1871 - Congress terminates the treaty system

Westward migration made it more and more difficult for Congress to enforce treaty restrictions on white settlers. Tensions on the frontier eventually engulfed every western tribe into a war with the interlopers despite the hundreds of treaties of peace that had been negotiated in the previous half century.

        The last treaty was made with the Nez Perce and was broken just a few years later, leading to the Nez Perce War. 

         A move to end the treaty system was in full swing in the House of Representatives by the late 1860s.  Caleb H.  Smith, commissioner of Indian affairs, supported an official repudiation of treaties and the imposition of an allotment program.  Smith urged Congress to declare Indians to be the dependent wards of the government and to let his bureau be the primary authority over their land and lives.

Nez Perce Family

  A Nez Perce family


         There were plenty of congressmen of the day who would have voted for such legislation, but the end of treaty making came about as a pragmatic solution to the jealousy of members of the U.S. House of Representatives who resented the relationship between the president and the U.S. Senate in the business of making and executing Indian policy.  They also felt that tribes should be dealt with in general legislation rather than through treaties that were protected by the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, a pre-condition that formally recognized tribes as semi-autonomous governments bodies with independent powers.  In order to achieve the ends of Manifest Destiny, the American landscape needed to be swept clear of the savages who still had a legal right to self-rule. 

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         The end of the process was little more than a way of resolving petty jealousies between the House and the Senate.  Tiring of having to pay out annuities to tribes who signed treaties ratified by the U.S. Senate, the House demanded an end to the process through an amendment it attached to the appropriations bill of 1871. 

         This action brought an end to the second treaty era, but not to removals, which would continue until the western tribes had been herded onto reservations.