hunters and farmers routinely encroached on Native American territory, poaching game from Delaware ranges, grazing their livestock on Creek grasslands, and building their homes near Cherokee towns. Only rarely did federal troops or state militia remove the intruders. When, moreover, whites assaulted or killed Indians and American officials brought the assailants to trial, all-white juries almost invariably refused to convict. (The 1825 execution of four white men convicted of murdering nine Indians in Fall Creek, Indiana, became the exception that proved the rule.)

Even in the less contentious field of commerce, federal officials found that their licensing authority gave them little control over foreign traders, which porous international boundaries allowed into the United States. Jay’s Treaty (1794) with Great Britain, while it did give the United States control of key forts in the U.S.-Canadian borderland, also allowed British and Francophone traders to remain in these posts and indeed to trade with Indians anywhere in the United States. Many continued to ply their trade in the Great Lakes region and upper Mississippi Valley until the War of 1812. Meanwhile, the Florida-based firm of Panton and Leslie took advantage of a contested Spanish border with the United States by maintaining posts near southern Indian communities until the late 1790s. The predominance of non-U.S. citizens in the fur trade, and federal officials’ belief that this gave foreign governments leverage over Indians, persuaded Congress and the president to make the U.S. government a player in Native American commerce. The Indian factory system, inaugurated in 1796, used federally constructed trading posts, federally employed traders, and low merchandise prices to lure Indian hunters and produce-sellers away from foreign traders. System, actually, is probably too ambitious a word for the factories built during the Federalist era: the War Department only administered two, which did a brisk but geographically limited business with the Cherokee and the Creeks. Not until Thomas Jefferson’s presidency did any factories open in the Mississippi Valley or in the strategically important Great Lakes region, the latter of which Federalist officials considered too volatile for a successful public trading venture.

The Federalists had done much to produce that volatility, despite their self-professed commitment to order. The war between Kentucky settlers and the United Indian confederacy paused briefly in late 1788, when Governor Arthur St. Clair held a peace conference with chiefs from the Iroquois, Lakes, and Ohio Indian nations. The resulting Treaty of Fort Harmar (January 9, 1789) promised the signatories cash and gifts and protection from white settlers provided they confirmed the massive earlier land cession their nations had made in modern Ohio. The cession, combined with widespread Native American mistrust of St. Clair’s motives and light attendance at the conference, doomed the treaty. The settler-Indian war resumed, with the added problem that it now challenged the authority of the Washington administration. In 1790 the War Department identified the Miami towns at Kekionga, on the upper Maumee and Saint Mary’s Rivers, as the seat of the Indian “banditti” who refused to make peace, and sent a small army of militia and regulars to destroy them. The army managed to burn half a dozen towns, but in two associated battles Lakes Indian warriors mauled the American invaders, inflicting 250 casualties. A follow-up expedition the next year met a worse fate: a war party led by Blue Jacket and Little Turtle enveloped and destroyed the army on Saint Mary’s River (November 4, 1791), one hundred miles north of Cincinnati, killing and wounding one thousand men. News of the two victories emboldened disaffected Creek and Cherokee men, and in 1792–1793 they raided white outposts in Georgia and attacked the settlements of Nashville and Knoxville. Unfortunately for the Indian confederates, the defeats also frightened Congress into authorizing a five-thousand-man professional army, and to expend over $4 million on a new military campaign in the Northwest.

While General Anthony Wayne trained the new army, the War Department sent a dozen emissaries, including the Stockbridge Mohican leader Hendrick Aupaumut and the Seneca chief Red Jacket, to attend the Northwest Indian confederation’s councils and invite its leaders to a peace conference. The diplomatic campaign failed. Many of the confederated warriors saw in their victories proof that the Supreme Being, or Master of Life, favored their arms, and they flatly demanded an Ohio River boundary between American settlements and Indian country. In one final exchange with federal commissioners (August 16, 1793), the confederacy’s leaders refused to take money for their lands: “Brothers, money, to us, is of no value, and to most of us unknown . . . no consideration whatever can induce us to sell the lands on which we get sustenance for our women and children.”1 They instead advised the Americans to buy out and evacuate their settlers from modern Ohio. While the Federalists wanted the zone of American settlement to expand slowly, they refused to reverse its expansion, or accept the United Indians’ terms. The war resumed. In 1794 American troops fended off a Lakes and Ohio Indian attack on the post of Fort Recovery, and then Anthony Wayne’s troops defeated and dispersed another confederation war party at Fallen Timbers (August 20). Wayne subsequently destroyed the confederates’ towns and fields, forcing them to sue for peace. Meanwhile, in 1793 and 1794 Tennessee militia expeditions burned and battered the militant Chickamauga band of Cherokees into submission, and Tennessee settlers and the U.S. Army chastened the Creek nation by aiding their Chickasaw adversaries in the Creek-Chickasaw war of 1793–1795.

