U.S. History/History


Please help with these questions, I kind of have a idea but I'm not sure of myself.  Thanks

On February 27, 1803 Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to William H. Harrison, stating the nations policy toward Indians.

In his address to the Mandan people how did Jefferson's description of the nation's goals differ from that in his letter to Harrison?  Why did Jefferson speak so differently to the Mandan's and to Harrison?

What was implied by Jefferson's referring to the Indians as "my children" ?  To what extent was Jefferson's plan an assertion of racial and cultural superiority?  Did Jefferson overlook alternatives for relations with Indians?

The two pieces you mention are very different.  The letter to Harrison, was an instruction to a man working as a government agent for the US.  The point of the letter was to articulate a strategy for occupying and defending US territories in the West.  The goal was to obtain land from various Indian tribes in order to put the US in the best position to maintain control of the land along the Mississippi river.

The address to the Mandan who returned to Washington along with Lewis and Clark was an attempt to reach out in friendship to this group of Indians.  It was an attempt to show that the US was a powerful force with many advances in civilization, but that it was also willing to remain on friendly terms with the Indians.  Of course the President would not discuss long term US plans to take away most of the most valuable land from the Indians.

In referring to the Indians as "my children" it implied that the US government had a more powerful sovereign role over all the people living in US territories, including the Indians, but also that they would take a caring paternalistic role in looking out for their interests as well.

I don't think Jefferson's plan was an assertion of superiority.  It was an attempt to expand US territory and protect US lands from potential foreign invasion.  This is the goal of any government.  The fact that such a plan could succeed is, I suppose an indication that US military might and governmental organization was superior to those of the Indians.

There are always alternatives to any relationship.  Jefferson could have called for all out genocide of the Indians to make room for more Americans, but that would have been seen as unnecessarily cruel and barbarous, not to mention costly to the US.  Jefferson also could have helped the Indian Tribes unite, form their own independent nation, and grow technologically from relations with the US.  But that would have been directly against US interests since it would essentially create a foreign power on the US border that would inevitably lead to future wars.  So that does not make much sense either for a leader of the US.

I hope this helps!
- Mike  

U.S. History

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Michael Troy


I can answer just about any question on early American History. My specialties are the American Revolution through the Civil War/Reconstruction. I also have greater expertise in matters relating to military, political or legal history.


I have lectured at George Washington University regarding the Civil War, as well as several elementary school Civil War demonstrations. I was also a member of a Civil War reenactment group for about 10 years.


J.D. University of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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