GW: Life & Times

Slide 8 — Pushing the Boundaries: Address to the Senate on Native Americans

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This woodcut, produced in the late eighteenth century, shows a British officer paying the Indians on the frontier for American scalps. From the Guthman Collection. In March to Massacre: A History of the First Seven Years of the United States Army. William H. Guthman. New York: McGraw Hill, 1975, 171.

Inaugurated in New York City in April, 1789, President Washington, as he came to be called (after some discussion on the matter), got right to work.

There was plenty to do. In addition to establishing the day-to-day operation of the office of the presidency, GW had two primary concerns. He trusted Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to deal with the financial issues; European countries as well as the states themselves needed reassurance that the new government would pay its debts from the American Revolution.

Meanwhile, much of GW's time and concern was devoted to stabilizing the frontier, which by the 1790s was west of the Appalachian Mountains. (link to map of the U.S. in 1790) Both the British and the Spanish courted the Indians as allies in the Northwest and Southwest Territories and encouraged resistance to American attempts to settle there.

Peace with Native Americans was a priority for the new government– there was not enough money or a large enough army to fight a war with Indian tribes. GW believed that a peaceful frontier would not only lessen the influence of European countries, but, in the long-term, strengthen the economy of the new country. Negotiations with the Native Americans would remain a concern for generations to come.

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