Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans
Author: Anthony F C Wallac
In Thomas Jefferson's time, white Americans were bedeviled by a moral dilemma unyielding to reason and sentiment: what to do about the presence of black slaves and free Indians. That Jefferson himself was caught between his own soaring rhetoric and private behavior toward blacks has long been known. But the tortured duality of his attitude toward Indians is only now being unearthed.
In this landmark history, Anthony Wallace takes us on a tour of discovery to unexplored regions of Jefferson's mind. There, the bookish Enlightenment scholarcollector of Indian vocabularies, excavator of ancient burial mounds, chronicler of the eloquence of America's native peoples, and mourner of their tragic fatesits uncomfortably close to Jefferson the imperialist and architect of Indian removal. Impelled by the necessity of expanding his agrarian republic, he became adept at putting a philosophical gloss on his policy of encroachment, threats of war, and forced land cessionsa policy that led, eventually, to cultural genocide.
In this compelling narrative, we see how Jefferson's close relationships with frontier fighters and Indian agents, land speculators and intrepid explorers, European travelers, missionary scholars, and the chiefs of many Indian nations all complicated his views of the rights and claims of the first Americans. Lavishly illustrated with scenes and portraits from the period, Jefferson and the Indians adds a troubled dimension to one of the most enigmatic figures of American history, and to one of its most shameful legacies.
This is not your father's Thomas Jefferson. It might be startling to a reader brought up on the Jefferson of the Declaration of Independence to read an author who, quite early in the text, accuses the third president not only of writing deceptive reports in regard to land dealings, but of being responsible for "ethnic cleansing" in regard to the Native American populations of the eastern coastline. While we have recently become accustomed to accounts of Jefferson's treatment or mistreatment of his slaves, we may still see him as the amateur philosopher-archeologist who collected vocabularies of Native American languages and conducted methodical digs of burial mounds left by eastern tribes. Here Wallace gives us a Jefferson who, while he had a deep objective interest in anthropology, had a land speculator's interest in the territories to the immediate west of the 13 original states. He saw the young nation as an expanding entity, and this growth as impeded by the various tribes then living in the lands between the Appalachians and the Mississippi. His solution: move them west. According to Wallace, as president it was Jefferson's aim to obtain Indian land "at almost any cost." The result of Wallace's extensive research is not, however, a cursory debunking of Jefferson but rather a detailed portrait of a man of his time, flawed and pragmatic. Wallace's prose is smooth and the text is extremely well organized with copious notes, although no separate bibliography. Recommended for all serious students of American history. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Harvard Univ. Press, Belknap, 394p. illus. maps. notes.index. 23cm. 99-21558., $18.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Patricia A. Moore; Brookline, MA , July 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 4)
While Bernard W. Sheehan's Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian (1974) explores the Jeffersonian period, Wallace, an emeritus anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and recipient of the Bancroft prize for Rockdale, provides a probing intellectual history of Jefferson himself. Jefferson's attitude toward Native Americans reflect his overall complexity as a thinker; he was fascinated by the first Americans but at the same time engaged in "civilizing" them. Wallace traces the context in which Jefferson existed and then examines his political rhetoric; considerable attention is also given to his studies of Indians and his presidential policies toward them. While the absence of citations to sidebar quotations is disappointing and the lack of a bibliography unfortunate, this fascinating account of an unexplored topic is highly recommended.--Daniel D. Liestman, Kansas State Univ. Lib., Manhattan Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
ForeWord - Peter Skinner
The book's great strength stems not only from its compelling narrative, but also from the rich cast of supporting players among whom heroes, saints and sinners abound. Excellent illustrations add to this masterful account.
Returning to his interest in the native tribes (The Long Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians, 1993, etc.), Bancroft Prize–winning historian Wallace gives us a book that immediately becomes the best among very few other studies of its subject. The author, an anthropologist deeply knowledgeable about American native cultures, reveals his colors early on: Jefferson's acts concerning the Indians were "hypocritical, arbitrary, duplicitous, even harsh," the Squire of Monticello himself a liar and self-serving. While he studied the natives, knew some, and thought carefully about their lives and cultures, he could not rid himself of the conviction that these American tribal peoples must either become "civilized"give up hunting and gathering, become farmers, and adopt Euro-American waysor disappear. But Jefferson didn't stop there: throughout his life, he effectually harried the Indians into war, land cessions, or flight and thus, in Wallace's view, must be held responsible both for inaugurating the failed 19th-century policy of removing the Indians to the far west and then onto reservations and for their drastic decline in numbers. This is a harsh indictment, made harsher still by Wallace's inappropriate likening of Jefferson's policies to genocide, a holocaust, and ethnic cleansing. After all, neither Jefferson nor most of his contemporaries sought the Indians' extermination. Yet, fortunately, these overwrought anachronistic charges do not affect much of the book, which otherwise makes clear the complexities of native-European interaction in the post-Revolutionary era. One result is that a reader comes away from the book's pages less critical of Jefferson thanWallace probably wishes, more accepting of the limits upon Jefferson's misguided views, and deflated by a sense of the near inevitability of the Indians' fate. One wishes that Wallace had occasionally lifted his eyes from the details of his subjectto compare, for example, the contributions of Indian removal and slavery to white man's democracy. A searching scholarly study of one of the great American dilemmas. (60 photos, 3 maps)
Beyond Slavery: Explorations of Race, Labor and Citizenship in Post-Emancipation Societies
Author: Frederick Cooper
In this collaborative work, three leading historians explore one of the most significant areas of inquiry in modern historiographythe transition from slavery to freedom and what this transition meant for former slaves, former slaveowners, and the societies in which they lived. Their contributions take us beyond the familiar portrait of emancipation as the end of an evil system to consider the questions and the struggles that emerged in freedom's wake.
Thomas Holt focuses on emancipation in Jamaica and the contested meaning of citizenship in defining and redefining the concept of freedom; Rebecca Scott investigates the complex struggles and cross-racial alliances that evolved in southern Louisiana and Cuba after the end of slavery; and Frederick Cooper examines the intersection of emancipation and imperialism in French West Africa. In their introduction, the authors address issues of citizenship, labor, and race, in the post-emancipation period and they point the way toward a fuller understanding of the meanings of freedom.
About the Author:
Frederick Cooper is Charles Gibson Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Thomas C. Holt is the James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African American History at the University of Chicago. Rebecca J. Scott is Frederick Huetwell Professor of History at the University of Michigan.
What People Are Saying
An extraordinary book of breathtaking scope that addresses matters of signal importance.
[For] everyone concerned with race, class, and modern intellectual history.
Table of Contents:
|The Essence of the Contract: The Articulation of Race, Gender, and Political Economy in British Emancipation Policy, 1838-1866||33|
|Fault Lines, Color Lines, and Party Lines: Race, Labor, and Collective Action in Louisiana and Cuba, 1862-1912||61|
|Conditions Analogous to Slavery: Imperialism and Free Labor Ideology in Africa||107|