American Indians and State Law: Sovereignty, Race, and Citizenship, 1790-1880

American Indians and State Law: Sovereignty, Race, and Citizenship, 1790-1880

American Indians and State Law: Sovereignty, Race, and Citizenship, 1790-1880

American Indians and State Law: Sovereignty, Race, and Citizenship, 1790-1880

Synopsis

American Indians and State Lawexamines the history of state and territorial policies, laws, and judicial decisions pertaining to Native Americans from 1790 to 1880. Belying the common assumption that Indian policy and regulation in the United States were exclusively within the federal government's domain, the book reveals how states and territories extended their legislative and judicial authority over American Indians during this period. Deborah A. Rosen uses discussions of nationwide patterns, complemented by case studies focusing on New York, Georgia, New Mexico, Michigan, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Massachusetts, to demonstrate the decentralized nature of much of early American Indian policy. This study details how state and territorial governments regulated American Indians and brought them into local criminal courts, as well as how Indians contested the actions of states and asserted tribal sovereignty. Assessing the racial conditions of incorporation into the American civic community, Rosen examines the ways in which state legislatures treated Indians as a distinct racial group, explores racial issues arising in state courts, and analyzes shifts in the rhetoric of race, culture, and political status during state constitutional conventions. She also describes the politics of Indian citizenship rights in the states and territories. Rosen concludes that state and territorial governments played an important role in extending direct rule over Indians and in defining the borders and the meaning of citizenship.

Excerpt

During the century following the end of the Revolutionary War, the states governed American Indians in a variety of ways, belying the common assumption that Indian policy and regulation in the United States was exclusively within the federal government’s domain. With support from judges who accepted justifications based on state sovereignty, state legislatures extended their authority over Indians in two stages. During the early national period, states began regulating Indians, as well as whites’ interactions with Indians. After the Civil War a number of states took the next step and bestowed citizenship rights on Indians. Some states simply imposed citizenship on all resident Indians; others offered political rights on a basis that was both selective and elective, that is, available only to certain Indians deemed suited to citizenship and granted only upon the request of the individual Indian. in parallel fashion—though necessarily relying on different constitutional arguments—western territories also took on local management of Indians and determined the extent to which Indians would be made part of the political community. These state and territorial actions constituted significant advances toward incorporating Indians into American society and imposing direct rule over them.

Thus, local governments took the lead in addressing key questions arising from the presence of Indians in territory over which whites claimed domination: Should Indians be permitted to remain in white settlement areas, and if so, should their autonomy be respected? Should Indians be subjected to obligations and laws defined by the white community? Should they have the privileges of membership in that community? Once admitted as members of the community, how should they be classified in the existing racial hierarchy? the states’ answers to these questions between 1790 and 1880 set important precedents for American Indian policy. How state and territorial officials approached these issues, and how they justified their resolution, is the focus of this book.

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