Thomas Loraine McKenney, 21 Mar 1785 - 20 Feb 1859
Oil on canvas
Frame: 77.5 x 64.8cm (30 1/2 x 25 1/2")
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Frame conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee
Born Chestertown, Maryland
Thomas L. McKenney was one of the most important figures in setting and implementing early governmental policy toward American Indians. He was superintendent of Indian trade from 1816 to 1822 and later superintendent of Indian affairs (1824–30), a position created in the War Department. McKenney sought to integrate, or at least reconcile, Indians with American culture through education. He helped secure the passage of the Indian Civilization Act of 1819 and, more ominously, the Indian Removal Act (1830), which confiscated Indian lands and forced tribes to relocate west of the Mississippi. McKenney claimed that the brutality of the “Trail of Tears” was due to the callousness of President Andrew Jackson, not his fault or that of the bureau. Jackson fired McKenney for insubordination. While in office, McKenney initiated a major ethnological project, collecting books, manuscripts, artifacts, and paintings to document the history of the North American Indians.
James C. McGuire; bequest to Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1888; deaccessioned 2010 and sold (Christie’s 31 August-1 September 2010, lot 18); purchased NPG