Native American Relations

– Portrait of Petalesharro (Generous Chief) by Charles Bird King, 1822

Nothing is more certain, than, if the Indian tribes do not abandon that state, and become civilized, that they will decline, and become extinct.”

– James Monroe to Andrew Jackson, October 5, 1817

James Monroe’s presidency represents a transitional era in U.S. – Native relations. He shared his predecessors’ hopes for acculturation and continued policies that aimed to “civilize” Native Americans, such as funding missionary schools that taught agricultural and domestic work. In his second annual message to Congress, Monroe concluded that “experience has clearly demonstrated that independent savage communities can not long exist within the limits of a civilized population.” Consequently, many policies instituted by Monroe and John C. Calhoun, his Secretary of War, began to emphasize deliberate removal from traditional lands. Native Americans could only control land that they were able to cultivate or could relocate “voluntarily” west of the Mississippi River. These policies were easier to enforce under Calhoun’s restructuring of the War Department and formation of the Office of Indian Affairs, which oversaw America’s territorial expansion, Native diplomacy, and removal.

Many Native American leaders, under the suggestion of Superintendent of Indian Trade Thomas McKenney and Indian Agent Benjamin O’Fallon, met with President Monroe at the White House to discuss these policies. Seventeen Native delegates visited Monroe in late 1821 and early 1822, and were welcomed to the nation’s capital as any foreign dignitary would have been. The delegates were exposed to America’s industry and military strength, and in their meetings Monroe encouraged them to pursue Christianity and agrarian practices. Gifts were presented by both parties, and prominent members of the Native delegations spoke to Monroe about their hopes for their people and their future relationship with the United States. Many of these Chiefs gained significant fame for artist Charles Bird King’s portraits depicting them in traditional Native attire, which were widely reprinted along with their White House speeches.

The sources below highlight different communication strategies between Native Americans and White Americans. Andrew Jackson’s letter to the Choctaw nation offers a glimpse into Monroe’s policies of peace, albeit through influential and forceful language that suggests assimilation. The Indian Peace Medal, a tradition since the colonial era, further symbolized alliance between the United States and each Native nation. The Bravery Medal awarded to the Pawnee leader Petalesharro by Miss White’s Seminary indicates that his heroism in saving a Comanche woman from death was widely known and praised. The “Indians at Washington” article from the Vermont Republican and American Yeoman reprinted a widely circulated piece that described a bystander’s recollections of the February 1822 delegation. Likewise, the American Mercury reprint of “Aboriginal Eloquence” enclosed several speeches given by the same delegation.

Document Based Questions

Andrew Jackson to Choctaw Indians, Oct. 3 1820 (Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin and National Archives) View

  1. Why did Andrew Jackson use paternal language (father, children, etc.) when he described the Choctaw’s relationship with President James Monroe?
  2. What did James Monroe desire for the Choctaw?
  3. What problems arose when Andrew Jackson arrived to discuss the treaty?
  4. What choice regarding land did President James Monroe present to the Choctaw people?

Monroe Peace Medal (Highland) View

  1. How does the bust of James Monroe portray him?
  2. What do the words on the reverse side reveal about the United States’ diplomacy towards Native Americans?
  3. Why might the medallion depict both a tomahawk and peace pipe on the reverse side?

Bravery Medal Awarded to Petalesharro (Courtesy of the American Numismatic Society) View

  1. What imagery is engraved onto the front of the medallion?
  2. How does this engraving portray Petalesharro?
  3. Why would Miss White’s Seminary, a female seminary, honor Petalesharro with this medallion?
  4. How is the Morning Star ceremony depicted on the reverse side of the medallion?

Vermont Republican and American Yeoman, Feb. 25, 1822 (Public Domain) View

  1. How were the Native American delegates physically described?
  2. Why would President James Monroe tell the Native American delegates about the industries, size, and strength of the United States?
  3. How did the first Native speaker contrast white and native (“red”) civilization?
  4. Why did the second speaker avoid “the habits of civilization”?
  5. How did the subscriber personally feel about the fate of the Native Americans?
  6. How does this account compare to, and differ from, the American Mercury’s description of the same delegation?

American Mercury, February 25, 1822 (Public Domain) View

  1. How did the Pawnee Chief contrast his own people to white Americans?
  2. How did the Pawnee Chief feel about his own country, and the missionary’s intentions to change it?
  3. The Pawnee Chief said that his people would have plenty of land as long as what was avoided?
  4. Why did the Pawnee Loup Chief fear for white men in his territory who did not come with protection?
  5. What changed for the Ottoe Partizans when Major O’Fallon arrived?
  6. How did the Ottoe Partizans hope the United States would help them in their fight against the Sioux?

Essential Questions

  1.  How does the paternal language used by James Monroe’s administration reveal discriminatory attitudes towards Native Americans?
  2. Why did President James Monroe invite Native American Chiefs to the White House?
  3. How did President James Monroe balance territorial expansion and peaceful diplomacy with Native Americans?
  4. What elements of President James Monroe’s Native American policies contributed to the future removal of Native Americans?

Virginia Standards of Learning

CE.1    The student will demonstrate skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision making, and responsible citizenship by

d) determining the accuracy and validity of information by separating fact and opinion and recognizing bias.

VUS.6 The student will apply social science skills to understand major events in Virginia and United States history during the first half of the nineteenth century by

a) explaining territorial expansion and its impact on the American Indians;

USI.8  The student will apply social science skills to understand westward expansion and reform in America from 1801 to 1861 by

c) explaining the impact of westward expansion on American Indians;

National Standards for Social Studies

Era 4: Expansion and Reform

Standard 1B

Grades: 7-12   Compare the policies toward Native Americans pursued by presidential administrations through the Jacksonian era. [Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas]

Grades: 9-12   Compare federal and state Indian policy and explain Whig opposition to the removal of Native Americans. [Consider multiple perspectives]

Grades: 5-12   Analyze the impact of removal and resettlement on the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole. [Appreciate historical perspectives]

Grades: 5-12   Investigate the impact of trans-Mississippi expansion on Native Americans. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

Grades: 7-12   Explain and evaluate the various strategies of Native Americans such as accommodation, revitalization, and resistance. [Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas]

Bibliography & Suggested Readings

Belko, William S. “John C. Calhoun and the Creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: An Essay on Political Rivalry, Ideology, and Policymaking in the Early Republic.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 105, No. 3 (July, 2004): pp. 170-197.

Brodt, Jessica. “Delegations, Diplomacy, and Protests at the White House.” White House Historical Association. September 25, 2020.

Kelderman, Frank P. “AUTHORIZED AGENTS: The Projects of Native American Writing in the Era of Removal.” PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2015.

Keller, Christian B. “Philanthropy Betrayed: Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Origins of Federal Indian Removal Policy.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 144, No. 1 (March, 2000): pp. 39-66.

Monkman, Betty C. “An Eloquent Visitor from the Great Plains: Chief Petalesharro Visits the White House, 1821.” Journal of the White House Historical Association No. 34 (Fall 2013): pp. 50-53.

Ronda, James P. “‘We Have a Country’: Race, Geography, and the Invention of Indian Territory.” Journal of the Early Republic 19, No. 4 (Winter 1999): pp. 739-755.

Schoenherr Steven E. and Iris H. W. Engelstrand. “James Monroe, Friend of the West.” Journal of the West 31 (July 1992): pp. 20-26.