Three Issues that formed the current State of Indigenous People in the US

This essay should examine three historical events which shaped the current state of indigenous people. I have chosen to describe the philosophy of Manifest Destiny and course of the war of 1812, what this war meant for native Americans. Secondly, I have chosen Indian Removal Act of 1830 and thirdly Worcester v. Georgia supreme court decision.

First serious approach towards the question of native Americans was Manifest Destiny and George Washington´s policy of assimilation natives as US citizens. The idea of Indian Removal policy rooted in John L. O´Sullivan´s philosophy of Manifest Destiny that Native American tribes would be moved away from the Mississippi River to lands west of the river. During the era of continental expansion (beginning with the war of 1812 and lasting till Civil war) there was a notion by Britain to settle natives south of Great Lakes. This was rejected by American government following The Treaty of Ghent and explained: “The United States, while intending never to acquire lands from the Indians otherwise than peaceably, and with their free consent, are fully determined, in that manner, progressively, and in proportion as their growing population may require, to reclaim from the state of nature, and to bring into cultivation every portion of the territory contained within their acknowledged boundaries. In thus providing for the support of millions of civilized beings, they will not violate any dictate of justice or of humanity; for they will not only give to the few thousand savages scattered over that territory an ample equivalent for any right they may surrender, but will always leave them the possession of lands more than they can cultivate, and more than adequate to their subsistence, comfort, and enjoyment, by cultivation. If this be a spirit of aggrandizement, the undersigned are prepared to admit, in that sense, its existence; but they must deny that it affords the slightest proof of an intention not to respect the boundaries between them and European nations, or of a desire to encroach upon the territories of Great Britain. . . . They will not suppose that that Government will avow, as the basis of their policy towards the United States a system of arresting their natural growth within their own territories, for the sake of preserving a perpetual desert for savages”. This seems to me a very haughty and myopic approach. It is obvious that governments were making decisions not taking native Americans into account. Such behaviour (and from intruders- colonizators were most probably seen as aliens by natives) results in bitterness and not knowing what was going on. In my opinion such approach is exemplary to show the wrong way how to deal with such complicated issue. When the war ended the real losers of the war were Indians. When British withdrew, Americans had a free hand to deal with Indians and this resulted in removal of most of the tribes into Indian Territory. Another event which was significant for native Americans was Indian Removal Act in 1830. Indian Removal Act has its initial idea in Jefferson´s time. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “When they withdraw themselves to the culture of a small piece of land, they will perceive how useless to them are their extensive forests, and will be willing to pare them off from time to time in exchange for necessaries for their farms and families. To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want, for necessaries, which we have to spare and they want, we shall push our trading uses, and 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. At our trading houses, too, we mean to sell so low as merely to repay us cost and charges, so as neither to lessen or enlarge our capital. This is what private traders cannot do, for they must gain; they will consequently retire from the competition, and we shall thus get clear of this pest without giving offence or umbrage to the Indians. In this way our settlements will gradually circumscribe and approach the Indians, and they will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi. The former is certainly the termination of their history most happy for themselves; but, in the whole course of this, it is essential to cultivate their love. As to their fear, we presume that our strength and their weakness is now so visible that they must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them, and that all our liberalities to them proceed from motives of pure humanity only. Should any tribe be foolhardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe, and driving them across the Mississippi, as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation”. This seems to me as an example of a good intetntion but negative consequences. Jefferson wanted cultivation of his country, not theirs. He did not want to get rid of them but saw Indians as an obstacle to a growth of nation, of something (in his eyes) more important than the culture of native Americans. Jefferson did not want to use force, he did use pragmatics and even felt as if he was doing something good for Indians when resettling them from territories inhabited by them for thousand years. He even thought that Indians should be grateful when moving to different areas and should acknowledge and appreciate that too much land that was initially owned by Indians was too heavy a burden for them. The consequences were that in 1830, prezident Andrew Jackson made the majority of the “Five Civilized Tribes”- the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee move to lands west of the Mississippi River. The removal resulted in the marches where many indians died and uprisings against white dominance and lawlessness. White settlers wanted the land and stayed there often with no lawful state licence. Hereby I would like to come to a third event- the case of Worcester v. Georgia . Worcester v. Georgia was a supreme court decision that built the foundations of the doctrine of tribal sovereignty in the US. The impetus for the case was given by two missionaries Samuel Worcester and Elizur Butler who were staying at Cherokee territory where stay was prohibited without licence. These missionaries were arrested and brought to court. John Marshall (chief justiece) declared that the relationship between the Indian Nations and the United States was that of nations. The resulution caused that Indians were not subordinate to the state their territory was in but they were directly under the national government. Thus making them independent upon individual state (Georgie in this case) by claiming that prohibiting non-Indians from being on Indian lands was unconstitutional. In the course of events which shaped the state of indigenous people are many millstones and I have chosen those which seem to me as not the most important but those which showed some kind of way, development from barbarious stealing of land, Manifest Destiny, which was meant to be the way which would show Indians that government knew better what was good for them to a supreme court decision which created a foundation for tribal sovereignity. Manifest Destiny as approached by Thomas Jefferson was in my opinion thoroughly thought through concept of moving Indians and even giving them benefits as was looked upon having less land but cultivated than having more which is barren (according to the point of view given my Thomas Jefferson – to use land, to cultivate land). For Indians the land was not empty or useless, it was their home but had to be ceased to a stronger nation. In Worcester v. Georgia case I wanted to show that although Indians suffered much atrocities by the white settlers there is not always only injustice and this supreme court decision is I believe a milestone which created the notion that Indians are not only savages that need to be taken care of or get rid off, but should be treated as brothers, as an independent nation and this is the progress, the development I intended to depict.

Works Cited

Gates, Charles. “The West in American Diplomacy, 1812–1815”. Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1940). 499- 510. JSTOR. Web. Jan 17 2013

Jefferson, Thomas (1803). “President Thomas Jefferson to William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Indiana Territory”. Web. Jan 17 2013


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