8. Manifest Destiny

A) Justification

The American people having derived their origin from many other nations, and the Declaration of National Independence being entirely based on the great principle of human equality, these facts demonstrate at once our disconnected position as regards any other nation; that we have, in reality, but little connection with the past history of any of them, and still less with all antiquity, its glories, or its crimes. On the contrary, our national birth was the beginning of a new history, the formation and progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only; and so far as regards the entire development of the natural rights of man, in moral, political, and national life, we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity.

What friend of human liberty, civilization, and refinement, can cast his view over the past history of the monarchies and aristocracies of antiquity, and not deplore that they ever existed? What philanthropist can contemplate the oppressions, the cruelties, and injustice inflicted by them on the masses of mankind, and not turn with moral horror from the retrospect? America is destined for better deeds.

We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of nearly all their examples. The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can. We point to the everlasting truth on the first page of our national declaration, and we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that "the gates of hell" - the powers of aristocracy and monarchy - "shall not prevail against it."

Yes, we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement.

This is our high destiny, and in nature's eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man -- the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen; and her high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?

"Manifest Destiny" (1839)
John O'Sullivan


[Andrew] Jackson himself compared Indian removal favorably to white westward migration. White settlers, he said,

"remove hundreds and almost thousands of miles at their own expense, purchase new lands they occupy, and support themselves at their new homes from the moment of their arrival. Can it be cruel in the Government, when, by events which it cannot control, the Indian is made discontented in his ancient home - to purchase his lands, to give him a new and extensive territory, to pay the expense of his removal, and support him a year in his new abode? How many thousands of our own people would gladly embrace the opportunity of removing to the West on such conditions." (193)

The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (1987)
Patricia Nelson Limerick


[Andrew Jackson, 1830] "Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country, and Philanthropy has been long busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth. To follow to the tomb the last of his race and to tread on the graves of extinct nations excite melancholy reflections. But true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another... Nor is there anything in this which, upon a comprehensive view of the general interests of the human race, is to be regretted. Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion." (236-36)

Facing East from Indian Country (2001)
Daniel K Richter


An editorial of the Nashville Republican in 1829 was amusingly ingenuous in determining the natural boundary by the value of lands beyond. After asserting that the Rio Grande was apparently "designated by the hand of Heaven, as a boundary between two great nations of dissimilar pursuits," the editorial proceeded to say:

"Another reason why this river seems to be marked out for a boundary is this: - On this side of the Rio Grande, the country is seasonable, fertile, and every way desirable to the people of the United States. On the other side the lands are unproductive, crops cannot be matured without irrigation; in short they are entirely calculated for a lazy, pastoral, mining people like the Mexicans." (58)

The principles centered in a philosophy of the use of the soil. The white race seemed to Senator Benton to have a superior right to land because they "used it according to the intentions of the creator." (73)

In 1782 Hugh Brackenridge affirmed that "extermination" would be a more useful fate for "the animals vulgarly called Indians," who, not having made "a better use of the land," had no natural right to it. Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography suggested humorously that rum was "the appointed means" of fulfilling "the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for the cultivators of the earth." (77)

"Is one of the fairest portions of the globe to remain in a state of nature, the haunt of a few wretched savages, when it seems destined by the Creator to give support to a large population and to be the seat of civilization, of science, and of true religion." (79)

But Governor Gilmer of Georgia explained away the treaties in words which relate the legal issue to religious dogma:

"Treaties were expedients by which ignorant, intractable, and savage people were induced without bloodshed to yield up what civilized peoples had a right to possess by virtue of that command of the Creator delivered to man upon his formation - be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it." (83)

Despite the Southerner's notorious waste of land in cotton cultivation, the utilitarian argument of natural law was stated by Representative Wilde of Georgia:

"And if it were possible to perpetuate the race of Indians, what would be the consequence? Why, that a hundred or a thousand fold the number of white men would not be born, because the Indians would roam over and possess, without enjoying, the land which must afford the future whites subsistence." (84)

Lewis Cass, in an article on Indian removal in the North American Review of 1830, used the argument stressing the intrinsic value of extending civilization:

"There can be no doubt... that the Creator intended the earth should be reclaimed from a state of nature and cultivated; that the human race should spread over it, procuring from it the means of comfortable subsistence, and of increase and improvement." (84-85)

Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History (1935)
Albert Weinberg


