How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier
Stuart Banner (2005) Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; ISBN-9780674023963
This book explains in detail, with attention to various arguments and changes in thinking over time, how the English and then Americans justified acquiring the land of the Indians in North America. If you grow up in the U.S., as I did, your frame of reference is a country where the descendants of Europeans own nearly the entire continent. You are aware that it once belonged to Indian tribes, but you have only a vague understanding how the Europeans could simply take it. The Indians once had it, and then suddenly they didn't. It was never clear exactly how that happened, and I admit, I never inquired too deeply. This book explains in detail how the acquisition of Indian land went from purchasing to extortion to forced Indian removal, with variations by region and with methods and justifications that evolved over time. While this book is not exactly a relaxing read, it is easy enough for a lay reader to understand, despite the emphasis on legal rulings. I recommend it highly, provided the reader is willing to study with focus.
Because this book does not spend much time on showing Indian resistance, except when it is evidenced in legal rulings,, some may wonder how the Indians fought against these pressures. Stories of Indian resistance will be found in other books. This volume is clearly focused on the legal thinking and rulings that led to Indians losing their land.
It may take me a while, but I'd like to make this page a TL;DR version of the book. Stay tuned for some summarized information and quotes. Meanwhile, here are a few quotes that I think are pertinent:
"If, after the sight of all these riches, they still hesitate [to sell their land], it is hinted that they cannot refuse to consent to what is asked of them and that soon the government itself will be powerless to guarantee them the enjoyment of their rights. What can they do? Half convinced, half constrained, the Indians go off to dwell in new wildernesses, where the white men will not let them remain in peace for ten years. In this way the Americans cheaply acquire whole provinces which the richest sovereigns in Europe could not afford to buy." - Alexis de Tocqueville, from Democracy in America, 1835, 1840. (p. 196-`97)
"You must be sensible that it will be impossible for you to remain for any length of time in your present situation as a distinct Society of Nations, within the limits of Georgia. Such a community is incompatible with our System and must yield to it." - U.S. Commissioners to Creek Chiefs, 11 Dec. 1824, Document TCC181, SNA.
... we have a land system which we believe to be better than any you can devise for us. Individual rights are fully respected, but the rights of the whole people are not destroyed. Cannot you leave us alone to try our plan while you are trying yours? - Dennis Bushyhead, Cherokee chief, 1878 (p. 265)