Publication Date


Document Type


First Page


Last Page



This article explores the work of one of Maine’s most powerful politicians, U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie, during one of Maine’s most difficult political crises, the Maine Indian Land Claims of the 1970s. In 1972, when Penobscots and Passamaquoddies challenged the legality of land sales conducted from 1794 to 1833, they called into question the legal title of the northern two-thirds of the State of Maine. Tom Tureen, the lawyer for the tribes, and Governor James Longley and State Attorney General Joseph Brennan, the state officials leading the case for Maine, played central roles in the case. Muskie played a crucial, if less important, role by advocating for a negotiated settlement that prevented a protracted legal fight. Muskie’s more limited involvement was rooted, in part, in his preference to be a negotiator rather than an advocate in this particular case, but it also was a product of his lack of experience with Maine Indian issues. Muskie’s restraint had important consequences for the case, because it allowed more vocally anti-Indian state leaders like Longley and Brennan to shape the rhetoric that would define the controversy long after the case was settled in 1980. Joseph Hall is an Associate Professor of History at Bates College, where he teaches and studies Native American history and early American history.