Neither a Hobby Nor Lobby Candidate: The Politics of Lewis Henry Morgan

Courtesy of Rare Books, Special Collection and Preservation, University of Rochester.

Authored by Dax Emerson.

Maris Bryant Pierce (1811 – 1874), member of the Seneca Nation, wrote this January 2nd 1869 letter to Lewis Henry Morgan during Morgan’s term as a New York State senator. Pierce was an 1840 graduate of Dartmouth College who later became a teacher at Indian schools. Pierce also worked as an interpreter and reading secretary for Seneca delegations to Albany and Washington.

As a student, Pierce spoke out against removal of Seneca people from their lands. In his 1838 Address on the Present Condition and Prospects of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of North America: With Particular Reference to the Seneca Nation, Pierce challenged the idea of the “vanishing Indian” that often appears in Morgan’s writings:

It has been said and reiterated so frequently as to have obtained the familiarity of household words, that it is the doom of the Indian to disappear – to vanish like the morning dew, before the advance of civilization: and melancholy is it to us – those doomed ones – that the history of this country, in respect to us and its civilization, has furnished so much ground for the saying, and for giving credence to it.

But whence and why are we thus doomed? Why must we be crushed by the arm of civilization, or the requiem of our race be chaunted by the waves of the Pacific, which is destined to engulph us?”

The letter provides insight into Senator Morgan’s communications with constituents and allies and demonstrates how Morgan’s political career intersected with his connections to the Seneca community. It includes a gesture of thanks to Morgan for previous assistance and a request for help in obtaining a “place” in the assembly under Republican leadership. The blunt, transactional nature of Pierce’s request may illustrate a very different culture concerning political appointments when compared to modern-day attitudes. Pierce makes it clear to Morgan that he has business for which he requires an income. namely, finishing a house on the Reservation.