Give Peace a Chance

By Elesha Coffman, assistant editor of CHRISTIAN HISTORY

Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee were not the only men who met at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. Grant brought several members of his staff and insisted on introducing each personally. Lee graciously shook each man's hand, but he was reportedly startled at the appearance of one of Grant's aides, Ely Parker, by whose hand the original copy of the articles of surrender were written. At first, Lee thought Parker was a freedman or mulatto, but he quickly realized Parker was actually an American Indian (Seneca, from upstate New York). "I am glad to see one real American here," Lee said. Parker is said to have responded, "We are all Americans."

Parker spent his career trying to reconcile white and native Americans—not an easy task in the late 1800s—with a plan that looks strikingly modern. After the war, when Grant was elected president, Parker was named the first American Indian commissioner of the Office of Indian Affairs. Under his leadership, with the president's support, the government took a very different approach to relations with Native Americans—"the hitherto untried policy in connection with Indians, of endeavoring to conquer by kindness." Known as the "peace policy," this plan took authority over the native population away from the military and handed it to citizens and missionaries instead. War-weary Americans hoped "Christian gentlemen" could do a better job of "civilizing" Indians (i.e. making them into white Americans).

It was a good idea, on paper. Denominations were given authority over various Indian agencies on the basis of missionary work already done ...

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