The almost two centuries that preceded the implementation of the U.S. Constitution in 1789 were the formative years of Indian-white contact in America. European colonists and American Indians evolved basic patterns of coexistence_sometimes harmonious, often contentious_that lasted with few fundamental changes until the twentieth century. Those patterns continue to influence governmental policies and judicial decisions.
Knowledge of early Indian-white contacts has long been hampered by the inaccessibility of historical sources. Charles J. Kappler_s well-known collection, Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, does not include this early material. Some records have been published piecemeal and incompletely; others not at all. There has been no thorough compilation of the most crucial items: the treaties between the early governments and the Indian tribes and the laws concerning Indians passed by colonial and early national legislatures.
Without access to that vital and immense literature_much of it in manuscript, the rest scattered through hundreds of disparate volumes_many of today_s most important historical and legal questions must remain unanswered. Such questions concern specific matters of tribal rights, land titles, and state boundaries, as well as less tangible but equally important issues of ethnic discrimination and assimilation.
Early American Indian Documents brings together the laws relating to the American Indians passed by colonial, state, and national governments before 1789 and all significant diplomatic documents (i.e., treaties, conferences, and official correspondence) of the same period. Scholars in several fields_especially law, anthropology, and ethno-history_will find that the collection_s chronological scope and inclusive documentation result in an unparalleled source for the reassessment of early America.