Cover image for Jefferson and the Indians : the tragic fate of the first Americans
Jefferson and the Indians : the tragic fate of the first Americans
Wallace, Anthony F. C., 1923-
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
ix, 394 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


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E93 .W18 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In Thomas Jefferson's time, white Americans were bedeviled by a moral dilemma unyielding to reason and sentiment: what to do about the presence of black slaves and free Indians. That Jefferson himself was caught between his own soaring rhetoric and private behavior toward blacks has long been known. But the tortured duality of his attitude toward Indians is only now being unearthed.In this landmark history, Anthony Wallace takes us on a tour of discovery to unexplored regions of Jefferson's mind. There, the bookish Enlightenment scholar--collector of Indian vocabularies, excavator of ancient burial mounds, chronicler of the eloquence of America's native peoples, and mourner of their tragic fate--sits uncomfortably close to Jefferson the imperialist and architect of Indian removal. Impelled by the necessity of expanding his agrarian republic, he became adept at putting a philosophical gloss on his policy of encroachment, threats of war, and forced land cessions--a policy that led, eventually, to cultural genocide.In this compelling narrative, we see how Jefferson's close relationships with frontier fighters and Indian agents, land speculators and intrepid explorers, European travelers, missionary scholars, and the chiefs of many Indian nations all complicated his views of the rights and claims of the first Americans. Lavishly illustrated with scenes and portraits from the period, Jefferson and the Indians adds a troubled dimension to one of the most enigmatic figures of American history, and to one of its most shameful legacies.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

According to Wallace, Thomas Jefferson continues to fascinate scholars and laypersons alike because his well-documented moral ambiguity reflects many of the fundamental paradoxes that have traditionally plagued American culture. For example, his passionate belief in the equality of all men did not inspire him to relinquish ownership of his black slaves during his lifetime. Also, Jefferson was the principal architect of the formal removal policy that eventually resulted in the virtual annihilation of many American tribes. A private admirer of Indian culture, Jefferson nevertheless attempted to rationalize and justify his ruthless official treatment of the first Americans. Outstanding scholarly investigation of the dichotomy between Jefferson the visionary philosopher and Jefferson the practical politician. --Margaret Flanagan

Library Journal Review

While Bernard W. Sheehan's Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian (1974) explores the Jeffersonian period, Wallace, an emeritus anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and recipient of the Bancroft prize for Rockdale, provides a probing intellectual history of Jefferson himself. Jefferson's attitude toward Native Americans reflect his overall complexity as a thinker; he was fascinated by the first Americans but at the same time engaged in "civilizing" them. Wallace traces the context in which Jefferson existed and then examines his political rhetoric; considerable attention is also given to his studies of Indians and his presidential policies toward them. While the absence of citations to sidebar quotations is disappointing and the lack of a bibliography unfortunate, this fascinating account of an unexplored topic is highly recommended.√ĄDaniel D. Liestman, Kansas State Univ. Lib., Manhattan (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Wallace's work is much more than a survey of Jefferson's attitudes and actions toward Native Americans. Rather, it effectively relates the complexity of the relationship between the expanding society of the US and the aboriginal inhabitants of the country in a larger context. Jefferson's views represent a microcosm of this American dilemma; he was an admirer of Indian culture, yet his ultimate vision was the disappearance of that culture. Jefferson saw aboriginal society as savage but capable of progress through civilization. If they cooperated, Indians would be transformed into "civilized invisibility"; if they resisted, they faced a more destructive fate. Either way, according to Wallace, Jefferson's goal was to remove the natives as impediments to American expansion. As president, his policy toward the Indian tribes revolved around the dual objectives of maintaining peace while obtaining their land by pressuring them into concessions. The author portrays Jefferson as an enigma, representative of American society in general, mourning the "tragic fate" of the Indians, yet confident in the "moral justification [of] the seizure of lands he said they no longer needed." Further, Wallace links the legacies of Jefferson's policies to the problems that have continued up to the modern reservation system. Graduate, faculty. M. J. Puglisi; Virginia Intermont College

Table of Contents

Introduction: Logan's Mourner
The Land Companies
The Indian Wars
Notes on the Vanishing Aborigines
Native Americans through European Eyes
In Search of Ancient Americans
Civilizing the Uncivilized Frontier
President Jefferson's Indian Policy
The Louisiana Territory
Confrontation with the Old Way
Return to Philosophical Hall
Conclusion: Jefferson's Troubled Legacy
List of Illustrations
List of Documents