Education | Opinion

Stanley Heller: War Secretary Calhoun called for 'civilized' tribes






John C. Calhoun in 1849. Photo by Mathew Brady

A movement at Yale University seeks to take the name of John C. Calhoun, a former Secretary of War and a former U.S. vice president, off a residential college due to his promotion of slavery. But Stanley Heller of The Struggle notes that Calhoun was no friend to Indian nations either:
Calhoun was Secretary of War under President Monroe. In 1818 he wrote a report to Congress saying it was time for a new policy towards Indians. One reason he said was not because of recent decisive Indian military defeats, but also because of a “fixed law of nature, in the intercourse between a civilized and a savage people.” Indians had become dependent on advanced tools produced by whites and were becoming helpless.

What did Calhoun conclude? He wrote that Indians “neither are, nor ought to be, considered as independent nations.” All tribal authority had to end. Indians had better adopt white ways and fast. The U.S. had to look out for them for their own good. “It is only by causing our opinion of their interest to prevail, that they can be civilized and saved from extinction.”

In the 1820 white land lust in Georgia pressed against the Creek nation and the federal government bargained a treaty in which they surrendered 4.5 million acres. This only spurred Georgians to press for more and they turned their sights on the Cherokee. They proposed the Cherokee sell their land, but were rebuffed. Cherokee leaders appealed to Washington, but Secretary of War Calhoun in 1824 told the Cherokees they could not remain in Georgia as a separate community. That was not enough for expansionist Georgians, though. They didn’t want the Cherokee in Georgia as individual property owners either.

In 1825 U.S. negotiators made a treaty with a Creek leader who fraudulently represented himself as the authority for all Creeks. Millions of acres of Creek land were surrendered along with an agreement that the Creek would relocate west of the Mississippi. The U.S. Indian agent for the Creeks protested the fraud to Calhoun, but he never replied. He was on his way to becoming John Quincy Adams Vice-President. In all Calhoun made 41 treaties with Indian nations, all but five required Native Americans to cede land to the U.S.

Read More:
Stanley Heller: Yale’s Calhoun, Indian Removal, and #NODAPL (Indian Country Today 11/11)