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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

The War Dept. Justifies Indian Removal

Editor's Note:

Underlying the government's Indian Removal policy was the belief that Native Americans and whites could not live together peacefully. One answer to this problem was to "civilize" Native Americans, but here Secretary of War Lewis Cass (1782-1866), who had previously been governor of Michigan Territory (and hence of Wisconsin), argues that assimilation is impossible. His answer to the "Indian Problem" was to segregate Native Americans west of the Mississippi. The Sauk & Fox were but a few of many tribes across America made victims of this policy.

In this excerpt Cass also provides a vivid example of the white stereotype of Indians as a "vanishing race" that would become extinct under the pressures of inevitable white expansion. This concept remained widespread among Americans for another century and a half.

Cass was a US army officer and governor of Michigan Territory from 1813-1831. As Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson from 1831-1836, he directed the Black Hawk and Seminole wars. He was later the Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1848, which he lost to Zachary Taylor, a general during the Black Hawk War.

Lewis Cass in the Dictionary of Wisconsin History

Indian Removal Act (1830) in the Dictionary of Wisconsin History

It would be miserable affectation to regret the progress of civilization and improvement, the triumph of industry and art, by which these regions have been reclaimed, and over which freedom, religion, and science are extending their sway. But we may indulge the wish, that these blessings had been attained at a smaller sacrifice; that the aboriginal population had accommodated themselves to the inevitable change of their condition, produced by the access and progress of the new race of men, before whom the hunter and his game were destined to disappear.

But such a wish is vain. A barbarous people, depending for subsistence upon the scanty and precarious supplies furnished by the chase, cannot live in contact with a civilized community. As the cultivated border approaches the haunts of the animals, which are valuable for food or furs, they recede and seek shelter in less accessible situations...

[Source: Lewis Cass, "Lewis Cass Explains the Destiny of the Indians", North American Monthly , January, 1830.]

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