President John Tyler Inserts Himself Into the Middle of a Squabble Over Who Should Head the Bureau of Indian Affairs

He looks into the qualifications of a potential candidate, even while keeping an open mind on whether the incumbent needed to be replaced at all

The incumbent had been accused of being too friendly to the Indians; in the end Tyler retained him

President Van Buren appointed Thomas Hartley Crawford commissioner to investigate alleged frauds in the sale of the Creek Reservation in 1836. Two years later he named him Commissioner of Indian Affairs, a post Crawford...

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President John Tyler Inserts Himself Into the Middle of a Squabble Over Who Should Head the Bureau of Indian Affairs

He looks into the qualifications of a potential candidate, even while keeping an open mind on whether the incumbent needed to be replaced at all

The incumbent had been accused of being too friendly to the Indians; in the end Tyler retained him

President Van Buren appointed Thomas Hartley Crawford commissioner to investigate alleged frauds in the sale of the Creek Reservation in 1836. Two years later he named him Commissioner of Indian Affairs, a post Crawford held until 1845. In office he was known for his willingness to take the Indian’s part. In particular in 1842 he fought for the right of the Seminoles to have their own subagent to protect their interests. John Bell was William Henry Harrison’s Secretary of War, and he was no friend of Crawford’s. While in Congress, he was chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs, and was the author of the Indian Removal Act that was signed by President Jackson and led to the Trail of Tears. Bell was succeeded by John C. Spencer, who served in that post from October 12, 1841 – March 4, 1843. Though Bell was out of office, he connived to undercut Crawford and get him removed from his Indian Affairs office.

Autograph letter signed, as President, two pages, Washington, no date but 1842, to his Secretary of War John C. Spencer, whose department had jurisdiction over Indian affairs, showing a willingness to consider criticism of Crawford, but making it clear he had seen nothing to justify it yet. “Permit me to introduce to your acquaintance Mr. Blackford of Virginia whose case I casually mentioned to you some time ago. The circumstances attendant upon him are these – Mr. Bell became dissatisfied with Mr. Crawford at the head of the Indian Bureau (whether properly or not I am still to be informed) and concluded to confer the place on Mr. Blackford. Mr. B. is unquestionably entitled to high consideration. Will you do me the favor to give to Mr. Blackford an audience and to express to him freely your views in relation to him as connected with that matter, and oblige John Tyler.” The Blackford mentioned was likely Virginian William Matthews Blackford, a banker and journalist.

Tyler ended up not accepting Bell’s criticism of Crawford, and retained Crawford in his post. Blackford was instead appointed United States charge d’affaires at Bogota, Colombia.

Tyler’s ALSs as President with any content are uncommon, and this, showing him navigating the labyrinth of the bureaucracy trying to be fair to all and determine who ought to be in charge of Indian affairs, is of significant interest.

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