A Look at Partisan Politics
Arthur Miller is quoted as saying, in regards to the 2000 presidential election: "The Republicans who led the campaign to seize Florida in the year 2000 are descended from 125 years of lawyers and bankers with the cold nerve a fired-up greed to foreclose on many widow's home or farm."
It is quite important for us to take a look at why so many white people (especially males) are currently supporting the Republican Party, why the party has come to dominate the region from Texas through Virginia, and why most of the non-urban areas of the country west of the Mississippi are electing Republicans. It is also important especially for Native Americans to understand the GOP's record in relation to Native People, as well as that of the Democrats.
In the early days of the USA virtually all politicians were inclined to want to push Native Americans westward, acquiring lands in the process. George Washington and the Federalists were involved in western land speculation while the Democrats (Jeffersonians) were at least as aggressive after 1800.
Under Jefferson a ruthless campaign to open up Illinois-Indiana-western Ohio was undertaken, partially delayed by Tecumseh's resistance. In the meantime, Jefferson carried out the so-called "Louisiana Purchase" which was not a land purchase at all, but a bribing of Napoleon so that France would not come to the aid of Spain if the U.S. seized Louisiana. France did not possess Louisiana and did not have the right to sell it. The Spanish did not have the army to resist the U.S., however, and the Spanish flag was taken down so that a French flag could be briefly raised, then that was lowered in favor of the US flag.
In the meantime, Jefferson had already authorized the illegal Lewis and Clark expedition into Spanish and Native American territories. After 1803 the U.S. claimed a huge area never seen by any French or Spanish explorer simply on the basis of claiming the entire drainage of the Mississippi River and all of its tributaries north of the Red River. What a deal!
The removal of most of the eastern nations (Cherokees, Creeks, etc.) was carried out by the Democrats under Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, making it possible for the expansion of slavery into the lower south and then west of the Mississippi. The Democrats were a party of avaricious whites who sought in every way to enhance their wealth and privileges at the expense of Natives and African-Americans.
The rival party of the time, the Whigs, were very similar although some northern elements were shocked by the ruthlessness of the war with Mexico which resulted in the seizure of south Texas and the entire Southwest and California.
During the 1840s and 1850s, under both Democrats and Whigs, Natives and Blacks continued to suffer at the hands of an unbridled racism and relentless imperialism. Tribes lost huge areas of land east of the Missouri and were either forced onto reserves in Kansas or other areas, or, as in California and Oregon, were often simply treated as landless people with no protection from "ethnic cleansing" campaigns by local white terrorists.
During the period of the 1850s the Bureau of Indian Affairs got underway, with a new policy of attempting to treat First Americans as "wards" (incompetents) rather than as citizens of sovereign tribes. This occurred under the exceedingly. bad administrations of Pierce and Buchanan, which allowed ethnocide to occur in the Far West.
In the election of 1860 the issue of slavery divided both major political parties and a new party, that of the Republicans, was able to elect Abraham Lincoln. The GOP began life as a northern party, supported by small farmers and small merchants-townspeople, many of whom had been Whigs before.
There were two elements of vital importance, a reforming, anti-slavery element with a tendency towards taking moral positions on issues (within a strongly Protestant Christian context), and business-oriented, banker-capitalist-merchant element strongly in favor of commercial expansion. Some big-city working-class elements remained in the Democratic Party which, however, was soon discredited by Southern secession from the USA. With the South out of the USA, the Republicans were able to establish virtually complete control of the country after 1860 and until the mid-80s. In fact, except for two terms of Grover Cleveland in the 80s and 90s, the GOP ran the United States until the election of Wilson, a Southern Democrat, in 1912.
They took control again in 1920 and ran the USA until 1932. Between the 1860s, then, and late 1930s, the large majority of the Supreme Court and other federal judges were Republicans, as were most heads of the Interior Department and BIA. This is crucial because virtually all of the very horrible court decisions which took away Native sovereignty, allowed the abrogation of treaties, and which allowed Native persons to be deprived of all civil rights (as "wards" without any constitutional rights) were rendered during Republican dominance.
We can summarize by saying that the Republicans continued the Democratic policy of stealing as much land as possible from Native People (Dawes Allotment Act, etc.), but at the same time they added a new dimension in that Native Americans were to be "neither fish nor fowl," that is, they could not be citizens of Indian nations (which were abolished basically) nor could they be citizens of the USA (except on an individual basis as a result of a gift from the Federal government). In other words, a totalitarian system of reservation control was established which could not be escaped from, except in a few rare cases. (This topic will be continued in a future column).
© 2003 Professor Jack D. Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is a historian, social critic, and poet, covering issues of international and inter-ethnic relations for 45 years. He is the author of Red Blood, Africans and Native Americans, Apache, Navaho and Spaniard and other books. He is professor emeritus of Native American Studies, University of California, Davis. He can be contacted at his web site.
This article was originally published in News From Indian Country January 26, 2004.