Native American Power in the United States, 1783-1795

By Celia Barnes | Go to book overview
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Indian Victory in the Northwest

THE SPRING OF 1789 HERALDED POLITICAL CHANGE WITHIN THE CONfederations of both the United States and the northern Indian tribes. George Washington's inauguration as the first president of the United States coincided with the Shawnee and Miami tribes assuming leadership of the northern Indian confederacy. The latter power shift would shape Indian strategies of resistance for the next five years. The new political arrangements of the United States, however, did little to improve the effectiveness and coordination of a national Indian policy. Indeed, the power of the Indian confederacy in the north conspired with ill-judged and mismanaged American Indian policy to expose the difficulties the new government faced in harnessing the political will and resources needed to consolidate its authority. Consequently, Washington and Knox faced an increasingly belligerent union of tribes in the northwest with their hands tied by an uncooperative Congress in New York. The coercion of tribes into land cessions in the 1780s, justified by the principle of conquest, brought an escalation of violence to the frontier and humiliation to the fledgling U.S. army in a military disaster of unimagined proportions.

The inauguration of George Washington on 30 April 1789 was attended by celebration in New York City, but took place against a background of fear, anger, and desperation on the northwest frontier. The conclusion of treaties with the northern Indians between 1784 and 1789 had satisfied neither the demands of the Indians whose lands were gradually being absorbed into white settlements, nor the greed of frontiersmen who pushed as far into Indian country as they dared. Militant Indians resisted attempts to mark the treaty boundaries and relentlessly attacked white settlers who crossed the Ohio. Their wrath was met in kind, and the flames of resentment among both Indians and whites were fanned. The United States was no closer to realizing the economic potential of the northwest. As a result, its western citizens remained disaffected and land specula


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