“Ultimately, for Jefferson, it made no difference whether Indians were removed to the Rocky Mountains, 'extirpated from the earth,' or allowed to remain in the United States. Indians as Indians could not be tolerated in the republican civilization the American Revolution had created. The new nation must have a 'homogeneous' population.”
After the American Revolution, the newly formed United States of America refocused their attention from deciding on what kind of society they wanted, to how they were going to get this society. Thomas Jefferson was the mastermind behind the proposal of a republican society, a society rooted in a civilization made up of people that were homogenous and virtuous, centered on pure morality. However, now that America was a multiracial society, with the presence of Blacks and Native Americans, a new conflict arose. How could Americans produce a homogenous population despite the existence of “non-Americans”? Jefferson had a complex relationship with the Indians and believed that a homogenous population would only be attainable by fully changing the ways of Native American life. Although Jefferson had notable reasons for his opposition of Indians, he failed to recognize that his goals were far too unrealistic and the problem of obtaining a pure republican society would not be hindered by the presence of Indians, but rather, hindered by the American people themselves.
Jefferson was a strong advocate for removing the Indians from their natural habitat, whether it was by exterminating them, shipping them somewhere else, or stripping them of their culture and forcing them to become “White.” There were many proponents for this idea and had convincing reasons as to why Native Americans were unfit for American society. The main supporting argument was that Native Americans were too deficient as human beings to function in society. Their undeveloped intelligence, uncleanliness, and lack of self-control were all seen as hindrances in transforming them away from savagery and towards an urban civilization lifestyle through agriculture and commerce. A people so reliant on their environment, where it was the norm to wear animal skin and hunt for food that was eaten by their hands, were being forced to adapt to the Americans’ way of living, where it meant raising domestic animals, wearing cloth and adapting to manufacturing processes and houses. Assimilating them would be a difficult task because although Jefferson wanted them to “amputate their way of life” and adopt the expansion of white agrarian society, Native Americans were children of nature and would not easily be changed (Takaki 60). Jefferson’s fault lay in his belief that Native Americans living in the uncultivated wilderness would leave their identity, culture, and land so readily, just so that they could help Americans expand civilization, without any worthy compensation in return. Another reason supporting the removal of Indians was their intelligence. An important criterion for a republican society was having the same language. The lack of communication between Indians and Americans was justified by the belief that the Indians were too dumb to converse, making them a liability in creating an educationally rich society. However, this was where Jefferson’s complex feelings for Native Americans came in. He believed that the only thing that made an “Indian ‘equal’ or potentially so was his intelligence” (Takaki 58). He believed that unlike Blacks, Indians could be educated enough so that they could live among whites. In his mind, “they had the intelligence capable of development which would enable them to carry out the commands of their moral sense” (Takaki 58). This high expectation of Indians was impractical because Jefferson never asked the Indians if they would be willing to learn English. In fact, Jefferson never asked the Indians if they would be willing to assimilate in the first place. Although the United States had an upper hand in this...
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