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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersLiving the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Topic: Predicaments of Early Republican LifeTopic: ReligionTopic: PoliticsTopic: ExpansionTopic: Equality
Topic: Expansion
Overview of Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Resource Menu: Expansion
Text 1. The Northwest Ordinance
Text 2. Noble/Lincecum
Text 3. Thomas Jefferson
Text 4. Hugh Henry Brackenridge
Text 5. Cornplanter/Washington
Text 6. Indians/U.S. Agents
Text 7. Elias Boudinot
Text 8. Lewis Cass
Text 9. Background


  Resource Menu

New York Public Library  
John William Hill, View of the Erie Canal
John William Hill, View of the Erie Canal, 1830-1832

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What implications did westward migration hold for national unity?
  •  How did the citizens of the early republic think about Native Americans and their place in the developing nation?
  •  How did Native Americans respond to the westward press of the United States?
  •  How did the United States respond to the presence of Native Americans on the western frontier?

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1.  The Northwest Ordinance, 1787

As the Americans established their new republic, they knew they were embarking upon a treacherous enterprise. Republics had a bad track record. They were unstable and vulnerable to splitting apart through the disputes of warring factions. Adding to this anxiety was the challenge of incorporating the western territories into the Union. Could a republic successfully encompass such a vast expanse and remain united? The Northwest Ordinance, the single most important piece of legislation passed under the Articles of Confederation, addressed this problem. It set forth the means to create new states west of the Appalachians and eventually admit them into the Union. In the Ordinance the United States did what no other empire ever did: it brought new territories under its dominion on an equal footing with the original metropolitan states. The Ordinance extended the Revolution into the new territories by guaranteeing that settlers in them would be equal citizens of the United States and enjoy all the rights of citizenship. Although a rather dry procedural document, it nonetheless presents the image of itself that the new nation planned literally to project into the world. 6 pages.

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2.  Harriet Noble, On Emigrating from New York to Michigan in 1824, 1856

Gideon Lincecum, On Emigrating to Alabama in 1818, 1904

Very accessible texts. Contrasting them could generate insightful class discussion. In these selections we see that restlessness was an American trait even in the earliest days of the nation, and we see how the frontier both bred and eased that restlessness. We also see contrasting images of the frontier. In one it is harsh and demanding, in the other bountiful and yielding. Part of the contrast is attributable to the climactic differences between the regions in which Noble and Lincecum settle: she struggles through gloomy Michigan winters; he finds easy living in balmy Alabama. Gender perspectives account for some of the difference, too. Noble's is a story of bringing domesticity and civilization to the wilderness; Lincecum's is a tale of a "big camp hunt." In Noble's account we see a woman forced to create a new role for herself. In Lincecum's we see a man behaving like Daniel Boone. 15 pages.

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3.  Thomas Jefferson, selection from "Query VI" on Native Americans, in Notes on the State of Virginia, 1787

The relationship between the new republic and its Native American inhabitants went through roughly three phases from 1789 to 1820. In the immediate aftermath of the Revolution, the national government asserted that, in conquering the British, it had also conquered the Indians, who in many cases had allied themselves with the British. As compensation for the War, the national government demanded land from the conquered tribes. Indian resistance frustrated this policy, and by 1790 the government had abandoned it in favor of a policy of civilizing the Indians and assimilating them into American society. The land grabs continued, however, and by 1815, as more land was needed for cotton in the South, the government reverted to something akin to its original position, asserting that the Indians were a doomed race who needed to be moved aside as civilization spread west.

This selection from Notes on the State of Virginia will give you a sense of the ambivalence many American felt toward the Indians during the "civilizing" period. Jefferson begins by defending Indians against a variety of criticisms raised against them by the French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon. Buffon asserts that, in general, nature short-changed her productions in the new world. Scrawniness abounds. Indians, in his view, suffer from a lack of "sexual power," and because of this "primary defect," they are passionless, anti-social, unloving, and harsh. Jefferson disagrees. Indians are, he contends, just as passionate, affectionate, loyal, brave, and, in their own way, clever as white folks. The men, he concedes, are a bit weaker than white men, but that is because they force women to do most of the work, a type of subjugation common among barbarians. This passage includes the lament of Chief Logan, which became a famous piece of Native American oratory. In the end Jefferson concludes that if you make allowances for their circumstances, you will find that Indians are "formed in mind as well as in body, on the same module with the 'Homo sapiens Europaeus.'" 6 pages.

