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Cessions of Land by Indian Tribes to the United States   By: (1845-1923)

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Smithsonian Institution Bureau of Ethnology. J. W. Powell, Director.




First Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1879 80, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1881, pages 247 262

[Illustration: Map of the State of Indiana]


The social and political relations that have existed and still continue between the Government of the United States and the several Indian tribes occupying territory within its geographical limits are, in many respects, peculiar.

The unprecedentedly rapid increase and expansion of the white population of the country, bringing into action corresponding necessities for the acquisition and subjection of additional territory, have maintained a constant straggle between civilization and barbarism. Involved as a factor in this social conflict, was the legal title to the land occupied by Indians. The questions raised were whether in law or equity the Indians were vested with any stronger title than that of mere tenants at will, subject to be dispossessed at the pleasure or convenience of their more civilized white neighbors, and, if so, what was the nature and extent of such stronger title?

These questions have been discussed and adjudicated from time to time by the executive and judicial authorities of civilized nations ever since the discovery of America.

The discovery of this continent, with its supposed marvelous wealth of precious metals and commercial woods, gave fresh impetus to the ambition and cupidity of European monarchs.

Spain, France, Holland, and England each sought to rival the other in the magnitude and value of their discoveries. As the primary object of each of these European potentates was the same, and it was likely to lead to much conflict of jurisdiction, the necessity of some general rule became apparent, whereby their respective claims might be acknowledged and adjudicated without resort to the arbitrament of arms. Out of this necessity grew the rule which became a part of the recognized law of nations, and which gave the preference of title to the monarch whose vessels should be the first to discover, rather than to the one who should first enter upon the possession of new lands. The exclusion under this rule of all other claimants gave to the discovering nation the sole right of acquiring the soil from the natives and of planting settlements thereon. This was a right asserted by all the commercial nations of Europe, and fully recognized in their dealings with each other; and the assertion, of such a right necessarily carried with it a modified denial of the Indian title to the land discovered. It recognized in them nothing but a possessory title, involving a right of occupancy and enjoyment until such time as the European sovereign should purchase it from them. The ultimate fee was held to reside in such sovereign, whereby the natives were inhibited from alienating in any manner their right of possession to any but that sovereign or his subjects.

The recognition of these principles seems to have been complete, as is evidenced by the history of America from its discovery to the present day. France, England, Portugal, and Holland recognized them unqualifiedly, and even Catholic Spain did not predicate her title solely upon the grant of the Holy See.

No one of these countries was more zealous in her maintenance of these doctrines than England. In 1496 King Henry VII commissioned John and Sebastian Cabot to proceed upon a voyage of discovery and to take possession of such countries as they might find which were then unknown to Christian people, in the name of the King of England. The results of their voyages in the next and succeeding years laid the foundation for the claim of England to the territory of that portion of North America which subsequently formed the nucleus of our present possessions... Continue reading book >>

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