Teaching the complete history of the United States – Lewis & Clark and Manifest Destiny

American Indians and tribal nations have been too long overlooked in the teaching and scholarship of the history of the United States. I have written about the crucial role that indigenous peoples and nations played, for example, in the Lewis and Clark expedition and in American Manifest Destiny.  Robert J. Miller, Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny (Prager Publishers, 2006; paperback University of Nebraska Press, 2008). 

I am posting here a list of primary documents that teachers should consider using to teach a more complete, wholistic, diverse, and true history of these events.

1. Papal documents from 1436 and 1453 granting Portugal license to conquer and christianize the Canary Islands and the west coast of Africa. (1436 Papal bull Romanus Pontifex.)

2. 1492 Spanish contracts and instructions to Columbus that agreed to make him the admiral of any lands he acquired for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in the New World.

3. Pope Alexander VI’s papal bulls, Inter caetera divinai and Inter caetera II, in May 1493 that granted Portugal and Spain the rights to conquer and christianize the non-christian world and to take title to the “discovered” lands. The Pope divided the world with a line of demarcation 100 leagues west of the Azore Islands and authorized Spain to “discover” west of the line and granted Portugal the same right east of the line. (The 1493 Bull “Inter caetera divinae” granting Americas to Spain, May 4, 1493, Church and State Through the Centuries 153-57 (Sidney Z. Ehler & John 13. Morrall, trans. & eds 1967).)

4. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal which moved the Pope’s line of demarcation westward to 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands so that Portugal could possess the Brazilian part of South America. In 1529, the countries signed the Treaty of Saragossa to determine the dividing line between their designated areas in the Pacific Ocean.

5. Writings of the priest, royal advisor, and University of Salamanca professor Francisco de Vitoria that natives had natural human rights that Spain had to honor, that the Papal bulls did not pass title to the lands to Spain, but that Indians had duties under the Law of Nations to allow the Spanish to travel in their lands, to take profits from communally held lands and assets like minerals, and to preach the gospel. If the natives prevented the Spanish from exercising these rights, the Spanish could “defend” themselves and wage a “lawful” and “just” war on the natives. Franciscus de Victoria, De Indis et de Iure Belli Relectiones 128 (E. Nys ed., J. Bate trans. 1917) (book is in Latin and English).

6. The Requerimiento which King Ferdinand ordered to be drafted to control Spanish conquests in the New World. This document was used from 1513-1556. It was required to be read to natives so that they could accept christianity before the Spanish attacked them in a “just war” to force their conversion. The document informed Indians that God had given charge of the human race to the Pope and that he had donated their lands to the Spanish King and Queen. Indians could take time to consider the document, but they had to accept the Church and Pope as their ruler and the Spanish King and Queen or if they did not or delayed, then the Spanish would forcefully enter the country and make war on the natives. Reprinted in The Spanish Tradition in America 5 8-60 (Charles Gibson ed. 1968).

7. King Henry VII’s 1497 charter to John Cabot to explore and conquer the New World: "Seek out, discover, and find whatsoever isles, countries, regions or provinces of the heathen and infidels whatsoever they be, and in what part of the world soever they be, which before this time have been unknown to all Christians." Reprinted in Documents of American History 5-6 (Henry S. Commager ed. 8th ed. 1968).

8. Queen Elizabeth I charters to Humphrey Gilbert in 1578 and in 1584 to Walter Raleigh to colonize Virginia and find “heathen and barbarous lands . . . not actually possessed of any Christian prince or people … to have, hold, occupy and enjoy . . . ."

9. King James I 1606 charter to the Virginia Company to colonize Virginia and to propagate christianity and bring the infidels and savages to human civility. Reprinted in Documents of American History 8-12 (Henry S. Commager ed. 8th ed. 1968).

10. King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 preventing his colonists and colonies from buying or even entering Indian lands, which were defined as all lands west of the crest of the Allegheny and Applachia Mountains. The King said these lands were reserved for him although he had not yet purchased them.

11. The American Articles of Confederation, art. IX (1781) attempting to keep the states from buying Indian lands.

12. George Washington’s Sept. 7, 1783 letter to a congressional committee calling Indians “The Savage as Wolf’ and predicting that they would disappear before the advance of the American frontier just as the wolf and animals. Reprinted in Documents of United States Indian Policy (Francis Paul Prucha ed., 3d ed. 2000).

13. The NorthWest Ordinance of 1787 promising to protect Indian property and rights unless the U.S. had to attack them in “just and lawful wars.” (“Just wars” straight out of de Victoria and Spanish Discovery theory of 1536 and English ideas from the late 1550s & early 1600s.)

14. The Interstate and Indian Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, art. I, sec. 8, cl. 3, placing all responsibility to control commerce "with the Indian Tribes" in the hands of Congress; and the references to Indians in art. I, sec.2 and the 14th Amendment, sec.2; and the Treaty clause in Article VI.