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4.  Hugh Henry Brackenridge, "The Trial of Mamachtaga," in Incidents of the Insurrection, 1795

A true story and a teachable text, this would generate good class discussion. Mamachtaga, a Delaware Indian known for "the ungovernable nature of his passion," gets "mischievous in liquor," kills two white men, and wounds two others. For this he is sentenced to hang. Brackenridge, a lawyer, represents him. In addition to illustrating the plight of the Indian living in the white world, the story offers intriguing glimpses of frontier society and justice: Brackenridge is paid in furs; some Pennsylvanians know as little of the court's operation as Mamachtaga; "crimes against nature" are punishable by death. However, much of the story's appeal comes from the contrast between the naive innocence of Mamachtaga's stoic warrior code and the implacable workings of the American legal system. He chooses the jurors at his trial, for example, according to the "sourness or cheerfulness" of their faces. Brackenridge focuses on Mamachtaga's character, which he illuminates by contrasting his behavior with that of a lynch mob, prisoners he encounters, and finally to the reader's expectations of what Mamachtaga might do when given the chance to escape. 8 pages.

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5.  Seneca Chief Cornplanter, Speech before President Washington, 1790

George Washington, Response to Seneca Indians, 1790

Native American chiefs had to be clever diplomats. In the Revolution they had to choose sides between two white opponents. After the Revolution, regardless of which side they chose, they had to come to terms with the victorious Americans. Cornplanter, a Seneca chief, made the wrong choice in the war by allying his tribe with the British. In 1779 George Washington sent four thousand troops to attack the Seneca in upstate New York. The devastation they wrought led Cornplanter to sign a treaty that ceded land to the United States. This act not only disgraced him among his people but, as his speech indicates, put his life in jeopardy. After the Revolution he befriended the Americans. His speech calls upon that friendship, history, and simple justice to persuade Washington to enforce the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784) that guaranteed the Senecas possession of their land. In his response Washington assures him that he has nothing to worry about. 4 pages.

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6.  Messages between the Western Indian Confederacy and U.S. Commissioners on the issue of the Ohio River as the boundary of Indian lands, August 1793

Mamachtaga may have been clueless, but clearly the western chiefs are not. In their message they directly challenge the notion that in defeating the British, the Americans acquired the right to claim or buy Indian lands. They make a sophisticated argument, even propose an imaginative solution to the problem of settlers encroaching upon their land. They know how to use the contrast of cultures to their advantage. Yet their letter ends with an expression of sorrow and desperation, as if they fully anticipate the commissioners' response. 4 pages.

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7.  Elias Boudinot, "An Address to the Whites," Philadelphia, May 26, 1826

This reading and the following fall beyond this toolbox's cut-off date of 1820. They are included to provide textual illustration for the cycle described in the note to Jefferson's remarks on Native Americans (reading number 3 in this section).

Elias Boudinot, born Gallegina Watie in the Cherokee nation in 1802, was educated in mission schools, including the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions school in Cornwall, Connecticut. He adopted the name of one of that school's benefactors. In 1826, as an emissary for the General Council of the Cherokee Nation, he delivered his "Address to the Whites" throughout the country in an effort to raise money for a school and for printing equipment. His success won for him the editorship of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first newspaper published by American Indians. As editor, he published Cornplanter's speech in 1828. With Boudinot Native Americans are no longer arguing for justice or negotiating for territory; they are asking for money to help them become Americans, and they hope to undertake that task in perfect Franklinesque style—with a printing press and a school. 7 pages.

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8.  Lewis Cass, excerpts from "Removal of the Indians," North American Review, January, 1830

Native Americans pleaded for justice, proposed compromises, and finally tried to assimilate, but in the end they failed to keep their land in the eastern United States. Lewis Cass's article shows why. As governor of the Michigan territory from 1813 to 1831, he fielded the complaints of constituents like Harriet Noble, who mentions him in her memoir. Think of Cass's article as a response to Boudinot's speech and compare it to Washington's response to Cornplanter. The differences between these two exchanges reveal much about the evolution of the new nation and its sense of itself as it moved westward and grew more powerful and secure. 8 pages.

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9.  Background: Instructional Guides from TeacherServe® from the National Humanities Center

To illuminate and contextualize some of the issues covered in this section of "Living the Revolution," you might want to visit the instructional guides on TeacherServe®, the National Humanities Center's curriculum enrichment service. We recommend the following:

Toolbox: Living the Revolution: America, 1789-1820
Predicaments | Religion | Politics | Expansion | Equality

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