The Midwest Peace Process

July 14, 2016

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In 1793 a great council was held, to which came the chiefs and headmen of the Delawares, and of twelve other tribes, to meet commissioners of the United States, for one last effort to settle the vexed boundary question.  The records of this council are profoundly touching.  The Indians reiterated over and over the provisions of the old treaties which had established the Ohio River as one of their boundaries.  Their words were not the words of ignorant barbarians, clumsily and doggedly holding to a point; they were the words of clear-headed, statesman-like rulers, insisting on the rights of their nations.  As the days went on, and it became more and more clear that the United States commissioners would not agree to the establishment of the boundary for which the Indians contended, the speeches of the chiefs grow sadder and sadder . . .

‘You have talked to us about concessions.  It appears strange that you should expect any from us, who have only been defending our just rights against your invasions.  We want peace.  Restore to us our country, and we shall be enemies no longer.

We desire you to consider, brothers, that our only demand is the peaceable possession of a small part of our once great country.  Look back and review the lands from whence we have been driven to this spot.  We can retreat no farther, because the country behind hardly affords food for its present inhabitants, and we have therefore resolved to leave our bones in this small space to which we are now confined’.

The commissioners replied that to make the Ohio River the boundary was now impossible; that they sincerely regretted that peace could not be made; but, ‘knowing the upright and liberal views of the United States’, they trust that ‘impartial judges will not attribute the continuance of the war to them’.

Notice was sent to the governor that the Indians ‘refused to make peace’; and General Anthony Wayne, a few weeks later, wrote to the Secretary of War, ‘The safety of the Western frontiers, the reputation of the legion, the dignity and interest of the nation—all forbid a retrograde manoeuvre, or giving up one inch of ground we now possess, till the enemy are compelled to sue for peace’.

– H.H. Jackson, A Century of Dishonour: A sketch of the United States Government’s dealings with some of the Indian tribes (Massachusetts: Corner House, 1979 [1881]), pp. 41-43.