Synopses & Reviews
Between the early seventeenth century and the early twentieth, nearly all the land in the United States was transferred from American Indians to whites. This dramatic transformation has been understood in two very different ways--as a series of consensual transactions, but also as a process of violent conquest. Both views cannot be correct. How did Indians actually lose their land?
Stuart Banner provides the first comprehensive answer. He argues that neither simple coercion nor simple consent reflects the complicated legal history of land transfers. Instead, time, place, and the balance of power between Indians and settlers decided the outcome of land struggles. As whites' power grew, they were able to establish the legal institutions and the rules by which land transactions would be made and enforced.
This story of America's colonization remains a story of power, but a more complex kind of power than historians have acknowledged. It is a story in which military force was less important than the power to shape the legal framework within which land would be owned. As a result, white Americans--from eastern cities to the western frontiers--could believe they were buying land from the Indians the same way they bought land from one another. How the Indians Lost Their Land dramatically reveals how subtle changes in the law can determine the fate of a nation, and our understanding of the past.
Banner's book, which is well suited for undergraduate use, is awonderful introduction to a surprisingly complex subject. Banner covers with brevity andstyle the entire period from the first English settlements through the General AllotmentAct of 1887. He discusses the land policies pursued by the English and Americangovernments as well as the intellectual and legal justifications for thosepolicies...Banner skillfully avoids casting this tale as a simple morality play.
Stuart Banner has written an intriguing account examining the dynamicand convoluted territorial, legal, political, and economic relationships amongindigenous nations and colonial nations...This is a book with real verve and merit...Itdeftly addresses important questions regarding land and sovereignty that continue tohave great legal, property, and moral potency today.
[An] important new study...Despite the common belief that colonists simply took what they wanted by right of conquest, Banner shows that English colonial policy recognized Indians as legitimate owners of the land. That policy was continued by the American nation-state. If the colonies--or, later, the US federal government--wanted Indian land, it had to be purchased or otherwise obtained by cession through legitimate treaty. This policy, Banner argues, developed not out of respect for Indians but out of concern for settlers. After all, it was far less expensive to purchase land than to expend the blood and treasure required to seize it. And deeds of sale or treaties of cession provided a much firmer legal foundation for a property system than did wars of conquest. Banner acknowledges that raw power was important. As settlers grew stronger in relation to Indians, he argues, fraud and violence became more widespread. Yet the legal formalities were preserved. Booklist
In deceptively simple prose, Stuart Banner lays out the complexities and contradictions of the long history of how Anglo-Americans justified the dispossession of Native Americans. His even-handed exploration of the moral gymnastics necessary for lawyers, politicians, and writers to make expropriation seem logical and Native participation voluntary breathes new life into the old saying about the pen proving mightier than the sword. Daniel K. Richter, author of < i=""> Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America <>
In a subtle and sometimes startling reinterpretation of 18th and 19th century North American land transfers, Stuart Banner shows how relentlessly expansionary colonial powers met active and savvy Indians who worked to protect their interests as best they could. In the end, it was the English and American power to declare what was lawful that transformed power into right and facilitated increasingly involuntary land transfers at extraordinarily low prices, leaving the Indians worse off than before and bereft of a continent. Joseph William Singer, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Banner's well-documented history addresses the question of how repeated land sales drove Indians west, with a careful detailing of transactions from the 1600s to the 1900s. Did the Indians think they were agreeing only to 'share resources,' and were the English aware of the Indians' increasing poverty as a result of these one-sided transactions? The author describes how land sales changed from contracts between private parties to treaties between sovereign nations after the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, followed by the convenient perception of Native Americans not as owners of their land but merely as occupants. Deborah Donovan
Between the early seventeenth century and the early twentieth, nearly all the land in the United States was transferred from American Indians to whites. How did Indians actually lose their land? Stuart Banner argues that neither simple coercion nor simple consent reflects the complicated legal history of land transfers. Instead, time, place, and the balance of power between Indians and settlers decided the outcome of land struggles.
About the Author
Stuart Banner is Norman Abrams Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles.
UCLA School of Law
Table of Contents
1. Native Proprietors
2. Manhattan for Twenty-four Dollars
3. From Contract to Treaty
4. A Revolution in Land Policy
5. From Ownership to Occupancy