A Tale of Two Faith-Based Initiatives
The two programs, one begun in 1819 to promote agriculture education among the Indians, and the other a part of Ulysses S. Grant's Indian "Peace Policy," met with less than stellar results, and, in the case of Grant's disastrous Peace Policy, and the "contract school" system it spawned, made an already bad situation even worse.
But, before getting into these early "faith-based initiatives," there's something that's been bugging me for the last few weeks regarding the debate over recipients of federal grants being permitted to discriminate in their hiring practices on the basis of religion. Something that has been conspicuously absent from this debate is Article VI of the Constitution, which states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." What is a federally funded program, if not a public trust? The reality is that nothing short of a constitutional amendment will ever make any other legislation or executive order allowing faith-based employment discrimination in federally funded programs legal. So, unless the proponents of such discrimination are asking our next president to exert the same disregard for the Constitution as our current president, Article VI would seem to be a debate ender.
Now, back to our 19th century faith-based initiatives.
The 1819 "Act making provision for the civilization of the Indian tribes adjoining the frontier settlements" had the two most basic elements that define today's faith-based initiatives. The purpose of the act was to provide a secular service, in this case teaching agriculture to the Indians living along the American frontier, and it was decided, due to the inadequate amount of money appropriated, that this service could best be provided by already existing Indian schools, virtually all of which were run by religious organizations.
There were, however, two distinct differences between this 1819 act and today's faith-based initiatives. The first was that the schools that would receive the grants were not located within the territory of the United States, and the students were not American citizens. The second was the degree of congressional oversight exercised to ensure that the government funds were being used only to carry out the purpose of the act and not to promote religion, and, more importantly, that the program was actually working.
The following is from the section of my book explaining this program, beginning with the text of the 1819 "Act making provision for the civilization of the Indian tribes adjoining the frontier settlements."
Funding under this act did go to Indian schools run by missionary societies, but only as a means of accomplishing the object of the act -- instructing the Indians in agriculture. Only those schools that provided agriculture education could apply for this money.
$10,000 a year was not enough money to establish even a few public schools for the Indians. To put this in perspective, in a report listing the twenty-one Indian schools receiving a portion of this money in 1823, one school, established in 1822 with sixty-six students, had annual expenses totalling over $15,000. Two schools established about five years earlier, each with around eighty students, had expenses of over $7,000 and $9,000. The only way that a $10,000 appropriation could be put to any good use was to cooperate with existing schools, and the only schools that existed at the time were mission schools. President Monroe had the Department of War send a circular to the missionary societies that were already running Indian schools, and those that were in the process of raising money to establish new ones. The circular informed these societies that they could apply for a portion of this funding, but only under certain conditions. One condition, as already mentioned, was that the school's curriculum include instruction in agriculture, as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic. The other was that the schools had to be in Indian territory. The ultimate goal of promoting agriculture education was to encourage the Indians, particularly those closest to the white settlers on the frontier, to stop wandering by turning them into farmers rather than hunters.
Obviously, since these schools were outside the boundaries of the United States, the students were not American citizens, the teachers were not employees of the government, and the object of the act was completely secular, nobody saw these grants as a violation of the First Amendment. In addition to this, the act required that the means of instruction, which would be a mission school, could only be introduced with the Indians' consent.
The following, from the circular sent to the missionary societies by the Department of War on September 3, 1819, clearly stated that this grant money was to be used "to effect the object contemplated by the act of Congress."
In 1824, the House of Representatives considered repealing the 1819 appropriation act, and referred the issue to the Committee on Indian Affairs. The committee recommended that the appropriation be continued for the following reasons -- the schools receiving the grants were complying with the condition of teaching agriculture, and the goal of getting the Indians to settle down on farms was gradually being accomplished because of this.
The committee also concluded that the reason for the failure of most Indian missions was that they only taught religion, while ignoring general education and instruction in agriculture.
