American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Grant's Peace Policy

Title: Peace Policy of Ulysses S. Grant
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At the time Ulysses S. Grant became president of the United States in 1868, approximately 250,000 American Indians all across the nation were under the jurisdiction of a federal Indian policy. Within the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was officially responsible for implementing relations with the Native peoples, but the agency had become a dumping ground for the party faithful and "a morass of corruption and inefficiency" (Utley, 1953, 123). Disgusted, reformers and policy makers called for a change that would result in positive accomplishments, such as civilizing American Indians through education, Christianity, and teaching methods of self-support. Not to be overlooked was the immediate need to reform the Indian Bureau. This "new" and untried approach to managing America's Indian peoples actually had another purpose as well: containing Indians for the benefit of non-Indians by removing obstacles to European-American settlements all across former Indian lands.

One year earlier, in response to continuing hostilities with Indians on the Plains, the government had created a Peace Commission, comprised of ten outstanding citizens who were "high minded Christian philanthropists" (Beaver, 1966, Ch. 4) and volunteers serving their country by monitoring, in conjunction with the Secretary of the Interior, congressional appropriations to ensure that (1) Indians would be placed on reservations, keeping them away from contact with the immigrants, teaching them how to be farmers, and exposing them to the aid of Christian organizations; (2) when necessary, Indians would be punished for misdeeds, which should demonstrate the efficacy of following the government's advice rather than continuing their traditional ways; (3) high-quality supplies would be furnished to reservations; (4) through religious organizations, high-quality agents would be recruited, who would fairly distribute goods and aid in uplifting the Indians; and (5) through Christian organizations, churches and schools would be provided, which would lead the Indians to appreciate Christianity and civilization and educate them to assume the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. Along with overseeing these provisions, one of the goals of this appointed body was to formally establish the reservations onto which all of the reluctant Native peoples would agree to be placed, receiving inducements such as education for the children, food, clothing, and instruction in agricultural techniques. Thus, the Peace Commission prepared the foundation of what would become known as Grant's Peace Policy.

A major hallmark of the Peace Policy was a desire to abandon the old treaty system, a patronizing arrangement that had never worked well and that had caused, at best, innumerable frustrations and disagreements among the Indian nations. At worst, open warfare had resulted with continuing consequences for both the Native peoples and the government. Less than fifty years earlier, similar Mexican policies dealing with that country's Native populations had not succeeded on the colonial frontier, a fact Grant must have known but disregarded, relying instead on several assumptions: Christians would not succumb to temptations resulting in dishonesty; the churches could stop the terrible unscrupulousness; and the righteousness of the hand-picked Protestant agents would produce peace among the Indians. Thus, a serious attempt to instill kindness and justice into official U.S. Indian policy was underway and represented an about-face from the failed military policy that emphasized force.

The United States in 1870 was a predominantly Christian nation, mainly Protestant, and many citizens believed that the government should assist religion to improve American society. Appointing churchmen as agents was first proposed to the president in 1869 by a delegation of Quakers. This action, the Friends thought, would raise politics and politicians to a respectable position once again and simultaneously ensure that the nation's indigenes would be well served. Grant favored the idea even though it was not an example of his religious beliefs; the president was only nominally Protestant (Methodist), had never been active in church affairs, and was baptized only on his deathbed.

Grant informed the nation about the change in his first annual message to Congress in December 1869, reporting that "[Quakers] are known for their opposition to all strife, violence, and war, and are generally known for their strict integrity and fair dealings. These considerations induced me to give the management of a few reservations to them and to throw the burden of the selection of agents upon the society itself" (Stockel, 2004, 108). Recalcitrant Indians—those who were not eager to comply—would still be treated as hostiles and disciplined accordingly.

The results of the new policy were initially impressive and in time caused church officials from Protestant sects other than Quakers to speak out and express their desire to participate; the process of selecting religious agents became more expansive. By 1872, "seventy-three agencies had been apportioned among the nation's principal denominations and good religious men set forth to elevate the Indians" (Utley, 1984, 133).

Most churchmen/agents of every belief were extremely dedicated to improving conditions among their Indian charges, but very little progress in relations between the government and Indian nations was noted between 1869 and 1871. Problems quickly appeared. The small salary was insufficient for many agents, and in some cases rapid turnover resulted. Married men brought their wives, many of whom, despite good intentions, learned they could not tolerate the seclusion and demanded a return to "civilization." Congress was not willing to appropriate the monies necessary to sustain the reservations during emergencies, such as the widespread disappearance of game. Political infighting resulted in supplies arriving late on the reservation or not at all. School funds were depleted. Agencies were in debt, and employees unpaid. Worse, incompetent and even corrupt churchmen slipped through the screen of the missionary associations, and the government ultimately became embroiled in religious strife.

Catholics, in charge of 17,856 Indians, felt discriminated against and outnumbered by Protestant agents, a fact that is substantiated by figures: Quakers administered 24,322 Indians; Baptists, 40,800; Presbyterians, 38,069; Methodists, 54,473; Dutch Reformed, 8,118; Congregationalists, 14,476; Episcopalians, 26,929; and other Protestant sects 13,856 (Prucha, 1990, 143). In 1874 the Catholic Church formed a lobbying bureau in Washington, DC, to fight for its fair share.

Conflicts also erupted between the Board of Indian Commissioners and the Department of the Interior over the board's authority, as well as between the churchmen/agents about who should control which reservations. Scandal after scandal ensued, involving the religious stewards in some of the same temptations that had seduced their predecessors: fraud, deception, and infighting for spoils. A movement began that threatened to transfer the Indian Bureau back into the War Department and that called upon the military to administer the reservations. Public confidence fell and the Peace Policy was discredited.

Eight years after it had begun, the policy collapsed. Despite its failure, Grant's Peace Policy had become one of the vehicles by which Indian peoples were pacified. The program also played a major role in redistributing the homelands of many indigenous peoples to Christian Americans who insisted their right to the land must prevail.

H. Henrietta Stockel


Further Reading
Beaver, R. Pierce. 1966. Church, State, and the American Indians: Two and a Half Centuries of Partnership in Missions between Protestant Churches and Government. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing.; Prucha, F.P. 1990. Documents of U.S. Indian Policy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.; Stockel, H. Henrietta. 2004. On the Bloody Road to Jesus: Christianity and the Chiricahua Apaches. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.; Utley, Robert. 1953. "The Celebrated Peace Policy of General Grant." North Dakota History 20 (July): 121–142.; Utley, Robert. 1984. The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846–1890. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
 

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