Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789


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To Form a More Perfect Union

Relations With Native Americans

Before permanently settling the western territories, the United States had to consider the presence of Native Americans already living on these lands. Great Britain may have agreed to give the United States the land, but no one had consulted with the Indian people concerning this change. Reacting to the pressure of American settlers anxious for new land, Congress sought treaties with Native Americans to insure the safety of the settlers, and to obtain clear title for the land.

Congress Tries to Appease Southern Indian Peoples

Although treaties with the Indian people were usually negotiated in good faith, the Congress found itself politically unwilling and actually unable to halt illegal settlement of Indian lands by a growing number of American settlers. These treaties are attempts by Congress to establish friendship between Congress and the Shawnee and Cherokee nations; the Southern states, as typified by North Carolinian delegate William Blount, objected so violently to the treaties's moderate land claims that the agreed-upon boundaries became impossible to enforce.

Congress Increases the Army in the Northwest

By the early spring of 1786, Congressional commissioners had signed several treaties with a number of Indian nations. However, the Indian people were far from satisfied with America's increasing expansion into the west; many Indian tribes of the Northwest, such as the Mohawk nation, represented by Mohawk Joseph Brant, were not willing to concede that all of their land was destined to be occupied and settled by Americans. By the summer of 1786, skirmishes between Native Americans and settlers were on the rise, and war was a clear possibility. Unwilling to halt the expansion, on October 20, 1786, Congress responded to the crisis by calling for additional troops and increased fortifications in the west.

A Cash-Poor Congress Decides to Strive for Peace

Although confident that America would continue its western expansion, Congress altered its policy due to the threat of warfare with the Indian people, combined with an empty treasury. In response to a report from Secretary of War Henry Knox, Congress retreated from its more aggressive attitude towards Native American lands, and on February 20, 1787, admitted that "certain encroachments are made on the lands of the Creek and Cherokee nations." Congress promised to strive for "peace with the Indians, provided it can be obtained and preserved consistently with the justice and dignity of the nation."


Detail view of a woodcut illustration of Native Americans.
descriptive record icon enlarge image icon  [Detail] A Sachem of the Abenakee Nation, Rescuing an English Officer from the Indians [Detail]. Artist unknown. Woodcut, in Boston Almanack, 1768. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-45552.