About Henry Moore Teller
Henry Moore Teller (May 23, 1830 – February 23, 1914) was a U.S. politician, a US senator, and served as Secretary of the Interior between 1882 and 1885.
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.
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 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, CO.
Teller and Indian Rights
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 [of allotment] was "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...is infinitely worse."
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.
Teller's defense of Indian land rights conflicts with his stance on 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 clear intent of the Code was to eliminate traditional Indian culture on reservations. The Five Civilized Tribes were exempt from the code.