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Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Anthony F. C. Wallace(Author)

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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 scholar--collector of Indian vocabularies, excavator of ancient burial mounds, chronicler of the eloquence of America's native peoples, and mourner of their tragic fate--sits 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 cessions--a 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.

Thomas Jefferson's complex attitudes about race have been dissected for nearly two centuries, but the greatest focus, for obvious reasons, has always been on Jefferson's attitudes toward blacks. In this study by historical anthropologist Anthony F.C. Wallace, the way Jefferson the scholar, plantation owner, politician, and president viewed Native Americans is examined in illuminating detail. Wallace, a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, is sensitive to the paradoxes in Jefferson's observations of and dealings with the Indians. On the one hand, Jefferson seemed to revere native culture, devoting considerable time to studying it, to the extent of compiling extensive documentation of native languages. Yet Jefferson--the son of a land speculator, and a lawyer himself--had few compunctions about expelling native inhabitants from their lands so the United States could expand westward. Professor Wallace presents a very readable chronological narrative, and while he offers what is essentially an intellectual study of Jefferson, he dutifully notes that Jefferson's ideas were not always rarefied. The Virginia of Jefferson's day was a raucous frontier, and the third president's ideas of how to deal with the Indians were based on what he'd heard in rural taverns as well as in the halls of the American Philosophical Society. This is a fascinating, comprehensive, and lively look at how Jefferson's lifelong observations of Native Americans affected his thoughts and deeds. --Robert J. McNamara --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. 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.ADaniel D. Liestman, Kansas State Univ. Lib., Manhattan Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Book details

  • PDF | 416 pages
  • Anthony F. C. Wallace(Author)
  • Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press (May 2, 2001)
  • English
  • 2
  • Biographies & Memoirs

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Review Text

  • By Daniel Hurley on May 31, 2010

    This is a pretty remarkable book that focuses not just on Jefferson's philosophy and dealings with Native Americans but the abundance of treaties during the pre-revolution up through Jefferson's administration. As always, any book about Jefferson is challenged by Jefferson's complex personality and the reader should be cautioned that the author sees Jefferson in a less than enlightened manor than many historians who in turn are great admirers of the man. For one, the author does not see Jefferson as a man of original ideas but one who is well educated and refines the ideas of others. The author also sees Jefferson, as many of the prominent signers of the declaration of independence as a major investor in securing western lands. The author tackles Jefferson's unique view of the Indians that in some ways parallel his view on slavery. Although an admirer of the Indians and anxious to make treaties, there is no doubt that Jefferson believed in expansionism as his treaties secured America a wealth of land making Jefferson the greatest securer of territories other than President Polk. The author details a multitude of treaties among the tribes conveyed by numerous Indian agents in the various territories and describes them in detail from the various Indian chiefs to the complexities of the land dealings. I would have preferred more maps to clearly understand the tribal boundaries in contrast to U.S.'s current boundaries. Included with the treaties are descriptions of the various Indian clashes particularly in the northwest that after a disaster is reconciled by the whites victory at Fallen Timbers by "Mad Anthony" Wayne. Of particular interest for a student of Jefferson is his philosophy of westernizing the Indians by attempting what in his mind were fair treaties while encouraging trading with the Indians to increase an interdependency that would eventually lead Indians to end up becoming more like whites, cultivating land and living in settlements. As one European writer noted who traveled to the frontier noted, life was extraordinarily difficult for the pioneers living on the fringe; he did not see this being successful for the Indians who were very far from transportation and commerce areas. In addition, Jefferson had no expectations that Indians could actually intermingle in a white society and he had expectations that all tribes would have to move further west, an action taken by force by Andrew Jackson during his presidency. The author covers a great deal of territory including the fascinating relationship between President Jefferson and the controversial General Wilkinson who was not only commander of all U.S. forces, temporary governor of the Louisiana territory but also as an Indian agent. The author frequently sprinkles letters and documents written by key participants, including Jefferson, and he provides numerous insights into the Native American point of view. As stated earlier, the author has a more direct objective look at Jefferson, one passage from an observer writes of Jefferson walking among his slaves with an implement in his hand, noting that the slaves reacted as they would if any 'master' walked among them, working obviously harder in his presence. The author does not criticize Jefferson any more than any other slave owner but represents him, as he was, a plantation owner, philosopher and a man of his times. From this serious work, you will appreciate the difficulties Native Americans had in holding onto their lands while seeing Jefferson as a mixture between a benevolent leader to a man with a great national appetite for expansion.

  • By Indian Lover on April 4, 2014

    A very good book for anyone interested in the specific subject of the title or Jefferson per se. The book argues that Jeffersonset in motion what would be American Indian policy. One can see that he had much the same views of the future of theIndians as Andrew Jackson, just not as crude. The future of native americans would be assimilation or destruction.

  • By R. Korst on May 29, 2005

    While I found the book, on the whole, to be an interesting entry in a historical space that is lightly populated; meaning that few books are written about the Indian culture during Colonial times and the impact of expansionism on their culture, I felt there were aspects of the book that adversely affected its quality:1. The detail surrounding the land, colonial speculation (including Jefferson's holdings) and the treaties to expand the colonies' territory to be excessive and ineffective in their attempt to connect Jefferson's said holdings with an overall strategic conspiracy.2. The book's focus on Jefferson's interest and approach to the American Indian, while interesting and keeping with the title, limited the potential of the book which, I believe, would have been better served if the premise focused more on the colonies' overall perspective and dealings with the Indians. This would have included a more extensive overview of the interaction of the specific tribes, the impact of the six nations and how this interaction diluted or enhanced the Indian culture.3. I don't believe that it is contradictory for a man of science (based on Jefferson's interest in language and culture correlations and origin), to suggest that certain tribes represented a real threat to the safety of citizens that were, technically, the responsibility of Virginia and,eventually,the United States. Decisions to support eradication of "bad" elements versus those tribes that were cooperative seems logical given the reports that were received and magnitude of the violence that was observed.Having said that, the chapters regarding the tracking of language patterns, formulating questions that would uncover additional information about tribal history and Jefferson's desire and passion to explore the role of the Native American and determine whether there were connections with the Welsch were fascinating and were great reading.Overall, while I enjoyed the book, I sensed too much intent to discredit Jefferson and too little effort to suggest the overall importance of Jefferson's desire and approach to collecting and preserving data on the American Indian.


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