Three federal treaties then advanced the United States’ geopolitical position in the Trans-Appalachian borderlands. Jay’s Treaty (1794), while opposed by some Congressmen for giving British traders too much leeway, did transfer several British-held posts on the Great Lakes to American control. The Treaty of Greenville (1795) confirmed the cession of Northwest Indian lands comprising two-thirds of modern Ohio. Finally, Pinckney’s Treaty (1795) with Spain created a firm border between the southern United States and Florida and opened the Mississippi River to American commerce. These diplomatic agreements, combined with the American military victories of 1794, produced a surge in American migration to the West. The non-Indian population of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee grew more than 800 percent between the first and third federal Censuses, from about 110,000 in 1790 to 370,000 in 1800, and to 900,000 by 1810.

Expansion and Civilization in the Jeffersonian Era

However, this growth did not advance the political fortunes of the Federalist Party, whom white settlers blamed for a dilatory and overly accommodating policy toward Native Americans. In 1800 western voters joined with the eastern electorate, whom the Federalists’ growing authoritarianism had alarmed, in turning a Federalist president (John Adams) out of office and giving the rival Democratic-Republican Party control of Congress and the presidency. The “Revolution of 1800” had less dramatic effects than that of 1776, but the Democratic-Republicans (or Jeffersonians, as historians sometimes call them) did bring a new set of principles and priorities into the federal government. Generally they advocated lower federal taxes and even lower federal spending, particularly military spending, but they also favored the expansion of commercial agriculture, particularly in the western United States. These two priorities intersected in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the most famous achievement of the Democratic-Republicans during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, whereby the United States acquired for $15 million the French province of Louisiana, both banks of the commercially vital Mississippi River, and the port of New Orleans.

U.S. Indian Policy, 1783–1830

Figure 2. Jefferson Peace Medal. In the 18th and 19th centuries, peace medals were produced in silver for presentation by U.S. government officials to Native American chiefs and warriors. Lewis and Clark brought thirty-two Jefferson medals with them on their expedition, to give to Native American chiefs along their route.

One may view the Louisiana Purchase as an analogue of the Democratic-Republicans’ Indian policy. President Jefferson and his officials wanted Native American lands, particularly tracts near navigable rivers, for resettlement by white farmers. They also wanted Indian permission for roads connecting the more remote enclaves of white settlement. Finally, they wanted to acquire both things by purchase rather than the more expensive expedient of war. The new administration therefore took the policy tools of its Federalist predecessors, minus (initially) the use of military force, and used them to advance its more aggressively expansionist agenda.

In the Great Lakes region, between 1803 and 1809, officials like Governor William Henry Harrison held fourteen treaties with leaders of the Delawares, Miamis, and other nations. The Indian signatories received new annuity payments, generally less than a penny per acre per year, in exchange for land comprising half of modern Illinois, about one-third of modern Indiana, and parts of northern Ohio and southern Michigan. The United States thereby acquired saleable real estate fronting Lake Erie, the lower Ohio River, and the upper Mississippi River. In the southeast, Agent Benjamin Hawkins and others persuaded Creek leaders to part with lands in central Georgia, the Chickasaws and Cherokees to sell former hunting ranges and settlement sites in central and eastern Tennessee, the Choctaws to cede several million acres in Mississippi Territory, and the three latter nations to grant rights-of-way for federal roads. The annuities which Indian signatories received for their land were easier for the parsimonious federal government to pay than lump-sum distributions, and they had the added advantage of making Indians reliant on regular federal aid, giving the United States a stronger negotiating position. In 1809, for example, Governor Harrison strong-armed the southern Lakes Indians into signing the Treaty of Fort Wayne, which ceded 2.5 million acres in central Indiana to the United States, by threatening to withhold their annuity goods if they refused.

U.S. Indian Policy, 1783–1830Click to view larger

Figure 3. In this 1805 painting by an unknown artist, Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins is shown teaching Creek Indians how to use a plow on his plantation in central Georgia. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Control number 48000021.

To increase the willingness of Native American leaders to sell tribal lands, the Jefferson administration expanded two more Federalist programs. First, the president and Congress authorized a large expansion of the factory system, establishing new trading houses in the southeast, at several trading centers (Chicago, Detroit, Fort Wayne, and Mackinac) near the Great Lakes, and at sites in the Louisiana Purchase convenient to the towns of the Caddoes, Osages, and Sauks. Congress also created the office of Superintendent of Indian Trade and (in 1809) enlarged the factories’ collective capital to $300,000. Behind the expansion lay a shadier motive: Indians’ demand for trade goods often exceeded their ability to pay, and if the factories extended credit to their customers, federal officials could later persuade Indian leaders to sell land in order to discharge their debts. We should, President Jefferson wrote Governor Harrison in 1803, “be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.”2

So President Jefferson believed. In practice, however, factory debts usually grew too slowly to provide the U.S. government with much leverage: Native Americans could still do business with private traders if they owed too much to the United States, and in the Lakes region and upper Mississippi Valley Indian men generally only used credit to buy supplies for the hunting season. In the southeast, federal commissioners did exchange debt cancellation or offers of trading credit for land cessions from the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees (1802–1806), but they incorporated factory debts into deals with only the last two of these nations. In the case of the Choctaws and Chickasaws, the debts which chiefs paid with land were private ones, owed to the firm of Forbes and Company (Panton and Leslie’s successors). These totaled about $57,000, five times the size of any debt that any Indian nation owed to the U.S. factories. Despite its expansion in the early 19th century, the factory system still controlled only a small share of the Indian trade, and while Native American customers appreciated the factories’ inexpensive goods they did not believe that they needed to make special accommodations to the federal proprietors.

