Birth of the Nation: The First Federal Congress, 1789-1791 Back to the Exhibit

Excerpt of Report of the Secretary of War (Henry Knox)
on Southern Indian Policy, July 7, 1789

It is only since they possess the powers of Sovereignty, that they are responsible for their conduct.

But in future the obligations of policy, humanity and justice, together with that respect which every nation Sacredly owes to its own reputation unite in requiring a noble, liberal, and disinterested administration of indian affairs.

Although the disposition of the people of the States to emigrate into the indian country cannot be effectually prevented, it may be restrained and regulated.

It may be restrained by postponing new purchases of indian territory, and by prohibiting the citizens from intruding on the indian Lands.

It may be regulated by forming Colonies under the direction of Government, and by posting a body of troops to execute their orders.

As population shall encrease, and approach the indian boundaries, Game will be diminished, and new purchases may be made for small considerations - This has been and probably will be the inevitable consequence of cultivation.

It is however painful to consider that all the Indian tribes once existing in those States, now the best cultivated and most populous, have become extinct - If the same causes continue, the same effects will happen, and in a short period the idea of an indian on this side the Mississippi will only be found in the Page of the historian.

How different would be the sensations of a philosophic mind to reflect that instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of population that we had persevered through all difficulties and at last had imparted our knowledge of cultivation, and the arts to the aboriginals of the Country by which the source of future life and happiness had been preserved and extended. But it has been conceived to be impracticable to civilize the indians of north America - This opinion is probably more convenient than just.

That the civilization of the indians would be an operation of complicated difficulty - That it would require the highest knowledge of the human character, and a steady perseverence in a wise system for a series of years cannot be doubted - But to deny that under a course of favorable circumstances it could not be accomplished is to suppose the human character under the influence of such stubborn habits as to be incapable of melioration or change - a supposition entirely contradicted by the progress of society from the barbarous ages to its present degree of perfection.

While it is contended that the object is practicable under a proper system, it is admitted in the fullest force to be impracticable according

(Report courtesy of the National Archives)

digital transcription by David Orin Porter   
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