The government grants to individual mission schools were small, some schools receiving as little as $50 a year. To the missionary societies, however, the amount of the grants was unimportant. They knew that any appropriation for Indian education would spark an increase in private donations to their schools. People who considered efforts to educate the Indians frivolous might reconsider this if they saw that the government was taking it seriously enough to provide funding for it. In their 1824 report, the Indian Affairs Committee reported that private donations to Indian missions had, in fact, increased dramatically as a result of the appropriation. The committee's only interest in this was whether these donations were aiding or undermining the goals of the appropriation act. In other words, Congress did not want the appropriations to encourage donations to missions whose only goal was to spread religion. The committee, however, found no signs that this was happening.
[end of book excerpt]
This first 19th century faith-based initiative, although reevaluated in 1842, when the House Committee on Indian Affairs was called upon to "to inquire into the expediency of repealing" the act of 1819, continued until 1871, the year after Congress began making other appropriations for the education of those Indian tribes who didn't already have education funds resulting from treaties. The annual amount of funding from the act of 1819, however, was never increased during the five decades the act was in force, remaining at the original token amount of $10,000 a year.
This brings us up to the time of the second faith-based initiative of the 19th century, one which, unlike the tolerably successful and innocuous act of 1819, was a complete disaster, doing far more harm than good. In an effort to end corruption in the Indian agencies, these agencies were placed under the control of missionary organizations, the members of which, in many cases, proved to be just as corrupt as their secular predecessors. The program also gave rise to what should have been completely foreseeable new problems -- sectarian competition for control of the agencies, and both real and perceived denominational favoritism by Congress in assigning the agencies. The story ends, quite ironically, with the major Protestant denominations calling for an end to the whole business, citing as their reason an "obedience to the principle of separation between Church and State."
Here's the whole story, from my book:
When President Grant took office in 1869, one of his top priorities was a complete overhaul of the country's Indian policies. A big part of what was known as Grant's "Peace Policy" was to rid the Indian agent system of corruption. One of the causes of Indian hostilities was the widespread problem of corrupt Indian agents stealing and selling the food and other goods intended as treaty payments. The military was doing little to stop this because they knew that Grant was reducing the size of the army, and retaliation by Indians who didn't receive their treaty payments meant job security for soldiers.
Grant's plan to end this corruption can best be described as a faith-based initiative gone bad. His idea was to have missionaries who were already established among the Indians oversee the Indian agencies. The missionary societies would nominate men to fill the Indian agent and other positions within their agencies, submitting the names to the Secretary of the Interior. This plan was first tested on a small scale by putting a few of the Indian agencies under the control of the Quakers. While this experiment was going on, the rest of the agencies were turned over to the military. Once the Quaker experiment was deemed a success, a law was passed that had the effect of removing military control over the other agencies. As part of an act reducing the size of the military, army officers were made ineligible to perform the duties of any civil position, which included the position of Indian agent. This meant that any army officer who was temporarily in control of an Indian agency could only continue to act in that capacity if he resigned his commission, something no officer was likely to do. This cleared the way to put the rest of the agencies under the control of missionaries.
As soon as they began to implement this plan, Congress made a mistake that pretty much guaranteed its failure. Of the large numbers of Indians who had converted to Christianity, the majority were Catholic, and were as attached to their religion as any other Catholics. Based on the religious make-up of each tribe and the locations of the missions that already existed, thirty-eight of the seventy-three Indian agencies should have been put under the control of the Catholics. Completely disregarding this, the Board of Indian Commissioners, an advisory board appointed by Congress to oversee the program, and composed entirely of Protestants, recommended that all but seven of the agencies be assigned to Protestants. This went against President Grant's guideline that each agency be assigned to the mission already established there, but the Board of Indian Commissioners found a way to get around this. In all of the many cases in which a well established Catholic mission and a newer, competing Protestant mission existed within the same agency, they picked the Protestant one.
