George Washington and Secretary of the Army Knox wrote the first draft of the Northwest Ordinance, promising to protect tribal sovereignty and to never encroach on Indian lands unless invited by native sovereigns.
The Treaty of Greenville
brought peace with the Indians of the Northwest in the Ohio Valley
and beyond, but it was not to last.
With the passages of the
Northwest Ordinance, the government pledged: "The utmost good
faith shall always be observed toward the Indians, their lands and
property shall never be taken from them without their consent, and
in their property, rights and liberty, they shall never be invaded
or disturbed unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress,
but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be
made, for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving
peace and friendship with them."
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Washington and Knox openly emphasized their respect for the
Indians' land title and rights derived from natural law.
Washington spent more time on Indian issues than he did on any
other challenges facing his administration.
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Just a few years later,
the man Washington came to fiercely distrust, fellow Virginian
Thomas Jefferson, seemed determined to undo everything Knox and
Washington had accomplished. Jefferson wrote that Indian land
was "...not as amounting to any dominion, or jurisdiction, or
paramountship whatever, but merely in the nature of a reminder
after the extinguishment of a present right, which gave us no
present right whatever, but of preventing other nations from taking
possession, and so defeating our expectancy...that the Indians had
the full, undivided and independent sovereignty as long as they
chose to keep it, and that this might be forever."
contrast to the third president, Knox told Washington: "The Indians
being the prior occupants possess the right to the soil. It cannot
be taken from them unless by their free consent, or by the right of
conquest in the case of a just war."
The faultlines that
would bedevil federalism for the next hundred years were already