If the peltry trade offered the Jeffersonians less influence over Indians than they would have liked, perhaps their government might find it easier to manipulate Native peoples if it pushed them out of commercial hunting altogether. Such was the logic behind the second Federalist program that the Democratic-Republicans retained and expanded: the Indian “civilization” policy. Borrowing from colonial precedents, the Washington and Adams administrations had in the 1790s begun offering the southeastern Indians gifts of livestock and agricultural hardware, and placing the children of Native American leaders with Quaker families who would educate them. The Federalists’ immediate goal was to increase the political influence of the United States. Over the longer term, they wanted to convert Indian men and women into English-speaking farmers, weavers, craftsmen, whose more “settled” lifeways would make them easier to govern.

The Jeffersonians saw another advantage in this conversion: civilized Indians would use land more intensively and become able to feed and clothe themselves without the fur trade. Over time, they probably would become more willing to sell off their hunting ranges. The Democratic-Republicans thus embraced and enlarged this Federalist policy. Congress renewed a clause in the Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts appropriating funds for farming equipment, looms, and spinning wheels, while treaties authorized agents to hire vocational instructors for Native American men and women. The War Department, under Presidents Jefferson and James Madison, gave money to Christian missionaries to fund schools for Indian children in Detroit, Kaskaskia, and Cherokee country. These grants collectively totaled only a few thousand dollars over a ten-year period, but furnished a precedent for larger federal aid to Indian education in the near future.

The civilization policy garnered significant support in Indian communities, because it helped families implement economic and cultural changes that they had already decided to make. By the end of the 18th century most Native North Americans had adopted numerous elements of European material culture: clothing, tools, firearms, and horses. Some, like the Delawares, had begun to raise livestock, and southeastern Indian women expressed interest in making homespun cloth. Some aspects of European-American civilization created cultural problems for Indians. “Civilized” agriculture required men to farm, using a plow and team, an alienating prospect for peoples who associated agriculture with women’s gender identity, and who cultivated crops with hand tools. The southeastern Indians discovered one way around this cultural barrier: employing African American slaves as field hands. Plantation agriculture allowed southern Indian men to “farm” without having to perform women’s work. Commercial farming, however, introduced another problem into Native American communities: economic inequality, which wealthier Indians’ acquisition of slaves, livestock, fenced fields, and the intellectual capital of Anglo-American education greatly worsened. The tendency of American officials to favor prominent chiefs and captains in the distribution of aid and annuities only made the class divide wider.

By the end of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, federal Indian policy and new social divisions had produced influential resistance movements in many Indian nations. In 1807 a faction of Cherokees assassinated Doublehead (Chuquilatague), an influential chief who had helped the federal government secure land cessions. The insurgents then deposed other chiefs who had similarly favored the United States. In the Creek nation, poorer and more disaffected men found their way into the Red Sticks, a religious revival movement devoted to traditional lifeways. In the Seneca nation, anomie and demoralization fed a cultural resistance movement, the Gaiwiio (Good Word), centered on a religious message promulgated by the prophet Handsome Lake. And in the Great Lakes region, thousands of young men joined a religious and political nativist movement led by the Shawnee prophet Tenskwatawa and his brother Tecumseh. The prophet’s followers eschewed some elements of Euro-American culture, like livestock and alcohol, and opposed the sale of Indian land to the United States. By 1808, when Tenskwatawa and several thousand of his followers moved to Prophetstown in northern Indiana, the movement had begun to develop a coherent political goal. Like the United Indians in the 1780s, the prophet and his associates wanted to create an independent, economically and culturally self-sufficient pan-Indian nation.

Attractive as it was to many Lakes Indian men, this plan conflicted directly with the United States’ goals of assimilating Indians and purchasing most of their lands. Coexistence between Americans and nativists became even more difficult in 1809–1810, when William Harrison’s Treaty of Fort Wayne angered many of Tenskwatawa’s followers and led to a heated confrontation between Tecumseh and Governor Harrison. After the Shawnee captain threatened the chiefs who had signed the treaty and any whites who settled in the ceded territory, the governor decided that the Shawnee brothers had become an intolerable security threat. In 1811, Harrison raised a militia force which marched on Prophetstown, defeated a Lakes and Ohio Indian war party on Tippecanoe Creek (November 7, 1811), and destroyed Tenskwatawa’s town. The battle, and a number of retaliatory raids launched by the Ho-Chunks (Winnebagos) in the spring of 1812, might on their own have led to another campaign resembling Anthony Wayne’s, and another treaty like the Treaty of Greenville. Instead, the confederated Indians’ proximity to Canada and worsening Anglo-American relations persuaded American leaders that Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh were doing Britain’s bidding. American officials believed that Northwest Indians’ incipient war with the United States represented British aggression rather than a Native American response to American aggression. Once American officials regarded Indian confederates as catspaws of Britain, they turned from a mere security concern into an existential threat. In the event of war with Britain, which did erupt in 1812, white Americans were prepared to treat Native Americans much more harshly.

