Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans

Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans

by Anthony F. C. Wallace
     
 
"A thorough, fair, balanced, detailed, and illuminating book. Rejoice in its publication." —Patricia Limerick Nelson Jefferson and the Indians The Tragic Fate of the First Americans Anthony F. C. Wallace In Thomas Jefferson's time, white Americans were bedeviled by a moral dilemma unyielding to reason and sentiment: what to do about the

Overview

"A thorough, fair, balanced, detailed, and illuminating book. Rejoice in its publication." —Patricia Limerick Nelson Jefferson and the Indians The Tragic Fate of the First Americans Anthony F. C. Wallace 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 dimensionto one of the most enigmatic figures of American history, and to one of its most shameful legacies. Anthony F. C. Wallace is University Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at the University of Pennsylvania, winner of the Bancroft Prize in American history for his book Rockdale, and the author of The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca and The Long, Bitter Trail. Belknap Press 61Ž4 x 91Ž4 60 halftones, 3 maps 416 pp. ISBN 0-674-00066-8 (WALJEF) $29.95 (£18.50 UK) American History/Native American Studies

Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
This is not your father's Thomas Jefferson. It might be startling to a reader brought up on the Jefferson of the Declaration of Independence to read an author who, quite early in the text, accuses the third president not only of writing deceptive reports in regard to land dealings, but of being responsible for "ethnic cleansing" in regard to the Native American populations of the eastern coastline. While we have recently become accustomed to accounts of Jefferson's treatment or mistreatment of his slaves, we may still see him as the amateur philosopher-archeologist who collected vocabularies of Native American languages and conducted methodical digs of burial mounds left by eastern tribes. Here Wallace gives us a Jefferson who, while he had a deep objective interest in anthropology, had a land speculator's interest in the territories to the immediate west of the 13 original states. He saw the young nation as an expanding entity, and this growth as impeded by the various tribes then living in the lands between the Appalachians and the Mississippi. His solution: move them west. According to Wallace, as president it was Jefferson's aim to obtain Indian land "at almost any cost." The result of Wallace's extensive research is not, however, a cursory debunking of Jefferson but rather a detailed portrait of a man of his time, flawed and pragmatic. Wallace's prose is smooth and the text is extremely well organized with copious notes, although no separate bibliography. Recommended for all serious students of American history. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Harvard Univ. Press, Belknap, 394p. illus. maps. notes.index. 23cm. 99-21558., $18.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Patricia A. Moore; Brookline, MA , July 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 4)
Library Journal
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.--Daniel D. Liestman, Kansas State Univ. Lib., Manhattan Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Peter Skinner
The book's great strength stems not only from its compelling narrative, but also from the rich cast of supporting players among whom heroes, saints and sinners abound. Excellent illustrations add to this masterful account.
ForeWord
Kirkus Reviews
Returning to his interest in the native tribes (The Long Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians, 1993, etc.), Bancroft Prize–winning historian Wallace gives us a book that immediately becomes the best among very few other studies of its subject. The author, an anthropologist deeply knowledgeable about American native cultures, reveals his colors early on: Jefferson's acts concerning the Indians were "hypocritical, arbitrary, duplicitous, even harsh," the Squire of Monticello himself a liar and self-serving. While he studied the natives, knew some, and thought carefully about their lives and cultures, he could not rid himself of the conviction that these American tribal peoples must either become "civilized"—give up hunting and gathering, become farmers, and adopt Euro-American ways—or disappear. But Jefferson didn't stop there: throughout his life, he effectually harried the Indians into war, land cessions, or flight and thus, in Wallace's view, must be held responsible both for inaugurating the failed 19th-century policy of removing the Indians to the far west and then onto reservations and for their drastic decline in numbers. This is a harsh indictment, made harsher still by Wallace's inappropriate likening of Jefferson's policies to genocide, a holocaust, and ethnic cleansing. After all, neither Jefferson nor most of his contemporaries sought the Indians' extermination. Yet, fortunately, these overwrought anachronistic charges do not affect much of the book, which otherwise makes clear the complexities of native-European interaction in the post-Revolutionary era. One result is that a reader comes away from the book's pages less critical of Jefferson thanWallace probably wishes, more accepting of the limits upon Jefferson's misguided views, and deflated by a sense of the near inevitability of the Indians' fate. One wishes that Wallace had occasionally lifted his eyes from the details of his subject—to compare, for example, the contributions of Indian removal and slavery to white man's democracy. A searching scholarly study of one of the great American dilemmas. (60 photos, 3 maps)

Journal of American Ethnic History

[This is] a rich, full exposure of Jefferson's lack of interest in living Indians' communities and his inability to comprehend the actual cultural changes the tribes with whom he dealt were experiencing.
— Mary Young

