37 pages 1 hour read

Joseph J. Ellis

American Creation

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2007

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Chapter 4Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 4 Summary: “The Treaty”

Chapter 4 explores the failure of the young United States to treat the Native Americans justly. After winning independence, America had essentially two options for dealing with the tribes occupying land east of the Mississippi River—land that white people wanted for themselves. One was simply to push the Native Americans westward using military action; the other was for white settlers to move west, effectively, but not forcibly, displacing Native Americans. Both options assumed the land belonged to the United States “by right of conquest” (132).

Under the new Constitution, Secretary of War Henry Knox treated Native American tribes as foreign nations, giving the president authority to set policy. Knox had been a trusted compatriot of Washington’s during the Revolutionary War and felt both obliged and qualified to continue the legacy of the war. He thus wanted an Indian policy that was in keeping with the original ideals of the colonists, not one that merely swapped out the British Empire for an American one.

After conferring with Washington in the summer of 1789, Knox devised a plan to allow native tribes to stay on their lands east of the Mississippi even as American settlers moved west. Protected by federal troops if necessary, Native Americans would occupy enclaves that settlers moved around.