Policy and Administration of Indian Affairs 1776-1890

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The foreign nations in control of the present area of the United States up to the colonial period managed the Indians each in its own way.

During the Revolutionary period various communications were received by the provincial assemblies relative to the Indian tribes, and these were transmitted to the Continental Congress. On June 16, 1775, a committee on Indian affairs of five was appointed and instructed to report such steps as were deemed necessary to secure and preserve the friendship of the Indian nations.

June 30, 1775, three, departments of Indian affairs were created by the Congress of the Confederation, namely, a northern, middle, and southern department, with a board of commissioners for each, the first to embrace all the Six Nations and all the Indians northward of them, the second to include the Cherokees and all the Indians south if them, and the third to include the Indian nations living between the other two departments. This action was to preserve peace with them during the Revolutionary war, but with no reference to the amelioration of the condition of the Indians. The commissioners were supplied with money for presents and empowered to make treaties.

July 12, 1775, the act was extended as follows:

As the Indians depend on the colonists for arms, ammunition, and clothing, which are become necessary to their subsistence, that there be three departments of Indians: the northern department, to include the Six Notions and all the Indians to the northward; the southern department, to extend as far north as to embrace the Cherokees; the middle deportment, to take in all Indians living between the other two departments. Five commissioners were placed over the middle department and $10,000 voted to defray the expenses of treaties and presents to the Indians. Three commissioners were to have charge of the northern department and three of the middle department, and $6,686, were appropriated to each of these departments for similar expenses. The commissioners were empowered to treat with the Indians “in the name and on behalf of the United Colonies, in order, to preserve peace and friendship with the said Indians and to prevent their taking any part in the present commotion. “The commissioners respectively have power to appoint agents, residing near or among the Indians, to watch the conduct of the [king's] superintendents [and] their emissaries, and, upon satisfactory proof, to cause to be seized and kept in safe custody these officials or any other person [found] inciting the Indians to become Minden] to the American colonies, until order shall be taken therein by a majority of the commissioners of the district, or by the Continental Congress.

The commissioners shall exhibit fair accounts of the expenditure of all moneys by them to every succeeding Continental Congress or committee of Congress, together with a general state of Indian affairs hi their several departments”.

The following gentlemen were elected commissioners for the middle department: Benjamin Franklin Patrick: Henry, and James Wilson. For the northern department: Philip Schuyler, Joseph Hawley, Turbot Francis, Oliver Wolcott, Volkert P. Maw, the number of commissioners of this department to be increased by vote. For the southern department: John Walker, of Virginia, and Willie Jones, of North Carolina; the remaining three commissioners to be nominated by the council of safety appointed by the colony of South. Carolina.

April 29, 1776, a standing committee on Indian affairs was organized in Congress.

Legislation in aid of the commissioners followed, the most important of which were the acts of January 27, 1776, and February 15, 1776. The first was an appropriation of money, £40,000, for the purchase of Indian goods to prevent the Indians suffering for the necessaries of life and regulating and granting trade licenses, and the other providing for schoolmasters and ministers being located among the Indians.

When the confederation was formed the Indians Name under the control of Congress. By Article IX of the Articles of Confederation “the United. States in Congress assembled” was charged with the sole and exclusive right and power of managing all affairs with Indians.

In March 1778, Congress first authorized the employment of Indians in the army, “if General Washington thinks it prudent and proper “. After the treaty of peace in May 1783, Congress ordered the Secretary of War to notify the Indian nations on the frontier of time fact, and also that the United States was disposed to enter into friendly treaty with the different tribes. The first formal treaty, however, between the United States and an Indian tribe was made with the Delawares in 1778. This indicated the intention of organizing a state to he known as the fourteenth Indian state, with representation in Congress.

In 1783 commissioners were appointed to make treaties with all the Indian nations, due convention to be held with all tribes or representatives present. This was found impracticable, so in March 1784, the instructions were amended and treaties authorized with separate tribes and states. The treaty system inaugurated by commissioners on behalf of the United States in 1778 with Indian tribes as separate nations continued until 1809, resulting in about 360 treaties and almost endless confusion.

In 1871 Congress ordered the making of such treaties stopped. The “ward” then took the place of the “nation” idea.

On June 3, 1784, “the Secretary in the war office” was directed to order a force of militia, to be raised for the purpose, to be marched to the places the commissioners for negotiating treaties with the Indians should direct.

An ordinance, in pursuance of the “ninth of the Articles of Confederation and perpetual union”, for the regulation of Indian affairs, was passed by Congress, August 7, 1784. A northern and a southern district were provided, each with a superintendent to act in connection with the authorities of the states; the northern district to include all Indians residing north of the Ohio and west of the Hudson River, the southern district all tribes living south of the Ohio. The superintendent of each district was to be appointed for a term of two years, and to give bonds in the sum of $6,000. All business was to he transacted at an outpost occupied by troops of the United States; the superintendent to reside, in or near the district to which he was appointed. The superintendent of the northern district was empowered to appoint two deputies and to remove them for misbehavior. These deputies were to give bonds for $3,000, and to reside in such places as should best facilitate the regulation of Indian trade. The ordinance also provided that the superintendent should regularly correspond with the Secretary of War, through whom all communications respecting the Indian department should be made to Congress, and the superintendents were directed to obey all instructions received from the Secretary of War. The clause in the ordinance as to connection with “authorities of the states” was inserted because of fear of trenching on states rights.

Congress, by an. act passed in 1787, ordered that the states be empowered to appoint commissioners for Indians. These state commissioners and federal superintendents in some cases made Indian treaties. The superintendents reported to the War Department, and obeyed the orders of the Secretary, and also communicated to Congress all matters respecting the Indian department.

Upon the creation of the War Department, August; 7, 1789, Indian affairs were left under the charge of the Secretary of War.

The act of March 1, 1703, provided as follows:

Thu President may, as he shall judge proper, appoint such persons, from time to time, as temporary agents, to reside among the Indians, The President may, in order to promote civilization among the friendly Indian tribes, and to secure the continuants of their friendship, tarnish them with useful domestic animals and implements of husbandry, and also furnish them with goods or money.

Annuities were paid the Indians by army officers, agents of the War Department; in some few cases, however, civilians were employed to do this, but under direction of the War Department. Two clerks in the War Department did the work of the Indian service.

From 1798 to 1834 Indian superintendents, agents, and traders were appointed by the President. By the net of Congress of April 16,1818, Superintendents and agents were to he nominated by the President and appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, each agent to give bonds for $10,000.

By the act of April 20, 1818, the salaries of agents were graded, all subagents to receive $500 per annum. Of the agents named in the act, live only were in control of distinct tribes; the others were in charge of districts in which the different tribes were located.

The movement of people west, the necessity for curtailment of Indian roaming ground becoming apparent and the Indian being troublesome, Congress, July 9, 1839, created a distinct officer for the Indian service, to be called a commissioner, subordinate to the Secretary of War.

On June 30, 1834, an act was passed “to provide for the organization of the Department of Indian Affairs”” By it certain agencies were established and others abolished, the duties of superintendents and agents were defined, interpreters and employees provided for, and the President was empowered to prescribe the rules and regulations needful to carry into effect the provisions of the act. This act stands as the organic, law of the Indian department Regulations were made under the act, and the Indian country was divided into three districts, and three officers of the army were placed in charge of them as disbursing officers, under the War Department.

November 8, 1836, the President ordered the Secretary of War to prescribe a new set of regulations to govern the business of the Indian office and the duties of the commissioner. November 11, 1836, the new regulations, known as No. 1, went into effect. They provided that the Indian office and all of its duties should be under the control of the Secretary of War and the President, and the office became a bureau of the War Department. In 1837 new regulations, Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5, were issued. Army officers became the administrative agents, and there was almost complete military control of the Indians.

A congressional committee in 1842 made a report against the system then existing (see Senate Report No. 693, Forty-filth Congress, third session).

By reason of the war with Mexico and the acquisition of new territory containing many thousands of Indians, the Hon. Robert J. Walker, Secretary of the Treasury, in his annual report to Congress, dated December 9, 1848 recommended the transfer of the Indian office from the War Department to the prospective Interior Department.

“Upon the creation of the Department of the interior by the act of March 3, 1840, the bureau of Indian affairs was transferred to that department, and the Indians passed from military to civil control, where they have remained, except where, as in the case of Indian war or revolt, Indian agencies or reservations have been placed under charge of army officers for the time being.



MLA Source Citation:

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 30 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/policy-and-administration-of-indian-affairs-1776-1890.htm - Last updated on Oct 27th, 2012


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