Indian Chiefs Meet with President Lincoln

March 27, 1863

President Lincoln hosts Native American chiefs in the White House. “ There were nine chiefs of different nations I believe, and two squaws. As I do not wish to write out a description of the scene I will cut a slip from the National Intelligencer giving an account of it.   The Chronicle contains a full account with the speeches, but it is too long to put in here,” writes Benjamin Brown French, commissioner of buildings, in his diary.  “The Intelligencer has omitted the interesting fact that after the President took his leave, the Indians were all conducted to the Conservatory, where a photographist was in waiting and they were photographed in groups.  If the first group comes out well the face of the Com. Of Public Buildings will appear looking over the shoulder of Miss Kate Chase.”   President Lincoln tells the chiefs:

“You have all spoken of the strange sights you see here, among your pale-faced brethern; the very great number of people that you see; the big wigwams; the difference between our people and your own.  But you have seen but a very small part of the pale-faced people.  You may wonder when I tell you that there are people here in this wigwam, now looking at you, who have come from other countries a great deal off than you have come.

“We pale-faced people think that this world is a great, round ball, and we have people here of the pale-faced family who have come almost from the other side of it to represent their nations here and conduct their friendly intercourse with us, as you now come from your part of the round ball.”

Here a globe was introduced, and the President, laying his hand upon it, said:

“One of our learned men will now explain to you our notions about this great ball, and show you where you live.”

The report continued: “Professor [Joseph] Henry [of the Smithsonian]  then gave the delegation a detailed and interesting explanation of the formation of the earth, showing how much of it was waster and how much was land; and pointing out the countries with which we had intercourse.  He also showed them the position of Washington and that of their own country, from which they had come.

The President then said:

“We have people now present from all parts of the globe–here, and here, and here.  There is a great difference between this pale-faced people and their red brethern, both as to numbers and the way in which they live.  We know not whether your own situation is best for your race, but this is what has made the difference in our way of living.

“The pale-faced people are numerous and prosperous because they cultivate the earth, produce bread, and depend upon the products of the earth rather than wild game for a subsistence.

“This is the chief reason of the difference; but there is another.  Although we are now engaged in a great war between one another, we are not, as a race, so much disposed to fight and kill one another as our red brethern.

“You have asked for my advice.  I really am not capable of advising you whether, in the providence of the Great Spirit, who is the great Father of us all, it is best for  you to maintain the habits and customs of your race, or adopt a new mode of life.

“I can only say that I can see no way in which your race is to become as numerous and prosperous as the white race except by living as they do, by the cultivation of the earth.

“It is the object of this Government to be on terms of peace with you, and with all our red brethern.  We constantly endeavor to be so.  We make treaties with you, and will try to observe them; and if our children should sometimes behave badly, and violate these treaties, it is against our wish.

“You know it is not always possible for any father to have his children do precisely as he wishes them to do.

“In regard to being sent back to your own country, we have an officer, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who will take charge of that matter, and make the necessary arrangements.”

The President’s remarks were received with frequent marks of applause and approbation. ‘Ugh,’ ‘Aha’ sounded along the line as the interpreter proceeded and their countenance gave evident tokens of satisfaction.”

Published in: on March 27, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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