A War with Britain, Fought in Indian Country

The Anglo-American War of 1812 began on the United States’ maritime frontier, the Atlantic Ocean, where during the first decade of the 19th century the British Navy seized American merchant ships and conscripted (impressed) sailors from American crews. Unable to obtain redress through diplomacy or economic sanctions, and believing that the British threatened the sovereignty of the nation, Congress in June 1812 declared war. Thereafter, American attention shifted west and north across another frontier, to the British colony of Canada, whose seizure became the War Department’s main strategic objective. The road to Canada ran through Indian country, and Native Americans consequently played a large role in the war, as both American and British officials vied to recruit them as scouts and suppliers and skirmishers. About four thousand Indian warriors, mainly in the southeast, fought as American allies during the War of 1812, while fifteen thousand Native Americans, principally in the Great Lakes region, fought as British allies. This imbalance helped ensure that Britain would retain Canada, but it also magnified Americans’ perception of Indians as an enemy race whose continued autonomy threatened American security.

On the northern front, during the first year of the conflict, Native Americans and British soldiers scored several successes against American forces. They captured the posts of Mackinac and Detroit, the latter without firing a shot; plundered Fort Dearborn (Chicago) and captured or killed its inhabitants; repelled an American invasion force at Queenston Heights; and destroyed an American post on the Raisin River in Michigan, killing over four hundred of its defenders. Tecumseh and his confederates did meet with some setbacks during the 1812 campaign: war parties failed to take Fort Wayne and Fort Harrison, and that winter American militia destroyed Miami and Kickapoo towns on the Mississinewa and Illinois Rivers. More significant defeats would follow. In the spring and summer of 1813, Northwest Indian warriors and allied British infantry and artillery attacked Fort Meigs in northern Ohio. While the attackers inflicted over one thousand casualties on the defenders, strongly built American fortifications and the arrival of reinforcements prevented them from taking the fort. That September an American flotilla defeated a British naval squadron in the Battle of Lake Erie, giving the United States control of the vital waterway and allowing American troops to recapture Detroit. The following month, an American army under William Harrison advanced into Upper Canada and decisively defeated British troops and Lakes and Ohio Indian warriors at Moraviantown (October 5, 1813), killing Tecumseh in the process. While British forces continued to hold their own in Canada, and retained control of the upper Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley, the Americans had permanently shattered the southern Lakes Indians’ military resistance.

The southeastern United States played no role in Americans’ initial war planning, but the region saw substantial fighting, in part due to the outbreak of a civil war in the Creek nation between national leaders and the Red Sticks. In 1812 Creek leaders executed a dozen Creek men and women for attacking whites, and in 1813 Red Sticks destroyed livestock and other property belonging to wealthy Creeks. That summer the insurgents attacked and killed most of the defenders of Fort Mims, Alabama, a biracial settlement. The Red Sticks’ slaughter of the fort’s defenders drew the United States into the local war: in the winter and spring of 1813–1814 over five thousand American soldiers and militia, joined by several hundred Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw allies, invaded Creek country. The invaders killed sixteen hundred Creeks, many of them at the decisive battle of Horseshoe Bend (March 27, 1814), and destroyed sixty Creek towns, before the surviving insurgents either sought peace or fled to Florida. The Creek War thus came to an end, but fighting resumed in the southeast in late 1814, when British troops attacked the American Gulf coast. In this diversionary campaign, British officers recruited several hundred Seminoles and Red Sticks as allies, while a Choctaw war party helped American General Andrew Jackson defend the vital city of New Orleans.

Decisive victories over the Indians opened a face-saving option for American diplomats. The American federal government stood on the verge of financial collapse and faced a political revolt in New England, while Britain lay exhausted by a quarter-century of war against France. In December 1814 the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war and reestablishing the prewar status quo. The treaty guaranteed Indians the restoration of their prewar territory, but it could not erase the events of the war and the ways American officials and newspaper editors had presented them to the citizenry. Many white Americans believed that the “massacres” at the Raisin River, Fort Mims, and other sites affirmed the treacherous and barbaric nature of all Indians. The massive mobilization of resources during the war, however—ninety thousand regular troops and naval personnel raised, over $100 million spent—and the defeat of Britain’s Indian allies suggested that Americans could now meet any Indian “aggression” with overwhelming force. Secretary of War John Calhoun summed up the new balance of power in 1818, reporting that Native Americans now “neither are nor ought to be considered as independent nations. Our views of their interest, and not their own, ought to govern them.”3

Our Views of Their Interest: Enclaves, Education, and Emigration

In the long term, American power in the Trans-Appalachian West rested on the colonization of Indian lands with white settlers and black slaves. Since the 1814 Treaty of Ghent ending the war with Britain did not prohibit the United States from pressing Indians for voluntary land sales, during the decade following the peace American officials pressed them hard, using the incentive of enlarged annuities and the implied threat of settler violence to achieve their goal. Between 1817 and 1819 the Anishinaabeg (Odawa and Ojibwa nations), Delawares, Miamis, and other Northwest Indians ceded to the United States nearly all of their land in Ohio, most of central and northern Indiana, part of Illinois, and several million acres in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. In a follow-up round of treaties between 1821 and 1826, the Potawatomis sold their remaining lands in Michigan and Indiana, and the Sauks, Mesquakies, and Shawnees traded their land in Missouri for reserves in modern Kansas. In return the United States promised the signatories tens of thousands of dollars in new annuities, several hundred thousand dollars in cash, agricultural hardware, and teachers’ and blacksmiths’ salaries. Most importantly, the treaties allotted the signatory nations several hundred reservations, ranging from small family grants and individual town reserves to tracts of several hundred square miles on the edges of new American states. American commissioners increasingly suggested that eastern nations voluntarily remove to the Trans-Mississippi West, either to Missouri or (after 1825) the eastern part of modern Kansas. The treaties they signed indicated, however, that the Great Lakes Indians could stay in that region if they agreed to live on small enclaves, much as white settlers had done four decades earlier.

In the southeastern United States, the lure of profits generated by a growing cotton market, African American slave labor, and steam transportation induced commissioners like Andrew Jackson to push the southern Indians even harder for land. As early as 1814, in the wake of the Creek War, Jackson extorted a twenty-two-million-acre cession from the Creek nation, and in subsequent negotiations with the Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Seminoles (1816–1822), the general and other officials bullied and cozened Indian leaders into selling lands occupying one-fifth of Mississippi, one-third of Tennessee, and most of Florida, which Spain had sold to the United States in 1819. In their negotiations, Jackson and his colleagues generally realized that they could not simply impose a victor’s peace on their Native American counterparts, if only because most of the southeastern Indians had recently allied themselves with the United States, and because the federal government had reduced the size of the Army to ten thousand men after the war. The American military remained large enough to conduct occasional offensive operations, like Jackson’s 1818 attack on Seminole towns in northern Florida. Tellingly, though, a substantial part of the general’s force in this (First) Seminole War consisted of fourteen hundred American-allied Creek warriors. The southeastern Indians no longer held the balance of power in the region, but the War of 1812 had not left them entirely powerless. Jackson and his colleagues thus relied on a variety of non-violent, if shady, tactics to acquire their land. Creek property-owners, most of them already wealthy, received $300,000 in compensation for wartime damages. Chickasaw chiefs received thousands of dollars in bribes for a large 1818 cession. The Choctaws received school funding, coupled with the threat that the commissioners would negotiate with (presumably more pliant) Choctaw emigrants in Arkansas if the eastern Choctaws didn’t cooperate.

The War Department also continued the Jeffersonians’ dual project of increasing American control of the fur trade, through the factory system, and persuading Native Americans to become commercial farmers on the small enclaves that treaty commissioners left them. The factory system seemed likely to become a casualty of the War of 1812: half of the factories had burned down and the rest were bereft of supplies. Secretary Calhoun and the new Superintendent of Indian Trade, Thomas McKenney, decided to retain the trading houses as a way to project American economic influence into regions previously dominated by British and Francophone traders: the northern Great Lakes and the Mississippi-Missouri Valley. They opened or re-opened factories at Green Bay, Fort Osage, Sulphur Fork (in the Louisiana-Texas borderland), and other sites. Private competition quickly eroded the new factories’ business, however, and Congress increasingly considered the program ripe for termination. The coup de grace came from John Jacob Astor, who considered the factories a threat to his American Fur Company, and who had become the friend, creditor, or client of many prominent federal officials, including President James Monroe and Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton. In 1822 Congress, following a blistering attack on the factories by Benton, voted to close the trading houses permanently. Thereafter, the American Fur Company (AFC), which by 1820 already had several hundred traders and over $1 million in capital, became a de facto commercial arm of the national government. The AFC hosted federal treaties with the Lakotas and other Plains nations at their fur-trading posts, and (in the 1830s) began providing annuity goods to Indian agents on the upper Missouri River.

As the federal government moved out of the fur-trade business it increased its involvement in the “business” of civilization. In 1819 Congress approved, for the first time, a regular statutory appropriation for Native American education, offering $10,000 per annum to missionary societies and other groups willing to open schools for Indians. Treaties with particular Indian nations, like the Treaty of Doak’s Stand (1820) with the Choctaws, promised additional education funds, which by the 1820s totaled $35,000 per year. By 1830, thanks to these expenditures, philanthropists and missionaries operated within the United States more than fifty Indian schools with fifteen hundred pupils.

