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The New Nation
Government Policy Toward Native Americans
Superintendent of Indian Affairs, July 26, 1786

In August 1786, the Confederation Congress passed an ordinance dividing administrative responsibility for Native Americans into three districts. Additionally, the Congress provided for the appointment of a superintendent to oversee the affairs between the Congress and the Native populations in each of the three districts. Excerpts of the ordinance follow. What were the many responsibilities of the superintendents? To whom did the superintendents report? Why do you think Congress decided that superintendents were needed?

View the entire document from which this excerpt came, from Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


WHEREAS the safety and tranquility of the frontiers of the United States, do in some measure depend on the maintaining a good correspondence between their citizens and the several nations of Indians in amity with them: And whereas the United States in Congress assembled, under the 9th of the articles of confederation and perpetual union have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the trade, and managing all affairs with the Indians, not members of any of the states, provided that the legislative right of any state within its own limits, be not infringed or violated.

Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, That from and after the passing of this ordinance, the Indian department be divided into three districts, viz. The eastern which shall comprehend all the tribes residing within the district of country lying south and east of the lakes Ontario and Erie, as far westerly as Presquisle, French Creek and the Allegheny river, below the mouth of French Creek, and as far southerly as the Kittaning, and from thence northeasterly as the lakes George and Champlain, and notherly to 45 north latitude: The western or middle department, which shall comprehend the nations within the limits of the United States, north-west of the Ohio, and west of the Mississippi: The Southern, which shall include all the nations south of the Ohio within the limits of the United States.

That a superintendant be appointed for each of the said districts, who shall reside within or as near the district for which he shall be so appointed, as may be convenient for the management of its concerns. The said superintendants shall attend to the execution of such regulations as Congress shall from time to time establish, respecting Indian affairs. They shall have authority to place deputies among the several tribes and to remove all or any of them for misbehaviour, and also grant licenses to traders.

There shall be communications of all matters relative to the business of the Indian departments kept up between the said superintendants, who shall regularly correspond with the Secretary at War, through whom all communications respecting the Indian departments shall be made to Congress: And the said superintendants are hereby directed to attend to all instructions which they shall from time to time receive from the said Secretary at War. And whenever they shall have reason to suspect any tribe or tribes of Indians of hostile intentions, then, and in those cases, they shall communicate with the executive of the state or states, whose territories are subject to the effects of such hostilities. All stores, provisions or other property, which Congress may think necessary for the support of, or for presents to the Indians, shall be in the custody and under the care of the said superintendants, who shall render an annual account of the expenditures of the same to the Board of Treasury.

And be it further ordained, that none but citizens of the United States shall be suffered to reside among the Indian nations, or be allowed to trade with any nation of Indians within the territory of the United States. That no person, citizen or other, under the penalty of five hundred dollars, shall reside among, or trade with any Indian or Indian nation within the territory of the United States, without a license for that purpose first obtained from the superintendant of the district, who is hereby directed to give such license to every person, who shall produce from the supreme executive of any state a certificate that he is of good character and suitably qualified and provided for that employment; for which license he shall pay the sum of fifty dollars to the said superintendant for the use of the United States. . . .

And be it further ordained, That the said superintendants shall not be engaged either directly or indirectly in trade with the Indians, on pain of forfeiting their offices, and each of them shall take the following oath, previous to his entering on the duties of his appointment; I, A.B. do swear that I will well and faithfully serve the United States, in the office of superintendant of Indian affairs for the .......... district---That I will carefully attend to all such orders and instructions as I shall from time to time receive from the United States in Congress assembled, or the Secretary at War---that I will not be concerned either directly or indirectly in trade with the Indians, or with any other persons whatsoever, and that in all things belonging to my said office, during my continuance therein, I will faithfully, justly and truly, according to the best of my skill and judgment, do equal and impartial justice, without fraud, favour or affection. And the said superintendants shall each of them give bond with surety, to the Board of Treasury, in trust for the United States, in the sum of six thousand dollars, for the faithful discharge of the duties of their office.
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View the entire document from which this excerpt came, from Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.