Thomas Loraine McKenney was born March 21, 1785 in Hopewell, Maryland into a Quaker family.
During the American Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress had authorized Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry to negotiate treaties with Native Americans seeking their neutrality.
In 1789, perhaps based on its perceived threat, the United States Congress decided to place Native American relations within the newly formed War Department.
Then in 1816, Congress appointed Thomas L. McKenney as the Superintendent of Indian Trade. The new position was charged with maintaining the trading network within the fur trade.
When the factory style fur trade system was abolished in 1822, McKenney was no longer needed and he left his post. This left a vacuum within the U.S. government regarding Native American relations.
Office of Indian Affairs
On March 11, 1824 Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, under President James Monroe, created the Office of Indian Affairs as a division within his United States War department without authorization from the United States Congress.
Calhoun then appointed Thomas L. McKenney as the first head of the new “Indian Office.”
As Superintendent of Indian Affairs, McKenney supervised the negotiation and ratification of some 38 treaties with Indian tribes, advocating the “civilization” of the American Indian.
McKenney became an avid promoter of Indian removal west of the Mississippi River.
Then in 1830, President Andrew Jackson dismissed McKenney from his position when Jackson disagreed with his opinion that “the Indian was, in his intellectual and moral structure, our equal.”
In 1832, Congress established the position of Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
By 1849, Indian Affairs was transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Thomas McKenney died in New York City February 19, 1859.
The Office of Indian Affairs went on to have many controversial policies.
One of the most controversial was the late 19th century decision to educate Native American children in separate boarding schools, with an emphasis on assimilation that prohibited them from using their indigenous languages, practices, and cultures. Some were even beaten for praying to their own creator god.
In 1869, Ely Samuel Parker became the first Native American to be appointed as commissioner of Indian affairs.
The Office of Indian Affairs was renamed the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1947.
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