In addition to the North and the South, there was a third party present in the Civil War – the native American Indians. They were managed by the trio of region Indian affairs offices: Northern, Central, and South. One of the first acts of the Continental Congress was the creation of those agencies and their empowerment to negotiate treaties with the Indians on behalf of the colonial government. Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry were two of the early commissioners of the offices, ensuring the Indians would not take sides during the Revolutionary War. As trade with the tribes expanded, an office to supervise that trade opened in 1806, under the auspices of the War Department. Two decades later all matters relating to Indian civilization and trade was moved under a new bureau created by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun.
On this day, March 11, in 1824, the Bureau of Indian Affairs – not the official name, but the one Calhoun gave it – opened. It was headed up by the man who supervised the earlier system of trade with the Indians, Thomas L. McKenney.
The newly formed organization was still largely toothless. They were charged with the handling of all routine matters in the relations between the tribes and the colonists, but decision-making power largely rested with the War Department. McKenney and other lobbied to create an internal Indian-bureau position that would develop as well as execute policies, and got their with three years later. By 1849 the Bureau moved to the Department of the Interior and refocused on helping the Indian populations recover from resettlement and disease.