When the United States was formed, Indian nations were viewed as sovereign nations in the Constitution. Even though this would seem to imply that dealings with Indian nations should be within the domain of the State Department, an Indian Department was created within the War Department. In 1822, the United States continued to deal with Indian nations as potential enemies who needed to be subdued.
Even though most of the Indian nations within the United States had farming traditions which predated the European invasion and had agricultural surpluses which had supported the first European colonists, the government viewed Indians as a hunting people with no ties to the land and no civilization. Government policies at this time were primarily oriented towards: (1) removing Indians from their homelands and resettling them west of the Mississippi River so that non-Indians could acquire traditional Indian farmlands; (2) “civilizing” Indians by forcing them to become English-speaking Christians; and (3) teaching them how to farm in the European fashion.
Below are brief descriptions of some Indian-related events in 1822.
Meeting with the President
A delegation of Omahas from Nebraska under the leadership of Big Elk traveled to Washington, D.C. where they met with President James Monroe. Each of the Omaha chiefs had a portrait painted by Charles Bird King, a prominent artist.
Congress debated a bill which would open up Indian lands to fur traders. While lobbyists for the fur companies testified about the need to throw open the fur trade to individual enterprise, no Indian witnesses testified, even though Indians would be directly affected by the legislation. While Congress was hearing testimony about this matter there were Indian delegations in Washington, complete with translators so that language was not a problem. The Indian leaders were not called to testify, and the bill was passed into law without any Indian input.
One of the amendments to the bill expanding the access of fur traders to Indian country was the prohibition against the introduction of “ardent spirits” (alcohol) into Indian country. Indian agents, superintendents, and military officers were given the power to search goods going into Indian country and to seize the goods if liquor were found.
Secretary of War Lewis Cass prepared a letter for distribution among the Indian tribes in the Michigan Territory. He told them that the Americans greatly disapproved of their visiting British posts. He warned them that the British agents would deceive them and trick them. He wrote:
“When you leave the United States, persons are ready to whisper into your ears. Like bad birds they are flitting about you, telling false stores of us, poisoning your minds, and giving advice injurious to you and us.”
Education for Indians in 1822 was intended to: (1) convert them to Christianity, as it was felt that Christianity was required for civilization; (2) teach them English, as Indian languages were felt to be inferior; (3) train them to be farmers in the European style or servants and laborers. Most people felt that Indian education should be the responsibility of Christian missionaries.
President James Monroe felt that Indians should have a right to an education and to the “enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of freemen, and citizens of the United States.”
In Maryland, David Moniac (Creek) graduated from the United States Military Academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Sixth Infantry.
In Alabama, the South Carolina Methodist Conference established Asbury Manual Labor School for the Creek.
S. Adams, a student at Andover Seminary, conducted research on the practicality of Christian missions in the Northwest. He reported to the Society of Inquiry Respecting Missions that the Indians in the area have “noble traits of mind” and if provided with good Christian education they could be converted.
Indians and the states
While the U.S. Constitution clearly states that relationships with Indian nations are reserved for the federal government, many states 200 years ago assumed that states’ rights were superior to federal rights.
The Seneca are one of the six nations of the Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy. In 1821, the Seneca tribal council convicted Kauquatou of sorcery. Acting on behalf of the tribal council, Chief Tommy-Jemmy cut her throat. In response, the state of New York prosecuted Tommy-Jemmy for murder. Seneca Chief Red Jacket and Tommy-Jemmy’s court-appointed attorneys argued that the death of Kauquatou was not murder under New York law because it was a legal execution under Seneca law, on Seneca land, by the sovereign Seneca people. The circuit court referred the case to the New York State Supreme Court which noted that no law extended state murder jurisdiction over the Iroquois nations.
In 1822, the state legislature in response to the murder trial of Seneca chief Tommy-Jemmy, passed legislation giving the state sole and exclusive jurisdiction over murders committed within its boundaries. Tommy-Jemmy escaped execution because the new law could not be applied retrospectively to his killing Kauquatou.
This series presents American Indian topics on Tuesdays and Thursday. More nineteenth-century histories from this series:
Indians 101: Indian nations 200 years ago, 1822
Indians 101: Indians and Mexico 200 years ago, 1822
Indians 101: Indian Removal 200 years ago, 1820
Indians 101: Indian treaties 200 years ago, 1820
Indians 101: California Missions 200 Years Ago, 1819
Indians 101: Federal Indian Policy in 1818
Indians 101: Religion and Indians in 1816
Indians 101: Treaties and Councils in 1819, 200 years ago