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Reconstructing Approaches to America’s Indian Problem: Indian Policy in the Late Nineteenth Century

Pupils at The United States Indian Industrial School, established by Richard Pratt in 1879.

U.S. History Scene
Oct 2015

The decline of Native American political autonomy in the second half of the nineteenth century was one of the results of increasing national authority that also irrevocably changed the character of the American West. With its powers invigorated by the demands of war, the federal government, having abolished slavery, turned in the post-war period to address its remaining, and largely western, racial and moral problem groups: the Mormons, the Chinese, and Native Americans. Native American populations, living at various stages of what nineteenth-century Americans called civilization, proved a particularly tricky segment of the population to integrate into the American body politic.  Preparing Native Americans for the new social and political order of the postwar United States necessitated new approaches to Indian policy, producing a massive and multifaceted Reconstruction program that forever altered Native American life and the contours of the American West.