Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

Ambrose, Stephen E.

Touchstone, 1996

pp. 348 - 349

The white American policy toward Indians who occupied the lands American pioneers craved was simple: “join us or get out of the way.” Thomas Jefferson was behind this policy, and, to his slight credit, much preferred that Indians should join the pioneers and revere their great white father. Jefferson wanted title to Indian lands, and it was far cheaper to gain them by fair means than by foul. “In fact, he stole all the land he could from Indians east of the Mississippi while preparing those west of the Mississippi for the same fate, after the beavers were trapped out.”

“How could the greatest champion of human rights in American history do such a thin? Jefferson (and his contemporaries) would not have regarded the question as valid. In their view Indian ideas about land ownership were a lot of foolishness. A band of Sauks rode twice a year through a territory as big as an eastern state and claimed it as their own. But that land could support thousands of farms, tens of thousands of settlers.”

In the end the approach to Indians and their territories was settled not by government policy but by the inexorable movement westward of thousands of settlers, vaguely or explicitly aware of manifest destiny: nature or fate or God intends white people to explore and inhabit lands for the Mississippi all the way to the Pacific Ocean. So here they came, and the Indians would not stop them. Their idea, more severe than earlier ones on the same topic, was simply this: to Indians they were saying, in effect, “get out of the way or get killed.” In the early 1800s and from then on, that was the prevailing white American policy.