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Date of this Version



Published in The Social Studies, 93 (2002), 218–227.


During the period following independence and within that political climate, the vast majority of the presidents listed in appendix A faced the obligations of making treaties with the Native American tribes. That could not have been a light responsibility, given the diversity of Indian societies and tribal organizations throughout the continent. The variety is reflected directly in the locations of the signatory tribes to the treaties listed in appendix B. George Washington dealt with the tribes of the original colonies, whereas later presidents who made treaties with the Apache and Pacific Northwest tribes faced the difficulty of administering treaties made with groups that lived on the other side of the continent, groups that were unknown to Washington and his contemporaries. The texts of the treaties listed in appendix B reveal those changes. Washington’s first proclaimed treaty (the Treaty with the Wyandot, etc., 1789) includes the statement that the United States “relinquish and quit claim to the said nations respectively, all the lands lying between the limits above described, for them the said Indians to live and hunt upon, and otherwise to occupy as they shall see fit” (Kappler 1972, 19). The attempt to define a peaceful coexistence is replaced eighty years later in the text of the last treaty proclaimed by Ulysses S. Grant in the Treaty with the Klamath, etc., 1864 by the following opening sentence of the first article: “The tribes of Indians aforesaid cede to the United States all their right, title, and claim to all the country claimed by them” (Kappler 1972, 865).

Thus, removal, as documented in the texts of the treaties with the tribes, and not assimilation assured the availability of land for expansion, certified the parameters of Manifest Destiny, and forever modified the national perception of Indian tribes in North America. Indeed, the mechanics of the adopted policies made it easier to address the question. The documents produced during those negotiations offer a window onto the philosophy of the time, particularly those aspects concerning the federal government’s view of its responsibilities— social and otherwise—to the indigenous peoples. They are also clear sociological avenues for broad student investigations. Classes may focus on the hunting, fishing, and gathering experiences of the native peoples under their dissimilar geographic conditions, and those investigations may be applied to the experiences of the settlers, as well. As another instructional vehicle, teachers can emphasize the developing political and physical geography of statehood and of the United States during the stages of expansion and supplement that with descriptions of the changes to the tribal populations. The names of tribes are reflected in those of the new states; one may consider Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri to understand the richness of Native American influence in history.