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Immigration Native American
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19th Century Perceptions

Despite their welcome to serve in the Union Army, Native Americans were not recognized as U.S. citizens throughout the nineteenth century. A clause in the Fourteenth Amendment “excluding Indians not taxed” prevented Native American men from receiving the right to vote when African-American men gained suffrage in 1868. Instead, tribes remained independent nations that were expected to sign agreements such as the Kit Carson Treaty to establish Native American reservations in U.S. territories.

Ulysses S. Grant acknowledged such disparities in treatment in his first inaugural address in 1869 when he said, “The proper treatment of the original occupants of this land--the Indians [is] one deserving of careful study. I will favor any course toward them which tends to their civilization and ultimate citizenship.” The theme continued in a different vein during Grant’s second inaugural address in 1873: “Our superiority of strength and advantages of civilization should make us lenient toward the Indian . . . . If the effort is made in good faith, we will stand better before the civilized nations of the earth and in our own consciences for having made it.”

The ongoing conflicts with Native Americans even disturbed U.S. military leaders such as General George Custer. In his 1874 memoir, My Life on the Plains, Custer said that every American should be willing to avoid these “Indian wars” at any cost:


For let [a soldier] act as he may in . . . a campaign against the Indians, if he survives the campaign he can feel assured . . . that one-half of his fellow-citizens at home will revile him for his zeal . . . while the other half, . . . will cry "Down with him. Down with the regular army, and give us brave volunteers who can serve the Government in other ways besides eating rations and drawing pay." (Page 20)


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