Without Doors: Native Nations and the Convention
54 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2021 Last revised: 23 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 20, 2021
The Constitution’s apparent textual near silence with respect to Native Nations is misleading. As this Article reveals, four representatives of Native Nations visited Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. Their visit ensured that the Constitution secured the general government’s treaty authority with Native Nations and decisively barred state claims of authority. But, the visits also threatened to disrupt Congress’s passage of the Northwest Ordinance and the vision of nationally sanctioned white settlement. In the process of successfully preventing the representatives from reaching Congress, Secretary at War Henry Knox developed the central tenets of what would become the George Washington administration’s early Indian policy: an acceptance of Native Nation sovereignty, disapproval of unauthorized white encroachment, and an attempt to discourage Native Nations from sending additional representatives. In addition to emphasizing the strong national federal government role and Native Nation sovereignty, this history provides evidence that the Framers’ generation without doors—outside the Convention—critically affected the creation of the Constitution as an instrument and a system of government. Recovering the visits of the deputies to Philadelphia in 1787 and the promises they received, including Washington’s handshake, suggests that the United States today should reaffirm the right and the importance of Native Nations sending deputies to Congress.
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