chapter  1
Native Americans and the American Revolution
Pages 16

At the very outset of the American Revolution Thomas Jefferson gave an indication that the liberties for which the rebels fought would be limited. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence famously declared: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These words seemingly transformed the British-American contest from a relatively narrow dispute about taxation and sovereignty, to a more universal struggle over liberty and the meaning of equality. The Declaration also included a lengthy indictment of George III. Among the king’s supposed misdeeds, Jefferson alleged, “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” Jefferson referred to the British efforts to encourage slave rebellions in America (see Chapter 6) and to recruit Native Americans in order to suppress the American rebellion. By juxtaposing the claim to universal equality with accusations of African and Native American treachery and savagery, Jefferson suggested that these groups were not entitled to the rights and liberties enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Between 1763 and 1815, Native Americans in eastern North America sought to maintain their autonomy and independence in the midst of the struggle between Britain and its rebellious colonies, latterly the United States, for hegemony. For Native Americans, the era of the American Revolution saw the steady diminution of their rights to life, liberty, and happiness while British Americans sought to claim these for themselves. When viewed from the perspective of “Indian country,” the limits of the Revolution become apparent.