Henry M. Teller

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Henry M. Teller
Senator Henry M Teller.jpg
15th United States Secretary of the Interior
In office
April 18, 1882 – March 3, 1885
President Chester A. Arthur
Preceded by Samuel J. Kirkwood
Succeeded by Lucius Q.C. Lamar
United States Senator
from Colorado
In office
November 15, 1876 – April 17, 1882
March 4, 1885 – March 3, 1909
Preceded by None
Nathaniel P. Hill
Succeeded by George M. Chilcott
Charles J. Hughes, Jr.
Personal details
Born Henry Moore Teller
(1830-05-23)May 23, 1830
Granger, New York
Died February 23, 1914(1914-02-23) (aged 83)
Denver, Colorado
Resting place Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado
Political party Republican (1876–1897)
Silver Republican (1897–1903)
Democratic (1903–1909)
Military service
Service/branch Colorado Militia
Years of service 1862–1864
Rank Major General

Henry Moore Teller (May 23, 1830 – February 23, 1914) was a U.S. politician from Colorado, serving as a US senator between 1876–1882 and 1885–1909. He also served as Secretary of the Interior between 1882 and 1885. He strongly opposed the Dawes Act, intended to break up communal Native American lands and force assimilation of the people. He accurately said that it was directed at forcing the Indians to give up their land so that it could be sold to white settlers.


Teller served in the Senate and Cabinet for over thirty years, and was connected with the Free Silver question, beginning in 1880. During that time, he did much in and out of Congress with tongue and pen. In 1892, he was instrumental in securing in the Republican National Convention a declaration in favor of bimetallism, and he was a conspicuous actor in the prolonged fight in the Senate against unconditional repeal. His standing in the Republican Party, together with his great ability and high character, made him the leader of the Silver Republican Party.[1]

Henry Moore Teller

At the Republican National Convention of 1896 in St. Louis, Teller led the revolt against the Republican platform, and his withdrawal from the party that year cost the Republican candidate thousands of votes. The silver Republicans favored his nomination for the Presidency, and his state of Colorado voted for him on the first ballot in the Democratic Convention. After the nomination had been made, he joined with other leading Silver Republicans in an address supporting the Democratic ticket. Unlike many other Silver Republicans, Teller never returned to the Republican Party.

He served as a Democratic senator for the rest of his career, becoming one of few politicians to switch parties. Teller helped the Democratic Party gain more power in Colorado, which was previously dominated by Republicans.

Historically, Teller is probably best known for sponsoring the Teller Amendment, an amendment to the Joint Resolution for war with Spain, passed by the House and Senate on April 19, 1898.

Teller died February 23, 1914, and is buried at Fairmount Cemetery in Denver.

Teller and Indian rights[edit]

Teller was one of the most outspoken opponents of the allotment of Indian land. Allotment was a process by which communal ownership of Indian lands would be ended, and the land portioned out to individual Indians, the "excess" to be sold to the government. In 1881, Teller said that allotment was a policy "to despoil the Indians of their lands and to make them vagabonds on the face of the earth." Teller also said,

“The real aim this bill is to get at the Indian lands and open them up to settlement. The provisions for the apparent benefit of the Indians are but the pretext to get at his lands and occupy them. … If this were done in the name of greed, it would be bad enough; but to do it in the name of humanity, and under the cloak of an ardent desire to promote the Indian's welfare by making him lie ourselves, whether he will or not, is infinitely worse.”[2]

Teller would be proven correct. Land owned by Indians decreased from 138 million acres (560,000 km2) in 1887 to 48 million acres (190,000 km2) in 1934.[3]

Teller's defense of Indian land rights conflicts with his stance against traditional American Indian customs. As Secretary of the Interior in 1883, he approved a "Code of Indian Offenses," which sought to prohibit Native American traditional ceremonial activity throughout the United States. Customs, dances, plural marriage, and other practices were to be prosecuted by a "Court of Indian Offenses," with authority to impose penalties of up to 90 days imprisonment and withholding government rations. The intent of the Code was to eliminate traditional Indian culture on reservations. The Five Civilized Tribes were exempt from the code.[4] Secretary Teller installed Indian judges to prosecute any Indians involved in the "immoral" dances, in addition to polygamy, and the sale of Indian wives.[5] White missionaries, educators, and the federal government feared that the traditional dances were war dances, especially the Sun Dance by the Sioux, in which young men tested themselves in painful displays.[6] Suppressive measures against Indian culture were finally repealed by Indian Commissioner John Collier in 1934.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Senate: Art & History Home > People > Senators > Senators Who Changed Parties During Senate Service (Since 1890)
  2. ^ Frank Pommersheim Broken Landscape: Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution. Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 128. [1]
  3. ^ Gunn, Steven J. "Major Acts of Congress:Indian General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) (1887)." http://www.enotes.com/major-acts-congress/indian-general-allotment-act-dawes-act/print, accessed 21 May 2011
  4. ^ "Code of Indian Offenses." http://tribal-law.blogspot.com/2008/02/code-of-indian-offenses.html, accessed 25 May 2011
  5. ^ Doenecke (1981), p. 90
  6. ^ a b Laubin (1977), Indian dances of North America, p. 81

External links[edit]

United States Senate
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Colorado
Served alongside: Jerome B. Chaffee, Nathaniel P. Hill
Succeeded by
George M. Chilcott
Preceded by
Nathaniel P. Hill
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Colorado
Served alongside: Thomas M. Bowen, Edward O. Wolcott, Thomas M. Patterson, Simon Guggenheim
Succeeded by
Charles J. Hughes, Jr.
Political offices
Preceded by
Samuel J. Kirkwood
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Served under: Chester A. Arthur

Succeeded by
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar