Native American Power in the United States, 1783-1795

By Celia Barnes | Go to book overview
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3

The British Connection

SET AGAINST A BACKGROUND OF INTENSE COMPETITION FOR LAND, racial hostility, increased military cooperation between Indian groups, and their success against settlements along the frontier, the negotiations at the Treaty of Paris in which Britain "gave” Indian lands to the Americans appear almost irrelevant to the real situation on the frontier. Nevertheless, Indian policy after 1783 proceeded on a course that did not acknowledge this reality. The implementation of federal policy, designed to meet its land acquisition objective and establish peaceful relations between Indians and whites on the frontier, proved to be counterproductive. As the United States attempted to inaugurate diplomatic relations with its Indian neighbors and curb western discontent, frontier violence escalated and British colonial officials in the north hovered on the border, taking careful note of events, ready to exploit the political fragmentation they anticipated.

North of the Ohio, Virginia, New York, and Connecticut's western land cessions to Congress cleared the way to extinguish Indian title to the territory and establish a civil government to facilitate orderly settlement of the area. The week following acceptance of Virginia's cession, Congress appointed five commissioners to negotiate a treaty of peace with the northern Indians: George Rogers Clark, Oliver Woolcott, Richard Butler, Arthur Lee, and Benjamin Lincoln. However, state interference in the management of Indian affairs, which would plague the national government during this period, immediately became a problem. When the commissioners arrived at Fort Stanwix to hold the treaty meeting with the Six Nations Indians in October 1784, they discovered that George Clinton, governor of New York, had already been endeavoring to enter into a treaty with the Indians on behalf of his state. Clinton was a strong advocate of state sovereignty and resistant to any congressional interference in his state's affairs. In 1787, under the alias Cato, he published letters in the New York Journal repudiating the adoption of the Constitution.

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