Exposing the GOP's Shameful Historical Role in the Native American Genocide
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Editor's Note: The genocide against Native Americans remains one of the most shameful chapters of U.S. history (and indeed one that continued through Ronald Reagan’s presidency with U.S.-backed slaughtersin Central America).
However, from the Civil War through the end of the 19th Century, the extermination campaigns also merged the dangerous forces of a standing army with the business/political interests of the Republican Party, as the Independent Institute’s Thomas J. DiLorenzo writes in the following excerpted guest essay:
The real culture of violence in the American West of the latter half of the 19th Century sprang from the U.S. government’s policies toward the Plains Indians. It is untrue that white European settlers were always at war with Indians, as popular folklore contends.
Trade and cooperation with the Indians were much more common than conflict and violence through the first half of the 19th Century.
Terry Anderson and Fred McChesney relate how Thomas Jefferson found that during his time negotiation was the Europeans’ predominant means of acquiring land from Indians. By the 20th Century, some $800 million had been paid for Indian lands.
These authors also argue that various factors can alter the incentives for trade, as opposed to waging a war of conquest as a means of acquiring land. One of the most important factors is the existence of a standing army, as opposed to militias, which were used in the American West prior to the War Between the States.
A standing army, according to Anderson and McChesney, “creates a class of professional soldiers whose personal welfare increases with warfare, even if fighting is a negative-sum act for the population as a whole.”
The change from militia to a standing army took place in the American West immediately upon the conclusion of the War Between the States. The result, write Anderson and McChesney, was that white settlers and railroad corporations were able to socialize the costs of stealing Indian lands by using violence supplied by the U.S. Army.
On their own, they were much more likely to negotiate peacefully. Thus, “raid” replaced “trade” in white–Indian relations. Congress even voted in 1871 not to ratify any more Indian treaties, effectively announcing that it no longer sought peaceful relations with the Plains Indians.
Anderson and McChesney do not consider why a standing army replaced militias in 1865, but the reason is not difficult to discern. One has only to read the official pronouncements of the soldiers and political figures who launched a campaign of extermination against the Plains Indians.
On June 27, 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman was given command of the Military District of the Missouri, which was one of the five military divisions into which the U.S. government had divided the country.
Sherman received this command for the purpose of commencing the 25-year war against the Plains Indians, primarily as a form of veiled subsidy to the government-subsidized railroad corporations and other politically connected corporations involved in building the transcontinental railroads.
These corporations were the financial backbone of the Republican Party. Indeed, in June 1861, Abraham Lincoln, former legal counsel of the Illinois Central Railroad, called a special emergency session of Congress not to deal with the two-month-old Civil War, but to commence work on the Pacific Railway Act.
Subsidizing the transcontinental railroads was a primary (if not the primary) objective of the new Republican Party.
As Dee Brown writes in Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow, a history of the building of the transcontinental railroads, Lincoln’s 1862 Pacific Railway Act “assured the fortunes of a dynasty of American families . . . the Brewsters, Bushnells, Olcotts, Harkers, Harrisons, Trowbridges, Lanworthys, Reids, Ogdens, Bradfords, Noyeses, Brooks, Cornells, and dozens of others,” all of whom were tied to the Republican Party.