Harper's Weekly Editorials on Carl Schurz/Our Troublesome Question
In response to the petition from the Indians in the Indian Territory, asking that the laws of the United States may be enforced for their protection, the President has issued a proclamation warning all intruders that they will be peremptorily removed, and, if necessary, by military power. This is just and reasonable. It shows that this Administration does not mean to allow the poor and friendless to be oppressed. But while this is what every honest citizen means also, the question itself, “the problem,” still remains. If there were as much statesmanship as politics in Congress or among public men, it would not be long before this great subject would be fully considered, and a wise and comprehensive policy adopted.
Obviously there are but three ways in which the Indians can be regarded — as a foreign people, as wards of the nation, or as ordinary citizens. Our practice has been to treat with tribes as nations, but under this pretext we have imposed our own will upon them as wards. To carry out this policy by supplies of food and clothing, there is a system of civilian agencies, and the army is summoned only when there are actual outbreaks of the Indians, escapes from reservations, or raids upon settlements. The net result of the policy thus far pursued is enormous expense, wrong, and crime, and general impatience or indifference with the whole subject. Secretary Schurz has sought to correct abuses in the system, and to promote the civilization of the Indians, which must be the ultimate aim of any sensible policy, and, like all his predecessors, he has been deceived in the characters of some of the agents with whom he has been obliged to deal. But nobody has hinted or suspected that he had any other purpose in his administration of the department than the public welfare, based upon honest treatment of all concerned. If there have been scandals and corruption in the management of Indian affairs, they have not been brought home to the Secretary's office, nor have they even pointed at it; and despite the exposure of Mr. Hayt's offenses, and the Ute massacre, and the wrongs of the Poncas, it is long since there has been a head of the department whose sincere interest in the subject, and whose intelligence and integrity and ability in its general administration, are superior to those of Secretary Schurz.
If, from the necessity of the case, the Indians are still to be treated as wards, the true policy is to make them as secure as possible, because without the sense of security the process of civilization will be constantly retarded. For this purpose a military supervision would be better than the present system. Much of the trouble with them and from them now arises from cheating them in supplies. This is almost unavoidable under a system of political agents, and with the kind of population that hovers around a reservation. The army administration is honest and inflexible, and it supplies its own police. Force would be seldom necessary if it were always at hand, because the Indians respect the power which is plainly able to assert itself. At the same time, the policy of extermination, which is so popular with some Western politicians, is worthy of savages only. Whatever advancing civilization demands, it does not require the foulest injustice; and wherever injustice is urged, it is evident that barbarism has demoralized advancing civilization.