1871 - Congress ends treaty system

Congress ended the treaty-making ear with Indians in 1871. The last treaty the Senate ratified was with the Nez Perce, but it would not take long before the terms of that treaty were violated by white settlers with depredations to Indian lands that soon led to the Nez Perce Wars.

         The last treaty was made with the Nez Perce and was broken just a few years later, leading to the Nez Perce War. 

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         A move to end the treaty system was in full swing in the House of Representatives by the late 1860s.  Caleb H.  Smith, commissioner of Indian affairs, supported an official repudiation of treaties and the imposition of an allotment program.  Smith urged Congress to declare that the Indians were the dependent wards of the government and to let his bureau be the primary authority over Indian land and lives.

Nez Perce Family

         There were plenty of congressmen of the day who would have voted for such legislation, but the end of treaty making came about as a pragmatic solution to the jealousy of members of the U.S. House of Representatives who resented the relationship between the president and the U.S. Senate in the business of making treaties and executing Indian policy.  They also felt that tribes should be dealt with in general legislation rather than through treaties that were protected by the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution which had the odious effect of formally recognizing tribes as semi-autonomous governments bodies with independent powers.  In order to achieve the ends of Manifest Destiny, the American landscape needed to be cleared of savages who still had a legal right to self-rule. 

         The end of the process was little more than a way of resolving petty jealousies between the House and the Senate.  Tiring of having to pay out annuities to tribes who signed treaties ratified by the U.S. Senate, the House demanded an end to the process through an amendment it attached to the appropriations bill of 1871. 

         This action brought an end to the second treaty era, but not to removals, which continued until the western tribes had been corralled on reservations.