Thomas Jefferson perceived Native Americans also known as American Indians as political adversaries or rather as "partners in peace." His long stint in public relations gave him the due advantage to repair the relationship with the Indians that stretched many years. Jefferson's "Civilization" concept best describes his intellectual view of the American Indians. According to scientific theory, man's environment shaped much of his culture, appearance, and political lifestyle. According to European naturalists, native people, animals, and plants of American origin were inferior as compared to those in Europe. However, Jefferson contested these observations in his book "Notes on the State of Virginia" in which he writes, "I believe that the Indian then to be in body and mind equal to the Whiteman." Even though many American Indians hand their lives tied to the village, they still upheld hunting as their primary source of income. Jefferson held it that if American Indians were to adapt to the European culture, they would progress to "civilization" from "savagery" and be equal to the Europeans. His perception of the American Indians was gradually shaped from his childhood in Virginia. Jefferson drove towards progressing the American Indians from their "savagery" state to "civilization" the white man status by way of adapting to their lifestyle and practicing their rustic style.
Jefferson's observations and views on the American Indians took shape during his stint as president. As President, he enacted two policies that sought to bind the American Indians to the United States by way of treaties. The single aim of the agreements was to procure land and keep them allied with the US and not with Canada or England or Spain. On the other hand, he used gifts to promote a good relationship with the American Indians, a move that helped him build trust and a cordial relationship with a majority the American Indian leaders. He used the treaties to advance his "civilization" program in keeping with his "Jefferson Enlightenment Program" that aimed at bringing forth civilization to the American Indians. He hoped to get the American Indians to move to a quiet type of living by way of commercial activities and agreements in which he aimed at freeing land for agricultural practices aligned to European style. Jefferson would tell his representatives not to let the American Indians not to sell off their lands. His key objectives with the treaties were to accelerate the "civilization program" in line with the "Enlightenment Principles" in addition to the white interests.
Jefferson applied strategic measures to offer and place the interests of the American Indians at the forefront. Leading to the Louisiana Purchase, he brought forth a suggestion that aimed at safeguarding the American Indians to protect them from exploitation, debt trap, and over-dependence on aid. Although it was a win-win situation, Jefferson put the interests of the American people at heart a position that never exposed his preference for the "civilization program." Whereas the Shawnee warhead took a different direction and led a resistance movement, some of the groupings embraced and accepted Jefferson's program and took up the name "Five Civilized Tribes." The resulting consequences saw many developments, businesses, a rise of plantations and the rise of slavery. Several however became skeptical and joined the resistance movement, an idea that gave rise to tension between the American Government and the American Indians. Of particular interest is the Red Sticks resistance movement that took place during the War in 1812.
Jefferson's relationship with the American Indians was further augmented by the roles of Clark and Lewis who appreciated the part of the Indians and their significance in the growth and development of trade in the country. Although based on the give-take relationship, American Indians were exploited despite the man gifts the American Indians received. Jefferson believed that the group was a principled and upright race equal to the Britons. However, before 1801, Jefferson's attitude towards the American Indians changed, and he privately initiated their removal. Jefferson is quoted, "If ever we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe, we will never lay it down till that tribe is exterminated, or driven beyond the Mississippi....in war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy them all." The notion was supported by the notion that they had enough resources and did not need "nicety series."
Despite his calls for brotherhood, respect, and equal treatment, he gradually developed plans for their ultimate removal. The idea was pushed by the notion that war would arise between the American people and the American Indians. However, the plans went against his early agreement and the US treaty with the American Indians on securing the land in Georgia. Jefferson violated the agreement that gave the American Indians the land and made a deal with Georgia to initiate plans in expelling Cherokee tribe, a situation that led to increased tension between the administration of Georgia and people of Cherokee tribe. In his letter to Alexander von Humboldt dated 1813, Jefferson laments that, "they have reduced their greater part of the tribe within our neighbourhood, to take up the hatchet against us, and the cruel massacres they have committed on the women and children of our frontiers taken by surprise, will oblige us now to pursue them to extermination or drive them to new seats beyond our reach." He initiated the removals in the years 1776 and 1779, a time he preferred the forceful removal of the Shawnee and Cherokee tribes taken out away from Mississippi River. He reasoned that the removal of the American Indians was the only strategy for preserving the Native American grouping, an idea that led to the treaty between the federal government and Georgia administration.
It is no doubt that Jefferson had the most significant impact on the lives of the American Indians. He not only promoted their interest but also pursued policies that aimed at securing the United States and bound the American Indians to the land by agreements and trade/agricultural treaties. His sole aim and mission were to promote trade, acquire property, and create friendly environments for the growth and expansion of the American Indians. Before his change of mind towards driving them out to the west of the Mississippi, Jefferson had a clear roadmap that aimed at guaranteeing the success of the American Indians and keep them connected to the American people and not Spain, England, the Gulf region, and Canada.
The Avalon Project, Jefferson's Indian Address, "Brothers of the Choctaw nation, December 17, 1803, Yale Law School
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