Indians in Paris (part 2)

Today’s post is the next in a short series providing background for the American Indian presence at the Paris Expo of 1867.
Today I cover what the U.S. Agent in Paris requested for a Native American exhibit and some dialog concerning the public attitude towards indigenous people in general.

What did the Commissioner Request?

Document 1

PARIS, November 8, 1865

The programme is comprehensive in the scope of industries it proposes to exhibit – workers in metals, in glass, in chemicals, in wood, in leather, in all materials; hand-spinning, weaving, and embroidery, machine sewing, machine shoemaking, knotting of fish-nets, twisting of fishlines. No industry will be out of place, even to a group of red Indians making pipes, bows, wampum, feathers, or baskets. These last, indeed, would be among the most unique and interesting objects you could send. They would add a valuable feature to the ethnological elements which the many nationalities assembled, with their peculiar habits, manners, industries, and character, are expected to display, and which subject the French Scientific Commission has been particularly directed to study. However uninteresting a group of red men may be in America, few objects would be thought more interesting in Europe; while similar groups brought from the East may afford subjects equally curious and instructive to Americans.

Document 2

PARIS, November 8, 1865
Dear Sir: The special committee (French) on admissions, Class No. 93, on habitations combining cheapness, health, and comfort, have published the document annexed. Ground in the Park is appropriated for this purpose, and great importance is attached by the Imperial Commission to the exhibition of rural habitations from all countries. It is suggested, also, that the furniture adapted to them, being on exhibition, may be placed in them, and that they may be inhabited by the families or groups of persons alluded to in my letter No. 9, and the documents attached to it …

Document 3

PARIS, September 19, 1866

Bringing together specimens of races, as proposed, will present a rare opportunity for the linguists, the sinologues, the ethnologues, the physiologists, &c., to perfect and verify their theories – to correct them or to originate new ones – an opportunity which most of them have never enjoyed, nor could in any other way. The American Indians, as regards their physical qualities, their moral and intellectual qualities, their present condition, their obscure past and more obscure future, are unquestionably among the most interesting of the early races of man. Their gradual diminution is considered by some as the evidence and effect of that law which they contend governs the animal kingdom, in conformity with which the lower precedes the higher, and is in turn exterminated by it. From this it is argued by one party that civilization spreads only by extermination, while their opponents maintain that all races are capable of civilization and preservation, and that extermination results only from the ignorance and consequent enmity of races. But, whatever the causes of decay, the fact is obvious that the aboriginal inhabitants of America are diminishing, and it may be doubted whether it is in human power to preserve or even to prolong their existence. The journals from Washington just received contain the legislation of Congress, Document No. 157, relating to certain tribes of Indians. The pains taken to introduce among them the arts and habits of civilization is remarkable. Oxen, horses, plows, hoes, axes, log-chains, saw-mills, grindstones, spades, farming implements of all sorts, and domestic utensils, are not only provided for them, but white persons of both sexes are sent among them to teach them the uses of these things and the habits of a higher life. The consideration and care of the government and people of the United States for these ancient races are beneficent and even parental. But this fact is little known in the world, and we are frequently reproached with pursuing a cold and cruel policy toward the Indians. A better understanding of this subject would relieve us from these reproaches and justify the policy of the government and nation, by showing that it is eminently humane and wise, and really up to the level of the highest civilization of the age. The history of this policy and its effects, carefully studied, would also throw great light on the ethnological question to which I have alluded, touching the destiny of races as affected by human laws and by laws which are higher than those of human origin. If I could succeed in adding a group of Indians to the assembly of races which it is hoped will be brought together at the Exposition, I think it might give rise to inquiries and researches which in a scientific sense, would be interesting and useful, and in a political sense would tend to diffuse a knowledge of facts in every way creditable to the government and the country; and I am not without hope that you may think the subject of sufficient interest to bring it again to the attention of the Secretary of the Interior.

Key Points

  • the commissioner was interesting in having Native People on exhibit making traditional items
  • the interest was primarily in the ethnological value of the exhibits
  • examples of rural habitations were encouraged, including furnishings and families to inhabit them [perhaps the Indian village would be included in this group]
  • the commissioner felt the exhibit would help to preserve Native culture, which in his opinion was doomed to extinction
  • the commissioner felt the U.S. Government was “eminently humane and wise” and generally doing a wonderful job of assisting our Native population become “civilized
  • political spin” was alive and well in 1867



It is rather clear from the above correspondence that the Paris Expo Commissioners were interested in exhibiting Indigenous Peoples from around the world. The purpose of which was to disseminate ethnological information about the different “ancient” races of the world. There seems to be a certain entertainment value expected as well.
Some of my additional reading sources suggests Paris was ultimately interested in showing how far the European race (white folks) had progressed from its once primitive beginning and how the effects of modern civilization made them superior to those “ancient” races still in existence. By showcasing the extreme differences between white Europeans and all others, it provided justification for relegating those others to second and third class existences.
The correspondence of Mr. Beckworth shows another motive for the U.S. – a propaganda campaign. Let’s show the world how kind we are to are Native Peoples. There is little doubt in my mind, any Natives that participated in the Expo were expected to present the U.S. at its best and promote this propaganda.
I wonder how that worked out? Stay tuned for more.


See the Kanistanaux Home Page for more.
See the Kanistanaux Map at Google.
Do you have any information to add or questions?
Please leave a comment.
Canyon Wolf 
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Categories: 1867 Paris Universal Exposition, Culture, Entertainments, Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , ,

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