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American Indians and State Law

Sovereignty, Race, and Citizenship, 1790-1880

Deborah A. Rosen

Publication Year: 2007

American Indians and State Law examines the history of state and territorial policies, laws, and judicial decisions pertaining to Native Americans from 1790 to 1880. Belying the common assumption that Indian policy and regulation in the United States were exclusively within the federal government’s domain, the book reveals how states and territories extended their legislative and judicial authority over American Indians during this period. Deborah A. Rosen uses discussions of nationwide patterns, complemented by case studies focusing on New York, Georgia, New Mexico, Michigan, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Massachusetts, to demonstrate the decentralized nature of much of early American Indian policy.

This study details how state and territorial governments regulated American Indians and brought them into local criminal courts, as well as how Indians contested the actions of states and asserted tribal sovereignty. Assessing the racial conditions of incorporation into the American civic community, Rosen examines the ways in which state legislatures treated Indians as a distinct racial group, explores racial issues arising in state courts, and analyzes shifts in the rhetoric of race, culture, and political status during state constitutional conventions. She also describes the politics of Indian citizenship rights in the states and territories. Rosen concludes that state and territorial governments played an important role in extending direct rule over Indians and in defining the limits and the meaning of citizenship.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

During the century following the end of the Revolutionary War, the states governed American Indians in a variety of ways, belying the common assumption that Indian policy and regulation in the United States was exclusively within the federal government’s domain. ...

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Introduction: The Colonial Foundations of Indian Policy

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pp. 1-16

The status of indigenous peoples in the Western intellectual scheme has been a continuing dilemma since the arrival of the first Europeans in the Americas. Once European explorers discovered the existence of the “New World,” resolved that they had the right to travel to and through that world, ...

Part One: Sovereignty

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Chapter 1. Tribal Sovereignty and State Jurisdiction

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pp. 19-50

On May 3, 1821, Chaughquawtaugh, a Seneca Indian woman, was found dead near Buffalo Creek in western New York State. At an inquest held by the local New York coroner, the jurors determined that Chaughquawtaugh had died as a result of a slit throat; they concluded that murder charges should be brought against a Seneca Indian chief ...

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Chapter 2. The State Sovereignty Argument for Local Regulation

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pp. 51-80

From the perspective of state government officials, the primary legal challenge to states’ authority to regulate Indians came from the federal government, not the tribes. Accordingly, the main legal issue in state cases, including Jemmy, Goodell, Tassels, Forman, and Caldwel, was not tribal sovereignty ...

Part Two: Race

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Chapter 3. Slavery, the Law of Nations, and Racial Classification

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pp. 83-101

English settlers first established themselves in what became the American South in 1607, and the first Africans were brought to this early English colony in the Chesapeake in 1619. By the end of the seventeenth century, local legislation severely restricted the rights of Africans and their descendants, and a race-based institution of slavery was well established in Virginia.1 ...

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Chapter 4. Indians and Racial Discrimination

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pp. 102-127

Although one of the most basic principles of early American democracy was that general laws were to be uniform in application, the precept did not require laws to apply in exactly the same way to every person in the jurisdiction. Instead, as explained in an 1869 California case, it simply mandated that the laws ...

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Chapter 5. Debating Race, Culture, and Political Status

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pp. 128-152

The statutes described in the preceding chapter provide irrefutable evidence of discrimination against Native Americans. However, examining the language of the laws alone does not reveal white Americans’ reasons for treating Indians differently from whites. ...

Part Three: Citizenship

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Chapter 6. State Citizenship by Legislative Action

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pp. 155-179

During the early national and antebellum periods, while the states regulated many Indians within their boundaries and quietly absorbed some individual Native Americans into their communities, they generally refrained from declaring all Indians to be citizens. This situation changed in many Northern states in the 1860s, with New England states leading the way. ....

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Chapter 7. The Politics of Indian Citizenship

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pp. 180-201

The debate about the appropriate status of Native peoples in the European-American political structure that began during the earliest years of European exploration and settlement in the Americas continued into the nineteenth century. As previous chapters illustrate, local jurisdictions unilaterally regulated Indians ...

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Conclusion: State Law and Direct Rule over Indians

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pp. 202-218

The states led the way to incorporating Indians into American society between 1790 and 1880. During the nine decades following the ratification of the Constitution, the states applied their laws directly to Indians within state borders, brought Indians into the legal order by giving them access to law courts ...


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pp. 219-224


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pp. 225-298


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pp. 299-326


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pp. 327-340

E-ISBN-13: 9780803209893
E-ISBN-10: 0803209894

Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 182576439
MUSE Marc Record: Download for American Indians and State Law

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Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- History.
  • Indians of North America -- Government relations -- History.
  • Citizenship -- United States -- States -- History.
  • U.S. states -- Race relations -- History.
  • States' rights (American politics) -- History.
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