As the United States Government sought to develop its economy after independence, the “Indian Question” posed a significant challenge to American expansionism. As the cultural landscape transformed so too did Native American policy during the one-hundred-year period after independence. Early expressions of good faith towards Native Americans and respect for their property rights quickly came under pressure as the population grew.
Native American tribes located in the southeast found themselves being removed to allow for white settlement of their lands. As western migration intensified, competition for land and resources led to a series of devastating wars, known as the Plains Wars, between the Native American tribes and the United States Army. This list will look at the events which led up to these wars and how American expansionism and governmental policy towards Native Americans were key contributing factors.
1. Early U.S. Government Native American Policy
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was one of several ordinances enacted by the United States Congress for the incorporation of the Northwest Territory into the Union. The Ordinance outlined the governance of the territory and in Article 3 made special mention of respecting the liberty, rights, and property of the indigenous people of the United States. This policy was later enshrined in the Act of August 7, 1789, as one of the first declarations by the U.S. Congress under the Constitution.
“The utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made, for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.”