By the mid-1820s, however, converting Indians into settled commercial farmers had become an unpopular policy with white Americans and their representatives. Some southern state officials had begun to worry that their Indian neighbors had become too civilized for comfort. Many Creek and Cherokee families had assimilated white Americans’ material culture earlier in the century, and now the two nations’ leaders began to demonstrate their familiarity with the institutions of American political culture. In 1825 the Creek national council declared null and void a treaty ceding ten million acres of land to Georgia, and executed Chief William McIntosh for brokering the cession. The U.S. War Department headed off Georgia’s threatened use of force with a new treaty purchasing the lands in question. A more elaborate assertion of independence, however, was soon forthcoming from the Cherokees. Having already passed laws barring Cherokees from selling land “to citizens of the adjoining states” or “to the United States, except it be done by the concurrences of the national” legislature (as legislator John Ridge put it in a February 1826 letter to Albert Gallatin), in July 1827 that legislature published a national constitution proclaiming the Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty. Georgia’s state legislature responded by nullifying the Cherokees laws and constitution and establishing state jurisdiction over their territory.

U.S. Indian Policy, 1783–1830Click to view larger

Figure 4. Legislator John Ridge, clerk of the Cherokee National Council, shown in a print by John T. Bowen, c. 1838. As a leader of the Treaty Party, Ridge believed that Indian Removal was inevitable and supported making a treaty with the U.S. government to protect Cherokee rights in the process. He and several other members of the Treaty Party were later assassinated for their role in negotiating the cession of Indian lands. Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-3157.

Georgia’s actions violated the federal Constitution, but by the end of the 1820s the American national government had come to sympathize with the state’s attitude toward Native Americans, and to view state governments’ threats against Indians as useful. The United States now had a large number of western representatives in its Congress, a consequence of a surge of white migration (and involuntary African American migration) that produced five new western states between 1816 and 1821. By 1830 the Trans-Appalachian population of the United States had increased to three million, and western whites had elected the first president from their region, Andrew Jackson, who agreed that Native Americans constituted an ongoing risk to the nation’s frontiers. Jackson also sympathized with southern state legislators who wanted to liquidate eastern Indians’ sovereignty, and concurred with allegedly philanthropic federal officials who argued that efforts to assimilate Indians would necessarily fail. The logic of Jackson’s beliefs, and of his political supporters’ beliefs, pointed toward Indian Removal.

American leaders had been contemplating the relocation of eastern Indians to the Trans-Mississippi West for several decades. Delawares, Choctaws, and others had begun migrating voluntarily across the Mississippi River in the 1780s, seeking new homes far from aggressive white settlers. By 1828 about fourteen thousand Indian emigrants lived in Missouri and in Arkansas Territory. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams had at various times proposed that the Senate, or the whole Congress, establish a large reservation to accommodate voluntary emigrants. Several treaties in the 1810s and 1820s provided money and land to Indians who moved voluntarily, and by the mid-1820s agents and commissioners had begun to promote Indian emigration more vocally. It would not be much longer until a new Congress, a new president, and a new political party would begin to insist on Removal, by force if necessary.


At the close of the Revolutionary War, the United States was a weak and fragmented empire, and Native Americans were the dominant political actors west of the Appalachian Mountains. Fifty years later, the United States had become the dominant nation-state in North America, and most Indians east of the Missouri River had become dependent (though not subservient) nations. Demography helped drive this power shift: the white and black population of the United States had grown to twelve million, while the eastern Native American population held steady at 150,000. The change partly also resulted from the U.S. government’s promotion of western settlement, or more precisely resettlement, through the purchase of Indian land and the securing of commercially useful waterways. In 1783 white westerners occupied a few enclaves surrounded by Indian settlements; in 1830 Indians (east of the Mississippi) lived in a few enclaves surrounded by whites. And, significantly, the new imbalance in power between whites and Indians grew from a conscious and long-pursued federal policy designed to turn Native Americans, through annuity payments, federal control of the fur trade, and the “civilization” program, into tractable dependents of the United States.

On at least one occasion, President Thomas Jefferson had argued that the success of this policy depended on concealing its ultimate goals from the Indians. Jefferson, however, underestimated Native Americans’ intelligence. Many if not most recognized that the United States wanted to curtail their independence, and some fought hard to maintain their liberty. The Lakes Indians formed a military confederacy in the 1790s, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa organized an autonomous and culturally independent nation-state, and several southeastern nations formed sovereign national governments which refused to sell national land. In each case, the U.S. government viewed resistance as a grave threat, which it had to meet with political pressure or military force. Sovereignty, for white Americans, had become part of a zero-sum game, and so too had race relations—whatever empowered Indians weakened whites and their governments. If Native Americans would not relinquish their sovereignty and unhesitatingly follow the federal government’s plan for their future, they must still be “savages,” ungovernable and unfit for continued residence in the United States. As the United States evolved from diffuse empire to consolidated nation-state, its government could no longer tolerate Indian national independence unless it pushed autonomous Indians to the outermost edge of the American nation.