William and Mary Quarterly

Wallace focuses more closely on Jefferson himself. He argues convincingly that Jefferson and his cohort embodied not so much good intentions gone awry as deep and abiding cultural contradictions…Wallace has much to tell us about Jeffersonian Indian policy, particularly in the context of Jefferson himself.
— Philip Deloria

American Quarterly

Wallace's book demonstrates, in rich archival detail, that slaves were only one non-European race-perhaps not even the most significant one-over whom Jefferson agonized…The strength of this book and its importance to historians in a variety of fields is its insistent focus on Jefferson himself, his intellectual milieu, and his public policies…Wallace should therefore be credited both with writing a splendid book and with filling an historical lacuna, an oversight that seems even more remarkable now that Wallace has corrected it.
— Steven Conn

New Republic

Whatever Wallace writes is worth reading...Wallace's analysis borrows from other works, but much of it is also new, shrewd, and useful...Wallace is attracted to interesting and complicated historical characters in whose lives culture and society sometimes seem to reduce to manifestations of individual traits and individual crises. And true to form, Wallace finds the key to Jefferson's paradoxical attitudes toward Indian peoples—and, more generally, to a contradictory and tangled history of American policies toward Indians—in his 'deeply controlling temperament.' Jefferson confused himself with the people, Wallace contends, and projected onto them his own desire for control and (they always go together) his own fear of control.
— Richard White

Washington Times

Mr. Wallace is a rare and respected scholar, a cultural anthropologist who has written masterful works of American history...No one...has focused so sharply and has brought together the scattered pieces of Jefferson's changing thoughts so lucidly. That intense reconstruction produces some surprises, some of them sure to be controversial...In this finely written and richly detailed study, Mr. Wallace raises unsettling questions about the deep roots, not only of Indian mistreatment, but more broadly of official intolerance toward cultural variety and conflict in all their forms.
— Elliott West

New Yorker
Jefferson and the Indians shows how his romantic fascination with Native American cultures, traditions, and languages went hand in hand with energetic designs to resettle their lands, his firm belief that settlers would eventually 'cover the whole northern, if not southern continent,' and his determination that there should not be 'either blot or mixture on that surface.
Booklist

[An] outstanding scholarly investigation of the dichotomy between Jefferson the visionary philosopher and Jefferson the practical politician.
— Margaret Flanagan

H-Net Reviews

"There [are] hundreds of studies on Thomas Jefferson...Many make valuable contributions to our understanding of the subject in question, and none more than Anthony Wallace's excellent new book on Jefferson and the Indians...Shifting our attention to the Native Americans whose lands Jefferson so coveted, Wallace's book nicely complements the extensive critical literature on Jefferson and slavery...Richly complex."
— Peter S. Onuf

