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Federal Indian Policy Essay

When the newly founded United States of America gained its independence from Britain, they were faced with many new challenges. One of their biggest challenges was establishing and building upon their own domain that Britain had transferred at the Peace Treaty of 1783. 1 Of course, this land was still inhabited by Indian peoples. The United States knew that territorial expansion was inevitable and to the Indians, this meant war. Creek chief Hallowing King said, “Our lands are our life and breath. If we part with them, we part with our blood.

”2 This turned out to be a constant changing battle for territorial dominance and an era of changing federal Indian policy. The new America followed British ideas and created an Indian Department. This department established many rules for the sale and transfer of Indian lands with the hope of regulating the advancement of the western frontier. 3 In 1790, Congress enacted the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act. 4 Backed by President Washington and the Indian Department, this act stipulated that Congress would regulate all trade, interaction and even intercourse with all Native Americans.

5 Congress regulated this Act by issuing licenses to approved individuals. Failure to obey this law led to apprehension and a trail in court. 6 However, many American famers ignored this bill and would steal Indians to use as slaves. Naturally, the Indians fought back which led to bloody encounters. As Americans continued to ease westward, many battles and treaties began to emerge. The Battle of Fallen Timbers was one of the more popular encounters. The Western Lakes Confederacy which consisted of several numerous tribes had achieved major victories in the past. It was President Washington’s goal to put their victories to an end.

7 The Americans out-numbered the Indians and destroyed many villages in the region. This battle led to the form of many treaties like the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. This ended the Northwest Indian War which the Battle of Fallen Timbers was a part of. In exchange of goods valued at $20,000, the Indians turned over large parts of the modern-day area of Ohio. 8 This was a tremendous victory for the United States and it certainly gave them the momentum in establishing Indian policy and in the race for territorial expansion. However, the fight and establishment for federal Indian policy did not end in the Ohio Valley.

The United States began to realize that the Indians and Americans would not be able to co-exist in the same eastern territory. President Thomas Jefferson began implementing the policy of “removing” Indians from their eastern homelands. The government decided they could go about this a few different ways. They could try to destroy the Indian peoples, assimilate them to American society, protect them on their ancestral lands or remove them to more distant, western lands. 9 It was Jefferson’s plan to use the process of dispossession with minimal government.

This plan involved allowing American settlements to slowly border the Indians, either allowing them to become civilized Americans or letting them flee beyond the Mississippi with the hopes of establishing multiple treaties. 10 Well, that is exactly what happened. This strategy to acquire Indian lands resulted in nearly thirty treaties with several tribes and the cession of 200,000 square miles of Indian territory. 11 This Jeffersonian policy proved to be very effective for the young United States. The more “conservative” removal policies of the American government took a halt when Andrew Jackson was elected President in 1828.

Jackson was a famous Indian fighter who was often referred to as very vocal on his Indian views. He regarded the Indians as inferior and even referred to them as “savages that must be removed. ”12 Jacksons radical approach upset many natives and led to the Cherokee resistance. The Cherokees were confined to the state of Georgia where they decided to reconstruct their tribal government. They created a constitution, established a language, had bountiful resources and even created a newspaper. However, this only increased the pressure for their American neighbors to take control of this Cherokee territory.

The state of Georgia called upon Congress to begin negotiations with the Cherokees so they could leave their land. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act allowing the president to negotiate treaties of removal with all Indian tribes east of the Mississippi. One year later, the Cherokee Nation brought a suit against the state of Georgia. The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Worcester v. Georgia that the Cherokee Nation was “a distinct community, occupying its own territory where the laws of Georgia can have no force. ”13 Georgia ignored this ruling and continued violating the Cherokee region.

Faced with destruction or removal, the Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota, where they agreed to relocate west of the Mississippi River. 14 This relocation devastated the Cherokee Nation’s emotions and is known as the Trail of Tears in 1835. As you can see, the United States of America was faced with a very difficult dilemma in having to force federal Indian policies to maintain the control of the eastern frontier. Although much blood was shed over the policies between Washington’s and Jackson’s administrations, much more blood could have been shed and treaties could have never formed.

This could have possibly changed the face of the United States as we know it today. Notes 1. Calloway, Colin G, First Peoples; A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, Bedford/St Martins’, New York, 3rd Ed, 2008, 219. 2. Calloway, 218. 3. Calloway, 219. 4. Prucha, P. Francis. Federal Indian Policy. May 2 2005. http://www. alaskool. org/native_ed/ historicdocs/use_of_english/ prucha. htm (accessed May 29, 2009), 2. 5. Prucha, 2. 6. Prucha, 2. 7. Prucha, 3. 8. Calloway, 230. 9. Calloway, 229. 10. Calloway, 230. 11. Calloway, 228. 12. Calloway, 231.

13. Seal, David. The Trail of Tears. Oct 19 1994. http://ngeorgia. com/history/nghisttt. html (accessed May 29, 2009), 1. 14. Seal, 1. Bibliography Calloway, Colin G, First Peoples; A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, Bedford/St Martins’, New York, 3rd Ed, 2008. Prucha, P. Francis. “Federal Indian Policy” May 2 2005. http://www. alaskool. org/native_ed/ historicdocs/use_of_english/ prucha. htm (accessed May 29, 2009). Seal, David. “The Trail of Tears. ” Oct 19 1994. http://ngeorgia. com/history/nghisttt. html (accessed May 29, 2009).


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