An 1870 Faith Based Initiative

July 27, 2011

Within a month of entering office, President Grant’s administration begins developing the Grant Peace policy.  The concern of the policy is to deal with what was termed in that day as the Indian problem.  While historians often regard the policy as a high spot in Indian treatment, policy action is best termed as one of charity—serving the White population, rather than justice.  Often missed in understanding the policy is five years earlier the United States had ended a war to ensure only one nation would occupy the land from sea to shining sea.  However, once the Civil War is over, the reality that years of treaty making between the U.S. and American Tribes has created multiple independent Indian nations across the American landscape confronts the Grant administration.  The question before the Grant administration was how to eliminate the Indian nations—thus the Grant Peace policy.

To eliminate Tribal sovereignty and nationhood the U.S. must first “abrogate” existing treaties.  A rider on the March 3, 1871 Indian appropriation bill makes it a reality that, “no Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty [U.S. Statutes at Large, 16:566].  This radical congressional action of dismantling Tribal identity and structure changes the U.S. government opinion of American Tribes from that of sovereign nations to that of designated “wards.”

However, the legal re-designation of Tribal status is not nearly enough for the Grant administration.  As Albert Memmi writes in The Colonizer and The Colonized,

In order for the colonizer to be a complete master, it is not enough for him to be so in actual fact, but he must believe in its legitimacy.  In order for that legitimacy to be complete, it is not enough for the colonized to be a slave, he must accept his role.

To eliminate all aspects of Tribal nation status, down to its very core, the Grant administration believes every individual Indian must accept American Tribal sovereignty genocide and replace it with the singular identity of United States of America.  In order to reframe the Indian mindset, the administration had to find a method in which to implement the reframing.  Grant and his administration, being a group that largely held a military mindset (after all, the war was only four years in the past and nearly every male of age had participated in one manner or another), paid attention to past military engagements.  Paying attention to past military/Indian engagements, they could not help but become aware that in 1819 the “Congress of the United States appropriated $10,000 to the Department of War to for use as a ‘civilizing’ fund.”  They would find that in fighting a psychological war with American Tribes, the 1819 Department of War engaged those folks who were already committed to reframing mindsets.  To recruit these folks the 1819 Department of War distributed a circular saying,

Such associations or individuals who are already actually engaged in educating the Indians, and who may desire the cooperation of the government, will report to the Department of War….In proportion to the means of the Government cooperation will be extended to such institutions as may be approved, as well in erecting their necessary buildings as in their current expenses

Recruitment mindset reformers went well as reflected in 1820 when the sole recipients of the $12,000 appropriation were “twenty-one church schools.”  By recognizing 1819 Christian theology is based in conversion—the unbeliever must be saved and converted from their unchristian way and that white Christians had become experts in converting white people, the Department of War recognized Christian denominations as those best suited to implement a system of converting Indians into White people (or minimally adopt a White civilized mindset).

Grant’s administration believes the Christian work done with Indians over the last fifty years had gone so well that in his Second Annual Message to Congress on December 5, 1870, Grant said,

The experiment of making it [management of Indian affairs] a missionary work was tried with a few agencies [American Tribes] given to the denomination of Friends, and has been found to work most advantageously…Indian agencies being civil offices, I determined to give all the agencies to such religious denominations as had heretofore established missionaries among the Indians, and perhaps to some other denominations who would undertake the work on the same terms—i.e., as a missionary work.  The societies selected are…to Christianize and civilize the Indian, and to train him in the arts of peace…I entertain the confident hope that…in a few years…Indians upon reservations…will live in houses, and have schoolhouses and churches.

Little wonder the 1870 Congress increased the annual appropriation for Indian education to $100,000, which allowed the government to recruit a wide variety of Christian denominations.  To enhance the Christian’s ability to convert and civilize, “Attendance at these mission schools was made mandatory by regulation on many reservations for all native children aged six through sixteen.”  Thus, to legitimize U.S. government dominance and a single nation identity on the American landscape, Grant created a policy that endeavors to educate the American Indian to accept his/her role as a subjugated person/people.

© David B. Bell 2011


  1. Dave, I am learning much from your work in this area. I would like to call attention to your blog and post a link to it on mine. Would this be OK? Keith


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