This whole plan, particularly considering that it involved schools, was very out of character for Grant, who, in one of his annual messages, urged Congress to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting the teaching of any sectarian tenets in any public school in any state. The following remarks were made by Grant in an 1876 speech.
Whatever the reason for Grant's inconsistency when it came to Indian schools, the result was that this part of his Peace Policy fueled an increase in Indian hostilities. Because of the sectarian favoritism of Congress and the Board of Indian Commissioners, thousands of Catholic Indian children were suddenly transferred from Catholic to Protestant schools. Complaints from parents who wanted their children in Catholic schools were completely ignored by the Indian agents, who, of course, were almost always members of whatever Protestant denomination controlled their agency. The agents were also loyal to the missionary societies because the same societies that had nominated them for their jobs also had the power to recommend their removal.
Grant's plan did little to improve the Indian agent system. The agents chosen by the religious denominations weren't much better than the old agents. Some were just as corrupt, while others were honest, but incompetent. The only good thing to come out of the new system was a bit of public outrage at the government's infringement on the Indians' right to religious freedom. Prior to the Indian agencies being put under denominational control, agents assigned where there were missions of religions other than their own often interfered with and tried to undermine the work of the missionaries. In some cases, they even succeeded in driving these missions out of their agencies. Grant's plan, under which the agents were almost exclusively members of whatever denomination controlled their agency, solved this problem, but created a new problem. On a number of occasions, Catholic missionaries, attempting to visit Catholic Indians, were expelled from the grounds of Protestant agencies. When reports of these incidents began appearing in the newspapers, the government's policy of forcing Indian children into sectarian schools against their parents' wishes became widely known, and the right of the Indians to religious freedom became a big issue among the American people, Catholic and Protestant alike. Eventually, in 1881, the government ordered that all missionaries have access to all agencies.
In 1874, the Catholic church opened an office in Washington D.C. called the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions to collect and disburse funds from private donations, and, more importantly, to lobby for a fair proportion of the Indian schools. At this point, Congress had not appropriated any money for Indian education since the appropriations of 1870 and 1871. For the most part, the schools were funded by private donations, and in some cases by treaty payments or tribal education funds. Not long after it opened, the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions began lobbying for what became known as the contract school system. Under this system, the government paid a certain amount for the living expenses of each student in a contracted private school. The government had already entered into contracts with a few schools, and the Catholics immediately saw that a per capita contract system would give them an edge. Before applying for a contract, a school had to be built and students enrolled, and the Catholics had the resources to build more schools and attract more students than the other denominations.
Three major factors contributed to the increase in contracts to Catholic Indian schools. First, as already mentioned, the Catholics were able to build more schools than any other denomination; second, many of the Protestants lost interest in the whole business; and third, the Catholic schools were just better.
When senators and other officials visited some of the contract schools in the early 1880s, they found the Catholic schools to be far superior to the Protestant. The success of the few existing Catholic contract schools led even some of the most anti-Catholic members of Congress to support giving more contracts to the Catholics. When the 1884 Indian Appropriation Bill was under consideration in the Senate, Senator George Vest of Missouri, who had personally visited a number of the schools, described what he had seen at the Catholic schools on the Flathead Reservation.
Senator Vest went on to give some possible reasons for the success of the Catholic schools, then added the following remarks.
Within a few years, Catholic contract schools greatly outnumbered the Protestant schools, and in 1888, the Catholics, for the first time, received more in contract payments than the Protestants. In 1889, the first of the three years in which the total amount appropriated for sectarian schools reached $500,000, the Catholics got $356,957 of the $508,600.
Beginning in 1883, representatives of the various Protestant Indian mission societies had been holding yearly conferences with the all-Protestant Board of Indian Commissioners at a Lake Mohonk, New York resort. These conferences also included various government officials and politicians, and members of anti-Catholic organizations like the Indian Rights Association. The idea of abolishing the contract school system had been discussed at these conferences since the first signs that the Catholics were pulling ahead, but those who wanted to put an end to the whole system were in the minority until the end of the 1880s.
