A policy for permanently separating Native Americans from white settlers, the Permanent Indian Frontier had its roots in earlier plans suggested by presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe for dealing with conflicts between Indians and whites. Jefferson had proposed in 1803 that these conflicts could be solved by persuading nations to trade their lands east of the Mississippi for lands west of the river. Clearly dividing Indian and white lands would, he hoped, eliminate the violent confrontations on the frontier that were making western expansion difficult. He assumed that the amount of land east of the Mississippi would satisfy white demand for many generations. In 1825, Monroe officially proposed the concept of a permanent dividing line west of Missouri. He asserted that this policy would protect the Indians, who could form and administer their own separate government.
President Andrew Jackson supported removal to the West but opposed treating Native Americans as an independent nation. His concept of permanent relocation was passed in the Indian Removal Act (1830). After this policy was initiated in the 1830s, almost all eastern Native Americans were forced to move west of the Mississippi River. However, violent conflict between Indians and whites persisted, as American settlers continued to encroach on Indian lands. The U. S. government began looking for a way to defuse the conflict between Indians and white settlers for good. In an effort to establish the boundaries of settlement, the government proposed the creation of a “permanent Indian frontier” at about the 95th meridian (near the present-day western boundaries of Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa). Officials hoped that by setting aside this large area for Native Americans, further conflicts with white settlers could be avoided. This frontier would, in essence, be a single large reservation for Indians.
But before this new policy had been implemented, white emigrants were already crossing the line on overland trails to CALIFoRNIA and trespassing onto the Indian territory itself in an attempt to settle there. The Permanent Indian Frontier was difficult to enforce, and within 10 years the federal government had caved in to pressure from white settlers, abandoning the idea of one large Indian reservation. After the 1850s, government policy was to relocate Indian nations to many smaller, isolated reservations. Indian leaders were forced by economic necessity and intimidation into signing land cession treaties. They accepted goods, annuities, and small reservations in exchange for the large tracts needed to quench the white thirst for new lands. The new small-reservation plan was the latest in a string of policies that rendered Native Americans increasingly dependent on white traders and government officials in order to survive. The annuity money did not go far and was often not even paid, and soon Indians in the West were suffering from disease, malnutrition, and alcoholism.
Trapped on reservations, Indian nations were less and less able to support themselves through their traditional means of hunting and agriculture. On small reservations, they were supposed to learn Euro-American farming practices and live like whites. Most continued to resist this pressure to adopt white ways, and open conflict between the United States and Native Americans continued in scattered pockets until the 1890s. The fate of the Permanent Indian Frontier embodies the general trend of U. S. Indian policy throughout the 19th century: Indian rights to land were consistently discarded because white Americans would not accept limits on their own settlement rights.
Further reading: Francis Paul Prucha, The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians, 2 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984); Robert A. Trennert, Jr., Alternatives to Extinction: Federal Indian Policy and the Beginnings of the Reservation System, 1846-1851 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1975).
—Eleanor H. McConnell
Perry, Matthew Galbraith (1794-1858) naval officer who opened Japan to U. S. trade
Commander of the naval expedition that established U. S. relations with Japan, Matthew Calbraith Perry was born on April 10, 1794, in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, the brother of Oliver Hazard Perry. He began his naval career as midshipman at the age of 15, advancing to lieutenant in 1813 and to commander in 1826. Perry supervised the construction of the first naval steamship, the Fulton, and upon its completion in 1837, he took command with the rank of captain. He was promoted to commodore in 1842. In 1846-47, he commanded the Gulf squadron during the Mexican-American War.
As commander of U. S. naval forces in the China seas, Perry was a staunch expansionist. In 1852, he warned President Millard Fillmore that the British, who had already taken control of Hong Kong and Singapore, would soon control all trade in the area. Perry recommended that the United States take “active measures to secure a number of ports of refuge” in Japan. Fillmore agreed with Perry, and in 1853 he ordered the commodore to open negotiations with the emperor of Japan.
American ships had long been active in the Pacific, as New England whaling fleets scoured the ocean in search of their prey. The China trade had been enriching Yankee merchants since 1784. Japan, however, had effectively closed its doors to outsiders, and it restricted foreign ships to a small port of Nagasaki. For more than 200 years, a strict feudal system operated, and no foreigner was allowed to enter Japan at all. Even shipwrecked sailors were forced to remain so that no information about the country could leak out. The Dutch had established trading relations with the Japanese in the early 1600s, but were then forced, in 1641, to remove themselves and all future trading via an artificial island called Decima.
On July 8, 1853, Perry led a squadron of four ships into Tokyo Bay and presented representatives of the emperor with the text of a proposed treaty for commerce and friendship. To give the reluctant Japanese time to consider the offer, he then sailed for China. With an even more powerful fleet, he returned to Tokyo in February 1854 and came ashore to meet with representatives of the ruling shogun. He was accompanied by 600 men and a naval band. The Japanese signed the Treaty of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854, providing that humane treatment be extended to sailors shipwrecked in Japanese territory, that U. S. ships be permitted to buy coal in Japan, and that the ports of Shi-moda and Hakodate be opened to U. S. commerce. Perry’s mission ended Japan’s isolation, a prerequisite for its subsequent development into a modern nation. Matthew Calbraith Perry died in New York City on March 4, 1858.
Further reading: George Feifer, Breaking Open Japan: Commodore Perry, Lord Abe, and American Imperialism in 1853 (New York: Smithsonian Books/Collins, 2006); John Schroeder, Matthew Calbraith Perry: Antebellum Soldier and Diplomat (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001).