15. U.S. legislative enforcement of the Doctrine of Discovery and the Indian Commerce Clause power on July 22, 1790 (now codified at 25 U.S.C. 177). No person or state can buy Indian or tribal lands without the permission of the U.S.

16. The 1802 Compact with Georgia, in which the Jefferson administration agreed to Remove the Cherokee Indians from Georgia as soon as possible even though the nation possessed treaty rights to remain on their lands forever.

17. President Jefferson’s Jan. 18, 1803 secret message to Congress seeking a $2,500 appropriation to fund the Lewis and Clark expedition for commercial purposes. This is the only authority for the mission Jefferson could perceive in the Constitution. He told Congress that the U.S. could cut England out of the lucrative fur trade with China. Donald Jackson, ed. Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854, 2 volumes (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2d ed. 1978), Vol. 1, pp. 10-14 (Jefferson Message to Congress Jan. 18, 1803).

18. Jefferson’s June 20, 1803 letter of instructions to Meriwether Lewis showing the primary objectives of dealing commercially with tribes and Indians. Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854, Vol. 1, pp. 61-66 (Jefferson Letter to Lewis June 20, 1803).

19. The Louisiana Purchase 1803 treaty with France. (It contains a provision on how the U.S. was to treat Indians and tribes that contrasts with the provision regarding how the U.S. would treat the French/Spanish inhabitants of the Territory).

20. President Jefferson’s Jan. 22, 1804 letter of instruction to Meriwether Lewis and how he was to take U.S. sovereignty to the tribes now that the U.S. had made the Louisiana Purchase; “Being now become sovereigns of the country, without however any diminution of the Indian rights of occupancy. . . .“ That simple sentence is a very good definition of how Chief Justice Marshall defined the Doctrine of Discovery in Johnson v. Mcintosh in 1823. Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854, Vol. 1, pp. 165-66 (Jefferson Letter to Lewis January 22, 1804).

21. Jefferson’s understanding of the Doctrine of Discovery: (a) 1802 Compact with Georgia to remove the Cherokee Indians from Georgia; (b) his 1803 letter to Gov. William Henry Harrison that everyone knew  that all Indians would have to be removed west of the Mississippi River one day; (c) his 1804 letter to Lewis that the U.S. was now the sovereign of the Louisiana Territory; (d) his 1808 letter to Congress that the U.S. should start buying the land west of the Mississippi from the “native proprietors”; (e) by 1813 Jefferson wrote that “we now must pursue them [Indians] to extermination.”

22. Jefferson’s written comments on the successes of the Expedition show the extensive involvement of Indian affairs in the Expedition.

23. Johnson v. M'Intosh, 21 U.S. 543 (1823). The Supreme Court adopts and defines the Doctrine of Discovery as the federal common law under which this country was settled. The Doctrine limits Indian and tribal real property rights because tribes cannot sell to whomever they wish for whatever amount they can get. They can only sell to the United States. But until then, they hold the valuable property rights of use, occupancy, and development. Tribes also lost some sovereign powers because the U.S. gained power over tribes in that Indian tribes can only deal with the United States and no other country.

24. The Removal Act, 4 Stat. 411-12. One result of the Discovery Doctrine was the Removal Era of federal Indian policy that officially commenced in 1830. This Act led to the Trail of Tears and the removal of most Indians west of the Mississippi just as President Jefferson had planned. Jefferson's ideas, repeated by all subsequent presidents, was the genesis of Manifest Destiny.

25. Pres. Jackson’s Message to Congress on Removal of Southern Indians Dec. 1835.

26. President Polk’s 1845 Inaugural Address claiming the Oregon country and that American settlers were already perfecting the US claim by occupying Oregon.

27. The United States Oregon Treaty with England (1846) drawing the boundary line in the Oregon country between Canada and the U.S. at the 49th parallel.

28. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) in which Mexico ceded much of the American southwest to the U.S.  Contrast the property rights protections for Mexican citizens and Indians and tribal nations.

29. The 14th Amendment (1868). Indians were still not U.S. citizens.

30. The Dawes General Allotment Act (1887) that attempted to break up the Indian reservations.

31. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, 8 U.S.C. sec. 1401(b) (all Indians are made U.S. citizens).

32. Indian/U.S. treaties showing the establishment of reservations, tribal trade restrictions, and the protective status of tribes under the U.S. authority.

This entry was posted in Doctrine of Discovery, Lewis & Clark, Manifest Destiny, Thomas Jefferson. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Teaching the complete history of the United States – Lewis & Clark and Manifest Destiny

  1. Dorian says:

    Thanks so much! A very informative list/timeline of important events. This should be very useful indeed.


  2. we have to know our history. very useful and informative post.

  3. paul utsler says:

    Ever since I was a young kid, in my heart, I knew that the native Indians were done wronged; now I know who and how. I never will fully understand the why. Thank you for your information.

    Paul- Born in Chicago 1964

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