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  • George Washington's War on Native America, and: The Political Philosophy of George Washington
  • Stuart Leibiger (bio)
George Washington's War on Native America. By Barbara Alice Mann. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008. Pp. xii, 295. Maps. Paper, $17.95.)
The Political Philosophy of George Washington. By Jeffry H. Morrison. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. Pp. xxiv, 226. Cloth, $40.00.)

Historians have gone from celebrating United States military campaigns against Native America in the nineteenth century to condemning them as [End Page 529] genocide in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Barbara Alice Mann for the first time fully documents the crimes committed against the Indians during the Revolutionary War. Instead of relying only upon biased U.S. documents, Mann also mines British and Indian sources, especially neglected Indian oral tradition. In painstaking detail, Mann chronicles Colonel Goose Van Schaick's 1779 attack on the Onondagas in New York, and General John Sullivan's and Colonel Daniel Brodhead's 1779 campaigns against Iroquois in New York and Pennsylvania. Mann also examines the Ohio expeditions of George Rogers Clark and Brodhead in 1781. Finally, she details Colonel David Williamson's mass murder of 128 Moravian Indians at Gnadenhutten, Ohio, in 1782. American officials gave several reasons for launching these attacks: to obtain revenge for Indian atrocities, to make the frontier safe for settlement, and to take British allies out of the war. The real reasons for the campaigns, Mann insists, were to acquire Indian land for the United States, and to exterminate the entire Indian population through genocide.

Several common themes run through these campaigns. The United States invariably covered up its own atrocities but exaggerated and publicized the few Indian atrocities for propaganda purposes. Whereas Indians did not kill prisoners (soldiers or civilians) and never raped female captives, Americans took the lives of combatant and noncombatant Indians alike, often scalping or skinning their victims. The women who were spared were often raped. Outnumbered and powerless to stop the U.S. forces advancing toward them, Indians abandoned their towns to the enemy, who looted and burned them. For example, Mann calculates that Sullivan's 5,000 troops destroyed 41 Indian towns, 700 multifamily homes, and 400,000 bushels of crops. As many as 10,000 fleeing Indian refugees died of exposure, starvation, and disease during the severe winter of 1780. Instead of describing murder and destruction, the commanding officers' official reports exaggerated Indian resistance, even claiming that American forces fought courageously to defeat superior numbers of Indian warriors.

Mann concludes that these campaigns were a failure, and that "Washington [End Page 530] actually lost the Revolutionary War in the west" (112) because he drove the Indians into alliance with the British, and to seek revenge on the United States through frontier raids. There is some truth to this claim, but it is not the whole truth. While most Indians may have gone over to the British, Mann herself admits that their fighting potency had been sharply diminished. And she fails to prove that the western campaigns had no bearing on Great Britain's decision to cede the Northwest to the U.S. in the 1783 peace. Moreover, by subscribing to the myth that all combatants immediately understood that Yorktown effectively ended the war, Mann dubiously infers that any subsequent Indian campaigns were motivated purely by hatred and greed. Although as commander in chief Washington planned the Indian campaigns and selected the officers to lead them, he is not (as the title suggests), the main character in the narrative. Mann's assertion, moreover, that "Washington laid more careful plans for the destruction of Iroquoia than for any other campaign in his life" (56) is dubious. Amazingly, Mann even falls for the myth that Washington had wooden teeth (42).

If generations of historians have sanitized and glorified Washington's Revolutionary War Indian campaigns, the same cannot be said of their treatment of his political thought. In The Political Philosophy of George Washington, Jeffry H. Morrison refutes the myth that President Washington was a figurehead led by highly intellectual subordinates including Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Morrison seeks "to provide a brief readable introduction to Washington's political...


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