The Protestants found plenty of things on which to blame the increase of Catholic Indian schools, but the most popular was Grover Cleveland's Democratic administration, under which more Catholics were appointed to the Indian Bureau. Most assumed that this Catholic favoritism would end when Republican Benjamin Harrison was elected in 1888, and that the contract school system would shift back to Protestant control. What the Protestants got from President Harrison, however, was a Commissioner of Indian Affairs who wanted to completely reform the Indian education system. The new Commissioner, Thomas Morgan, was a Baptist minister and educator who, like some of the Protestants, wanted to abolish contract schools altogether. Morgan attended the 1889 Lake Mohonk conference, where he proposed his plan, which called for a gradual replacement of the contract schools with a school system run entirely by the government. All of the Protestant groups, whether they had previously opposed contract schools or not, got behind Morgan's plan. This universal support, of course, was only universal among the Protestants.
The Catholics, led by Father Joseph Stephan of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, opposed Morgan's appointment as Commissioner, as well as that of Daniel Dorchester, a Methodist minister appointed by Harrison as Superintendent of Indian Schools. Morgan and Dorchester both opposed Catholic schools of any kind. In 1888, Dorchester had published Romanism versus the Public School System, and Morgan, that same year, had publicly attacked Catholic schools at a meeting of the National Education Association. Aided by the Democratic press, the Catholics unsuccessfully fought against the Senate confirmations of both men. Harrison had appointed Morgan in July 1889 during a Senate recess, giving him time to propose his plan at the Mohonk conference in October and get the support of the influential Protestant groups and the Board of Indian Commissioners before his name was sent to the Senate for confirmation in December. By this time, Morgan and Dorchester had already begun removing Catholics appointed to the Indian Bureau during the Cleveland administration, claiming that they were incompetent, or charging them with insubordination or intemperance. The Senate confirmed both Morgan and Dorchester in February 1890.
Shortly after President Harrison took office in 1889, representatives of the Protestant Indian mission societies went to Washington to meet with him and his Secretary of the Interior, John W. Noble. At this point, which was prior to Morgan's appearance at the Lake Mohonk conference, few members of these societies wanted to abolish the contract school system. Most, as already mentioned, just wanted the Protestants to get more contracts than the Catholics, and thought this would happen now that a Republican administration was in power. Since it was unlikely that any existing contracts would be taken away from the Catholics, they wanted the government to increase the number of contract schools and give the new contracts to Protestants. The recommendations made to Noble by the societies were printed in the May 1889 issue of the Congregationalist magazine The American Missionary. One of these recommendations was that the contract school system be expanded.
A few months later, of course, at the October 1889 Mohonk conference, the leaders of these same societies agreed to support Thomas Morgan's plan, under which there would be no new contracts, and the contract schools would be gradually replaced by government schools. Rumors about Morgan's plan had been in the newspapers prior to the conference, and the leaders of the missionary societies no doubt anticipated that the decision of the conference would be to support the plan. But, they had just reported to their church memberships a few months earlier that they supported enlarging the contract school system. They couldn't just suddenly report their support of a plan that opposed this, so they began by raising some questions about the system, and slowly worked their way up to calling for an end to contract schools.
The following is how the story progressed over the next few years in The American Missionary, beginning with a hint in the October 1889 issue that the system might be unfair to Protestants.
In September 1890, they began broaching the subject of withdrawing from the contract school system because of the Senate's favoritism towards Catholics.
In 1892, the Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians all announced that they would no longer be accepting any government funding. The Congregationalists soon joined them, publishing the following resolutions in the December 1892 issue of The American Missionary.
An 1893 appeal to the Congregational churches for donations to replace the government funding gave "obedience to the principle of separation between Church and State" as the very noble reason that the societies were giving up this funding.
1. Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, vol. 3, (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1846), 516-517.
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