Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Presentations and Activities > Elections

Introduction   African Americans    Women    Native Americans    Voters Today

Many government officials felt the Native Americans should be assimilated into America's mainstream culture before they became enfranchised. We hear this similar discussion, today, when we talk about the rights of citizenship for recent immigrants. Was the treatment of Native Americans an analogous situation? Does the fact that they were here before the "founding fathers" change our perspective? We once called America a "melting pot" in which the differences of its citizens are melded into a "blended" whole. Now we often think of America as a "salad bowl," in which the contributing "ingredients" maintain their own individual "flavors" while creating a pleasing "whole." Might a "salad bowl" viewpoint have changed the Founding Fathers' perspective about voting rights for Native Americans?

In an 1874 report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, P.B. Sinnott, a U.S. Indian Agent, expressed optimism in their capacity to assimilate.

...the Indians are gradually but surely approaching that standard of civilized life which will entitle them to be recognized as citizens. The capacity exhibited by them in the management of their local government...demonstrates that they have an appreciation of the science of government, and could readily adapt themselves to the intelligent exercise of elective franchise.

The Dawes Act of 1887 was passed to help spur assimilation. It provided for the dissolution of Native American tribes as legal entities and the distribution of tribal lands among individual members (capped at 160 acres per head of family, 80 acres per adult single person) with remaining lands declared "surplus" and offered to non-Indian homesteaders. Among other things, it established Indian schools where Native American children were instructed in not only reading and writing, but also the social and domestic customs of white America.

previous page