Discussion of the Literature

Walter Mohr’sFederal Indian Relations, 17741788 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933)George Dewey Harmon’sSixty Years of Indian Affairs (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941)Ora Brooks Peake, in A History of the United States Indian Factory System (Denver, CO: SAGE, 1954)Francis Paul Prucha, in American Indian Policy in the Formative Years: The Trade and Intercourse Acts, 17901834 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962)The Great Father (2 vols., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984)Reginald Horsman, in his hugely influential Expansion and American Indian Policy, 17831812 (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967)Robert Berkhofer Jr. later described this internally conflicted policy (in The White Man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present Day [New York: Vintage, 1979])In Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973)Dorothy Jones, in License for Empire: Colonialism by Treaty in Early America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982)

The first histories of early U.S. Indian policy, like and , studied the subject from an administrative and institutional standpoint, focusing on the chaotic nature of federal Indian relations in the Revolutionary era and the growth of a formal Indian affairs bureaucracy after 1789. , furnished the first and to date only book-length study of the Indian trading houses and their eventual failure. Mid-century scholars interrogated the political motives of early policy makers, with and his later magnum opus arguing that presidents and federal bureaucrats displayed genuine paternalistic benevolence, though narrow-minded state governments and angry frontiersmen often made it difficult for them to effect their plans. , contended that federal policy was imperialistic, but acknowledged that the United States’ ceaseless hunger for Indian land was tempered by officials’ concern for the new nation’s international reputation, and by the relative initial powerlessness of the U.S. government. as “expansion with honor.” , Bernard Sheehan studied the United States’ “Indian civilization” program, and concluded one could better characterize American “benevolence” as cultural imperialism, the desire to replace Native American culture with Anglo-American lifeways. Toward the end of this mid-century wave of political and cultural histories of Indian policy, , described the transformation of Indian treaties from diplomatic instruments into devices for obtaining Indian land.

Gregory Evans Dowd, in A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 17451815 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992)Richard White’sThe Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 16501815 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991)Eric Hinderaker’sElusive Empires (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997)Andrew Cayton’s study Frontier Indiana (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996)in Launching the “Extended Republic,” edited by Ronald J. Hoffman and Peter J. Albert [Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1996], 156–189)

In the 1970s and 1980s scholars turned from top-down Indian policy studies to ethnohistory, the interdisciplinary analysis of Native Americans’ lifeways and interethnic relations and how these changed after European contact. By the 1990s some historians had begun to apply ethnohistorical analyses to studies of Indian-white relations, which placed U.S. Indian policy in a broader chronological context and incorporated Native American viewpoints. , detailed how the struggle for political and spiritual power and the extended confrontation with American imperialism divided eastern Indians into two factions, “accommodationists” who favored negotiation with the United States, and “nativists” favoring religious and military resistance. noted the similarities between Indian and white “villagers” in the Northwest at the end of the 18th century, and how these similarities stoked the murderous conflict between them. compared the French, British, and American empires in the Ohio Valley, arguing that the third of these, which conflated republican liberty with white land ownership, proved most dangerous for Native Americans. noted that the Northwest Indians retained into the 19th century their cultural adaptability and the military and diplomatic skills that had served them well in the colonial era. In this book and in his articles “‘Separate Interests and the Nation-State’” (Journal of American History 79 [June 1992]: 39–67) and “‘When Shall We Cease to Have Judases?’” (, Cayton added white settlers to the policy equation, noting that the federal government’s concentration of resources in the Northwest alienated southern whites who had to deal with powerful Indian nations on their own.

Andrew Isenberg updated scholarly understanding of the factory system in “The Market Revolution in the Borderlands” (Journal of the Early Republic 21 [Fall 2001]: 445–465)Peter Silver’sOur Savage Neighbors (New York: Norton, 2007)Theda Perdue and Michael Green’sThe Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears (New York: Viking, 2007)Timothy Willig, in Restoring the Chain of Friendship (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008)Leonard Sadosky’sRevolutionary Negotiations (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009)Robert Owens (Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer [Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007])Adam Jortner (The Gods of Prophetstown [New York: Oxford University Press, 2012]

Recent studies have provided narrower but deeper analyses of specific aspects of policy and Indian-white relations. , which observed that the factories functioned as a diplomatic, “anti-market” institution. attributed the growth of popular anti-Indian sentiment in the Seven Years’ and Revolutionary Wars to an “anti-Indian sublime,” a set of journalistic conventions that allowed whites to portray themselves as blameless victims of Indian (and British) violence. skillfully summarized the political and cultural developments of the early republican era that changed federal Indian policy and dramatically altered Cherokee lives. , assessed Britain’s partially successful efforts to redeem its “betrayal” of the Iroquois and Northwest Indians at the end of the Revolutionary War. compared early American diplomacy with European powers and Native Americans, arguing that Americans used treaties to exclude Indians from the European state system. Finally, and ) deepened scholarly understanding of the conflict between William Harrison and Tenskwatawa, focusing on the governor’s quest for land development and the prophet’s desire to create an autonomous state.