New Republic - Richard White
Whatever Wallace writes is worth reading...Wallace's analysis borrows from other works, but much of it is also new, shrewd, and useful...Wallace is attracted to interesting and complicated historical characters in whose lives culture and society sometimes seem to reduce to manifestations of individual traits and individual crises. And true to form, Wallace finds the key to Jefferson's paradoxical attitudes toward Indian peoples--and, more generally, to a contradictory and tangled history of American policies toward Indians--in his 'deeply controlling temperament.' Jefferson confused himself with the people, Wallace contends, and projected onto them his own desire for control and (they always go together) his own fear of control.
Washington Times - Elliott West
Mr. Wallace is a rare and respected scholar, a cultural anthropologist who has written masterful works of American history...No one...has focused so sharply and has brought together the scattered pieces of Jefferson's changing thoughts so lucidly. That intense reconstruction produces some surprises, some of them sure to be controversial...In this finely written and richly detailed study, Mr. Wallace raises unsettling questions about the deep roots, not only of Indian mistreatment, but more broadly of official intolerance toward cultural variety and conflict in all their forms.
Booklist - Margaret Flanagan
[An] outstanding scholarly investigation of the dichotomy between Jefferson the visionary philosopher and Jefferson the practical politician.
H-Net Reviews - Peter S. Onuf
There [are] hundreds of studies on Thomas Jefferson...Many make valuable contributions to our understanding of the subject in question, and none more than Anthony Wallace's excellent new book on Jefferson and the Indians...Shifting our attention to the Native Americans whose lands Jefferson so coveted, Wallace's book nicely complements the extensive critical literature on Jefferson and slavery...Richly complex.
Patricia Nelson Limerick
A good, thorough, fair, balanced, detailed, illuminating, clearly written, eminently sensible book. How to appraise Thomas Jefferson--especially how to reconcile his soul-stirring rhetoric with his less soul-stirring actions--is a subject of constant, if sometimes fevered, interest. The interpretive talents of Anthony F. C. Wallace give us every good reason to rejoice in the publication of this book.
Drew McCoy
Many have written ably on Thomas Jefferson and the Indians, but none has succeeded in bringing together as thoroughly and effectively as this book so many different, relevant dimensions of that topic. This is a rich, multidimensional book that offers a complex and utterly convincing interpretation of Jefferson and the first Americans. Anthony Wallace has succeeded in taking a fresh and engaging look at the subject. His approach and perspective are unique.
Gary B. Nash
Wallace's study of the always enigmatic Jefferson will shock many but enlighten all. This masterful account of how the admirer and student of Indian languages and character was also the architect of removal policy and the grand rationalizer of cultural genocide is a must-read for all who teach American history. The master lesson of this absorbing book is how Jefferson's love of minimal government and maximal individual freedom, combined with his insatiable appetite for land, became the perfect formula for seizing Indian land and rationalizing the frontiersmen's ethnic cleansing.
Sean Wilentz
Anthony F. C. Wallace, one of our premier historical anthropologists, has written a sober and troubling reassessment of Thomas Jefferson and the American Indian. Only a scholar as alive to paradox and tragedy as Wallace is could have written such a fine book on such a difficult subject.
Journal of American Ethnic History - Mary Young
[This is] a rich, full exposure of Jefferson's lack of interest in living Indians' communities and his inability to comprehend the actual cultural changes the tribes with whom he dealt were experiencing.
William and Mary Quarterly - Philip Deloria
Wallace focuses more closely on Jefferson himself. He argues convincingly that Jefferson and his cohort embodied not so much good intentions gone awry as deep and abiding cultural contradictions…Wallace has much to tell us about Jeffersonian Indian policy, particularly in the context of Jefferson himself.
American Quarterly - Steven Conn
Wallace's book demonstrates, in rich archival detail, that slaves were only one non-European race-perhaps not even the most significant one-over whom Jefferson agonized…The strength of this book and its importance to historians in a variety of fields is its insistent focus on Jefferson himself, his intellectual milieu, and his public policies…Wallace should therefore be credited both with writing a splendid book and with filling an historical lacuna, an oversight that seems even more remarkable now that Wallace has corrected it.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674000667
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
10/28/1999
Series:
Belknap Press Series
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
6.58(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.35(d)

What People are saying about this

Anthony F. C. Wallace, one of our premier historical anthropologists, has written a sober and troubling reassessment of Thomas Jefferson and the American Indian. Only a scholar as alive to paradox and tragedy as Wallace is could have written such a fine book on such a difficult subject.
Gary B. Nash
Wallace's study of the always enigmatic Jefferson will shock many but enlighten all. This masterful account of how the admirer and student of Indian languages and character was also the architect of removal policy and the grand rationalizer of cultural genocide is a must-read for all who teach American history. The master lesson of this absorbing book is how Jefferson's love of minimal government and maximal individual freedom, combined with his insatiable appetite for land, became the perfect formula for seizing Indian land and rationalizing the frontiersmen's ethnic cleansing.
Gary B. Nash, University of California, Los Angeles
Sean Wilentz
Anthony F. C. Wallace, one of our premier historical anthropologists, has written a sober and troubling reassessment of Thomas Jefferson and the American Indian. Only a scholar as alive to paradox and tragedy as Wallace is could have written such a fine book on such a difficult subject.
Sean Wilentz, Dayton-Stockton Professor of History, Princeton University
Drew McCoy
Many have written ably on Thomas Jefferson and the Indians, but none has succeeded in bringing together as thoroughly and effectively as this book so many different, relevant dimensions of that topic. This is a rich, multidimensional book that offers a complex and utterly convincing interpretation of Jefferson and the first Americans. Anthony Wallace has succeeded in taking a fresh and engaging look at the subject. His approach and perspective are unique.
Drew McCoy, Clark University
Patricia Nelson Limerick
A good, thorough, fair, balanced, detailed, illuminating, clearly written, eminently sensible book. How to appraise Thomas Jefferson--especially how to reconcile his soul-stirring rhetoric with his less soul-stirring actions--is a subject of constant, if sometimes fevered, interest. The interpretive talents of Anthony F. C. Wallace give us every good reason to rejoice in the publication of this book.
Patricia Nelson Limerick, University of Colorado, Boulder

Meet the Author

Anthony F. C. Wallace is University Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at the University of Pennsylvania, winner of the Bancroft Prize in American history for his book Rockdale, and the author of The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca and The Long, Bitter Trail.

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