Thirteen years before he took office as president of the United States, James Abram Garfield predicted the extinction of the American Indian.
“The race of the red men will… before many generations be remembered only as a strange, weird, dreamlike specter, which once passed before the eyes of men, but had departed forever,” he said in 1868 when, as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he proposed a bill that would transfer Indian Affairs from the Interior Department to the War Department.
The Indians had unpronounceable names, crude clothing and habits of “roaming,” Garfield said. He called it a “mockery… for the representatives of the great Government of the United States to sit down in a wigwam and make treaties with a lot of painted and half naked savages.”
Garfield spoke despairingly about the future of the Indians, believing nothing could be done to stop “the passage of that sad race down to the oblivion to which a larger part of them seem to be so certainly tending.” Perhaps, he concluded, it was best to let the Indians slip into extinction “as quietly and humanely as possible.”