When America won the Revolutionary War they faced similar problems with the Indians that the British, French and Dutch colonists had also experienced in their dealings. They had to create a policy that would allow them to deal with the Indians as well as protect their national interests. Four possible solutions were presented to solve the Indian problem. These suggestions were to destroy the Indians, assimilate them into the American society, protect them on their ancestral lands or remove them to more distant lands. They were also faced with an empty treasury and citizens that wanted to expand into new territory. While the government was focused on the concept of expanding with honor due to their situation of being the only Republic in the world they were unable to control their citizens in distant areas.
In order to help limit the expansion Congress passed the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act in 1790. This Act only permitted licensed traders from working in Indian country and transfers of Indian land were only allowed if Congress’s approved the deal. Unfortunately these policies were unable to be enforced by Congress when the local governments chose not to inform them of deals that were brokered with the Native Americans.
One of the other problems facing the new government was the colonial charters; several of them had charters that allowed them land to the Mississippi valley. It had been agreed upon that those lands should be given to the national government and the lands beyond the river be placed in the public domain. This restriction on those lands upset the American citizens who viewed the land as rightfully theirs. The government was focused on the needs of the nation while the Indians would generally act in the best interest of the family unit rather then competing tribes but in times of crisis they could generate an impressive number of people from various tribes to continue to fight for their independence.
One of these groupings of various tribes was the confederacy of north-western tribes led by Joseph Brant of the Mohawk tribe. The confederacy included the Iroquois, Huron’s, Delaware’s, Shawnees, Ottawa’s, Anishinaabeg, Potawatomis, Miamis, and Wabash River tribes. This confederacy rejected individual treaties between individual tribes and refused to accept any American settlement. While they were seeking peaceful negotiations between the confederacy and the new nation they were willing to defend against the American expansion with force if peaceful negotiations failed.
The confederacy did use military force in several situations that were resolved in their favor. The Indians were able to inflict serious damage on the country’s army that was not in a position to afford the loss in manpower or the financial loss associated with losing battles. These circumstances were an issue of winning the battle and losing the war because it increased the perceived danger of the Indian tribes.
While attempting to restrict the colonists from expanding into Indian lands the Indians also had to protect their cultural identity. When the policies of expansion were not enforceable individuals in the government moved onto one of the other possible solutions offered by the government. This was the creation of social modification programs that would have made the Indians more similar to the American culture. The changes that some of the new Americans wanted was the redefinition of gender roles, the switch from a hunting and agricultural mix to pure agricultural which would require less land. While the programs sounded like they were in favor of helping the Indians assimilate into the new society while the result was the acquisition of additional land for the United States.
The suggestion of protecting the Indians on their ancestral lands was not a viable suggestion. The number of new American citizens who wanted to expand into new territories combined with the vast tracts of land that were traditionally Indian would limit the expansionistic plans of the new nation. When the limitation of expansion failed and the transformation of the Indian cultures to more of an American culture with the same gender jobs and similar economic lifestyles did not achieve the success that proponents believed were possible the only other viable suggestion was the removal of the Indians to a new location. After decades of fighting for their independence many of the Indians themselves came to the realization that relocation was their best chance for the survival of their way of life.
Several of the Indian nations had been successful at adaptation to the American way of life. The Cherokees had established a republic government, knew several languages, and had developed their own written language. They had met the requirements that the new government had set them to prove their wiliness to assimilate to the new culture. Unfortunately there efforts were insufficient to maintain the integrity of their land especially when the presence of gold on their land increased its value.
In 1830 the Indian Removal Act was passed allowing the negotiations of treaties with focused on removing the Indians and relocating them to an alternative location. The Cherokee decided to fight the removal in court with little to no results. In 1835 a treaty known as the Treaty of New Echota was signed with a small group of Cherokee agreeing to move into the west, however, the treaty was considered binding on the entire tribe. The majority of the tribe chose to fight the migration which resulted in the forced removal west. During that migration many of the Indians died and the path they took was named the “Trail of Tears”.
The original goal of the United States to expand with honor was unable to succeed because of the lack of control the government had over their citizens on the edges of the republic. The search for new lands, new resources and new opportunities resulted in the appropriation of Indian lands and their eventual removal to the west.