Introduction

Prior to the Civil War, relations between Americans and the native population had been marked by encroachment on Indian land, some cooperation, occasional alliances against common enemies, misunderstanding, violence, expulsions from traditional lands, treaties, promises, missionary work, and more violence. After the war ended, the United States had to address again the question of what to do about Native Americans. President Grant hoped for something better than what history had so far recorded. He inaugurated what came to be called Grant’s peace policy (see Ely S. Parker, Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, December 23, 1869, and Grant’s Speech to Red Cloud and Red Dog, May 28, 1872).

Ely S. Parker (in his letter to Harriet Converse, 1885) and Susan La Flesche (in her essay, “The Home Life of the Indian,” June 1892) explain some of the changes that occurred in Native life, both individually and collectively, because of or despite Grant’s efforts.


The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, ed. John Y. Simon (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994), 18–44. Available online from: Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. https://goo.gl/QnB9kL.


. . . The building of railroads, and the access thereby given to all the agricultural and mineral regions of the country, is rapidly bringing civilized settlements into contact with all the tribes of Indians. No matter what ought to be the relations between such settlements and the aborigines, the fact is they do not harmonize well, and one or the other has to give way in the end. A system which looks to the extinction of a race is too horrible for a nation to adopt without entailing upon itself the wrath of all Christendom and engendering in the citizen a disregard for human life and the rights of others, dangerous to society. I see no substitute for such a system, except in placing all the Indians on large reservations, as rapidly as it can be done, and giving them absolute protection there. As soon as they are fitted for it they should be induced to take their lands in severalty and to set up Territorial governments for their own protection. For full details on this subject I call your special attention to the reports of the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. . . .

Study Questions

A. What reasons does President Grant give for his Indian policy? What are its key elements? What is Ely Parker’s criticism of the attitude of “good men” and Christians toward the Indians? How would he have responded to the efforts of the Women’s National Indian Association described by Susan La Flesche? What did Parker mean when he said that all his life he had occupied a false position? What was the cause of this? Do Parker and Susan La Flesche have the same attitude to the changes that have occurred in Indian life?

B. In what ways are the efforts of the federal government after the Civil War to deal with former slaves and Native Americans alike or dissimilar?

C. Compare the attitudes and policies towards Native Americans expressed here with those of the earliest European colonizers? What similarities or differences do you see in their underlying assumptions about the role of the native population in the future of what would become the United States?