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Scott Stabler - Research - General Ulysses S. Grant


General Ulysses S. Grant

My work on Ulysses S. Grant offers a new perspective on a person most know as the leader of the Union Army that defeated the Confederacy in the American Civil War. Little work has been done on his original and unique policy involving American Indians during his presidency.

Having grown up in Texas believing that Grant was a butcher and a drunk, I was astonished when I learned in my second semester of graduate school about his relatively progressive and humane Indian policy. Grant's Peace Policy would try to put the olive branch before the sword when possible. A major part of the policy involved using religious missionaries as reservation agents to diminish Office of Indian Affairs corruption, placate the Natives, and peacefully assimilate them into reservation life. Grant hoped that the missionaries would treat the Natives as they had the freedmen during Reconstruction: with compassion, fairness, and assist them in becoming more "civilized." Until Grant's second term, this course of action remained relatively popular, especially in the East.

The placement of people, many historically nomadic, on reservations to become static agriculturalists caused many violent outbreaks as Indian nations resisted the federal government's attempts to restrict their movements and change their way of life. The policy, culturally na´ve in regards to American Indian ways, tried to alter the foreseeable destruction of Native Americans by extending an olive branch first and, if not successful, bringing the sword to bear. The sword came regularly, as did the white settlers that flooded the western United States after the end of the Civil War.

In an 1872 letter, President Grant reflected his readiness to resort to force, with regards to American Indians and the reservation system. He wrote General Schofield, "Indians who will not put themselves under the restraints required will have to be forced even to the extent of making war upon them to submit to measures that will ensure security to the white settlers of the Territories. I believe in war when it is necessary, but it must be for a definite cause and pushed with vigor and brought to an end." Grant went on to state how he "believed in peace, but only the peace that ensured security and justice. Let us gather these Indians on reservation and have force enough to keep them and protect them there." [1] The practice of protecting whites and Natives (on reservations) proved impracticable, but it was attempted-these attempts need historical exploration as they impact white/American Indian relations today.

[1] USG to Schofield, 6 March 1872, quoted in Prescott Weekly Miner, 11 May 1872, 2:3 and Tucson Arizona Citizen, 20 April 1872, 1:1-5. Schofield never took part in a military campaign against Natives.


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