Relations between Indians and U.S. Citizens
Even before the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the United States attempted to develop policies to deal with Indian affairs. In 1775, relations between the thirteen colonies and the British government were worsening, and the Continental Congress created three departments to establish good relations with Indian tribes and persuade them to remain neutral in conflicts between the colonies and the British. However, the British were far more successful in their efforts to bring the Indians over to their side. The Indians generally distrusted the Americans because colonial settlers had been spilling over the Appalachian Mountains since the 1760s, and Indian people feared that eventually the Americans would take over their lands. A few Indians actively fought for the United States during the American Revolution, particularly the Potawatomi Indians at Milwaukee, the Oneida in New York, and the Stockbridge in Massachusetts, but most fought for the British.
One reason so many Indians fought for Great Britain during the Revolution was that the British promised to preserve tribes' rights to their land if they served the British cause. The British also suggested establishing an independent Indian country in the Midwest to act as a buffer between the rebellious colonies and British colonies in Canada, which the United States invaded during the American Revolution and tried to gain during final peace talks. This British plan never came to fruition because the United States was given full sovereignty over the Midwest in the final peace treaty in 1783. From 1781 to 1789, the United States had a very weak central government known as the Articles of Confederation. During this time, the United States maintained that tribes had forfeited their rights to the land by fighting on the side of the British. However, Native people stated that they had not been defeated during the war as Great Britain had and refused to bow to American demands to vacate their lands. Moreover, the United States lacked the military power necessary to make the Indians leave.
The focal point of American Indian policy was the Ohio River valley, where the young nation had many pioneer settlements. The United States took a more realistic approach when it passed the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, recognizing that tribes did have rights to their lands, and that U.S. purchase of tribal lands must be done through formal treaties. Ratification of the federal constitution in 1789 further streamlined Indian affairs by investing the new central government--rather than the states--with all treaty-making powers.
Despite this, tribes were not ready to give up their lands, particularly the Indians of Ohio. They did not recognize certain treaties made with the United States during the 1780s, and when the U.S. sent soldiers to take their lands, they fought back. The Ohio Indians successfully destroyed two American military expeditions sent to fight them in 1790 and 1791, but they lost a major battle at Fallen Timbers, Ohio in 1794. In the subsequent treaty, the United States forced the Ohio Indians to cede most of their land. This solidified Indian support for the British, who continued to distrust the United States and feared the federal government had designs on Canada.
British traders from Canada continued to trade with the Indians in the United States, and to curb this influence President George Washington established the "factory system" in 1796. Indian factories (short for "manufactories") were government-run trading houses where Indian people could bring their furs and receive European-manufactured goods such as blankets, knives, and guns. The system lasted until 1822, and eventually there were government factories at Chicago, Green Bay, Prairie du Chien, and Mackinac Island. The Indians disliked the factories because they had very cheap, low-quality goods, and the Indians of Wisconsin and the Midwest continued to trade with the British traders from Canada.