Primary Sources

Charles Kappler’sIndian Affairs, Laws, and Treaties (7 vols., Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1904)“Indian Affairs,” edited by Walter Lowrie and Matthew Clarke (Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton, 1832)Journals of the Continental Congress, edited by Worthington Ford et al. (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1907–1934)

Researchers studying early U.S.-Indian relations will find a trove of primary-source materials in print and on microfilm. The United States’ treaties with Native Americans can be found in , available online through Oklahoma State University’s Digital Library project. University of Wisconsin Digital Collections has digitized the manuscript collection Documents Relating to the Negotiation of Ratified and Unratified Treaties with Various Indian Tribes, 1801–1869 (Microfilm T-994, Natl. Archives, Washington, DC), which includes journals of many of the conferences at which federal Indian treaties were negotiated. Other conference journals, and official reports pertaining to federal Indian affairs (from 1789 to 1826), appear in the two massive volumes American State Papers, Class Two, , available online through the American Memory project of the Library of Congress. American Memory has also digitized the thirty-four-volume which contain letters, resolutions, and reports relating to federal Indian affairs in the 1780s.

Anthony Wayne: A Name in Arms, edited by Richard C. Knopf (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1960)W. H. Denny’sMilitary Journal of Major Ebenezer Denny (Philadelphia: Lippincott,1859)Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa, and other Lakes Indian leaders, and C. L. Grant’sBenjamin Hawkins: Letters, Journals, and Writing (2 vols., Savannah, GA: Beehive, 1980Thomas Abler, ed., Chainbreaker: The Revolutionary War Memoirs of Governor Blacksnake (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989)John Walton Caughey, McGillivray of the Creeks (reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007)Gary E. Moulton, ed., The Papers of John Ross (2 vols., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985)Theda Perdue and Michael Green, The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents (2d ed., Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005)

One may find more specialized materials in , which recounts the closing years of the Northwest Indian War, and , which includes Denny’s impressions of several Northwest Indian treaties and his account of the opening years of the Northwest Indian War. For the early 19th century, the Papers of William Henry Harrison, 1800–1815, edited by Douglas Clanin (microfilm, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, 1994–) detail William Harrison’s dealings with ) contains the correspondence and journals of the United States’ principal Indian agent in the South between 1796 and 1816. Researchers seeking specifically Native American perspectives can consult , , , and , whose first few chapters include materials for the period before 1830.

The U.S. National Archives collected federal Indian affairs records in Record Group 75, currently stored in the main branch in Washington, DC. Many of these records have been microfilmed; particularly useful to students of this period are the incoming and outgoing correspondence of War Department pertaining to Indian affairs, specifically Records of the Office of the Secretary of War, Letters Sent, Indian Affairs (National Archives Microfilm M-15) and Letters Received by the Office of the Secretary of War Relating to Indian Affairs (National Archives Microfilm M-271). Those seeking a more in-depth look at particular regions or Indian nations should turn to the Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824–1881 (National Archives Microfilm M-234), which includes material from United States’ Indian agencies. This collection includes nearly one thousand reels of microfilm, organized into subsets representing particular tribal agencies and subjects.

Further Reading

Calloway, Colin. Pen and Ink Witchcraft: Treaties and Treaty Making in American Indian History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Cayton, Andrew R. L. “Separate Interests” and the Nation State: The Washington Administration and the Origins of Regionalism in the Trans-Appalachian West. Journal of American History 79 (June 1992): 39–67.Find this resource:

Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Green, Michael D. “The Expansion of European Colonization to the Mississippi Valley, 1780–1880.” In The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Volume 1, North America, 2 vols., edited by Bruce G. Trigger and Wilcomb E. Washburn, 461–538. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Griffin, Patrick. American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.Find this resource:

Horsman, Reginald. Expansion and American Indian Policy, 1783–1812. Reprint. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992. Originally published in 1967.Find this resource:

Jones, Dorothy. License for Empire: Colonialism by Treaty in Early America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.Find this resource:

Merrell, James. Declarations of Independence: Indian-White Relations in the New Nation. In The American Revolution: Its Character and Limits, edited by Jack P. Green, 197–223. New York: New York University Press, 1987.Find this resource:

Nichols, David Andrew. Red Gentlemen & White Savages: Indians, Federalists, and the Search for Order on the American Frontier. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Perdue, Theda, and Michael D. Green. The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears. New York: Viking, 2007.Find this resource:

Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. 2 vols. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.Find this resource:


(1.) Reply of the General Council of the Confederated Indians, August 16, 1793, in Walter Lowrie and Walter Franklin, eds., American State Papers, Class Two, “Indian Affairs” (2 vols., Washington, DC: Gales and Seaton, 1834), 1, 356–357.

(2.) Thomas Jefferson to William Henry Harrison, 27 February 1803, in Paul L. Ford, ed., Works of Thomas Jefferson (12 vols., New York: G. P. Putnam’s, 1903), 10: 370.

(3.) John C. Calhoun, “Alteration of the System for Trading with the Indian Tribes,” December 5, 1818, in Lowrie and Franklin, eds. American State Papers, Class Two, “Indian Affairs,” 2: 183.