The American woodmen... discussed the whole question with great clearness. Their opinion generally was that our occupation was justifiable, and could not be sternly disputed even by the most scrupulous moralist. They considered that any right in the soil which these natives had as occupiers was partial and imperfect, as, with the exception of hunting animals in the forests, plucking wild fruits, and cutting a few trees to make canoes and houses, the native did not, in any civilized sense, occupy the land. It would be unreasonable to suppose, the Americans said, that a body of civilized men, under the sanction of their Government, could not rightfully settle in a country needing their labours, and peopled only by a fringe of savages on the coast. Unless such a right were presumed to exist, there would be little progress in the world by means of colonization, - that wonderful agent, which, directed by laws of its own, has changed and is changing the whole surface of the earth.... (7-8)

Scenes and Studies of Savage Life (1868)
Gilbert Malcolm Sproat


That inexorable law which demands the expulsion of the less numerous and less civilized people before myriads of settlers better prepared to utilize the ground was in operation. To this law the primitive men refused to bow and stiffened their backs for a final effort to stop this westward rush of their enemies. As well might they have tried to stay the waters rushing over Niagara Falls. In the approaching contest the Indians could count many warriors, but the tribes near the white settlements could give no help. The once virile Illinois and Piankashaw had been ruined and killed by contact with an alien civilization; strong liquor and disease had performed their work. (434)

The Illinois Country: 1673-1818 (1920)
Clarence Walworth Alvord


The native American is in some respects a proud and a sensitive being, and is not wanting in reflective powers. When brought in contact with civilization, he recognizes his inferiority, and appreciates his inability ever to overcome it. He feels that he cannot live with the stranger, except as an inferior, and, inspired by his native pride, he would rather cease to be than to do this. He appreciates his inevitable doom. He ceases to hope, and then comes despair, which contributes more than all else to hasten the result which he foresees. While all have seen from the beginning that the aborigines melt away and die out before the advance of civilization, in spite of the most humane efforts to produce a different result, we may not have appreciated all the causes which have contributed to this end. Those which have been the most readily understood, because the most patent are the vices and diseases and poisonous drinks which the white race has introduced among them from the very first. If these were the only causes we might deem it possible, by municipal regulations, to remove them. While this would be a great boon which civilization undoubtedly owes to the original owners of the soil where we are so rapidly expanding into a great nation. I am satisfied it would not secure the great end which philanthropy must most ardently desire.... (25)

Perhaps the truest and the best justification which we can plead for insisting upon taking the land of the aborigines whenever we wish them, using no more force than is necessary to accomplish what we deem necessary--whether the owner is willing to sell them or not--is that a few useless savages, who can do no good for the world at large, and little good even for themselves, must not stand in the way of the march of civilization; that God made the earth and all that is upon it for His own honor and glory, and that both they and we are but tenants at His will; and that it is His undoubted right, whenever in His good pleasure He sees fit, to eject those who in His estimation do Him no honor, and replace them by those who may contribute more to His glory, and that thus He is working out His great scheme conceived from the beginning of all time. I say, if we can but thus console ourselves that in what, to the superficial observer seems to be spoliations of the weak by the strong, we are but instruments in the hands of the Almighty to work out His great purposes and to execute His solemn decrees, then, indeed, we may feel that we have washed our hands in innocency. (29)

The finger of fate seems to be pointed alike at the most civilized and the most savage. Final extinction is the end of the way down which all are swiftly rushing, and it would seem almost practicable to calculate with mathematical certainty, the day when they will live only in memory and in history. (31)

The Last of the Illinois and a Sketch of the Pottawatomies (1870)
John Dean Canton


In a message to the legislature of the new state, Governor Burnett said, "That a war of extermination would continue to be waged until the Indian race should become extinct, and that it was beyond the power or wisdom of men to avert the inevitable destiny." The government sent three Indian agents west to manage things a little more delicately, and at the same time, January 14, 1851, they made their own appraisal of the situation: "As there is now no further West to which they can be removed, the General Government and the people of California appear to have left but one alternative in relation to the remnants of once numerous and powerful tribes, vis; extermination or domestication. As the later includes all proper measures for their protection and gradual improvement, and secures to the State an element greatly needed in the development of its resources, vis; cheap labor, it is the once which we deem the part of wisdom to adopt, and if possible consummate." (271-72)

Savage Dreams (1994)
Rebecca Solnit


[John O'Sullivan, 1845] "Texas has been absorbed into the Union in the inevitable fulfillment of the general law which is rolling our population westward.... It was disintegrated from Mexico in the natural course of events, by a process perfectly legitimate on its own part, blameless on ours; and in which all the censures due to wrong, perfidy and folly, rest on Mexico alone." (44)

Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (1995)
Anders Stephanson


In 1847 a New York newspaper editor sanctioned the war in these words:

"The [Mexican] race is perfectly accustomed to being conquered, and the only new lesson we shall teach is that our victories will give liberty, safety, and prosperity to the vanquished, if they know enough to profit by the appearance of our stars. To liberate and ennoble - not to enslave and debase - is our mission. Well may the Mexican nation, whose great masses have never yet tasted liberty, prattle over their lost phantom of nationality.... If they have not - in the profound darkness of the vassal existence - the intelligence and manhood to accept the ranks and rights of freeman at our hands, we must bear with their ignorance." (23)

[John Gadsby] Chapman's Baptism of Pocahontas allegedly recorded the first conversion of an American "savage" to Christianity - or as the artist stated in his description of the mural, Pocahontas

"stands foremost in the train of those wandering children of the forest who have at different times... been snatched from the fangs of a barbarous idolatry, to become lambs in the fold of the Divine Shepard. She therefore appeals to our religious as well as our patriotic sympathies, and is equally associated with the rise and progress of the Christian Church, as with the political destinies of the United States." (71)

His [William Gilpin] most famous report, read to the Senate on March 2, 1846, exemplifies nineteenth-century rhetoric raised to a fever pitch:

"Two centuries have rolled over our race upon this continent. From nothing we have become 20,000,000. From nothing we are grown to be in agriculture, in commerce, in civilization, and in natural strength, the first among nations existing or in history. So much is our destiny - so far, up to this time - transacted, accomplished, certain, and not to be disputed. From this threshold we read the future. The untransacted destiny of the American people is to subdue the continent - to rush over this vast field to the Pacific Ocean - to animate the many hundreds of millions of its people, and to cheer them upward... to teach old nations a new civilization - to confirm the destiny of the human race... to emblazon history with the conquest of peace... and to shed blessings around the world! Divine task! Immortal mission! Let us tread fast and joyfully the open trail before us! Let every American heart open wide for patriotism to glow undimmed, and confide with religious faith in the sublime and prodigious destiny of his well-loved country." (101)

The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920 (1991)
William H. Truettner


The Indians were numerous on the Wabash, until recently - but it seems they have abandoned their country on the approach of whites. It is said that a singular circumstance hastened them away. A trader employed a steamboat to ascent the Wabash with merchandize. Several hundred Indians, having heard that a huge vessel which emitted fire and smoke, was ascending the river, and stemming its strong current without either oars or sails, collected at their lower towns to witness the phenomenon. Upon its approach these sons of the forest watched its motion with fearful admiration. The boat was about to anchor, and accordingly, the steam was let off. The loud hissing noise thus produced alarmed the natives. They instantly took to their heels, and fled in consternation and dismay; hundreds of them pressing tremulously up the river to escape from the horrible steam engine; and it is affirmed that they never recovered from the panic thus created, until they abandoned the country. (15)

"A Journey of Horseback through the Great West in 1825"
Chester A. Loomis


They [Indians] were destined to melt and vanish before the advancing waves of Anglo-American power, which now rolled westward unchecked and unopposed.

Some races of men seem molded in wax, soft and melting, at once plastic and feeble. Some races, like some metals, combine the greatest flexibility with the greatest strength. But the Indian is hewn out of a rock. You cannot change the form without destruction of the substance. Such, at least' has too often proved the case. Races of inferior energy have possessed a power of expansion and assimilation to which he is a stranger; and it is this fixed and rigid quality which has proved his ruin. He will not learn the arts of civilization, and he and his forest must perish together. The stern, unchanging features of his mind excite our admiration, from their very immutability; and we look with deep interest on the fate of this irreclaimable son of the wilderness, the child who will not be weaned from the breast of his rugged mother. And our interest increases when we discern in the unhappy wanderer, mingled among his vices, the germs of heroic virtues-a hand bountiful to bestow, as it is rapacious to seize, and, even in extremes" famine, imparting its last morsel to a fellow-sufferer; a heart which, strong in friendship as in hate, thinks it not too much to lay down life for its chosen comrade; a soul true to its own idea of honor, and burning with an unquenchable thirst for greatness and renown.

The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada (1898)
Francis Parkman


What use do these ring, streaked, spotted and speckled cattle make of the soil? Do they till it? Revelation said to man, "Thou shalt till the ground." This alone is human life. It is favorable to population, to science, to the information of a human mind in the worship of God. Warburton has well said, that before you can make an Indian a christian you must teach him agriculture and reduce him to a civilized life. To live by tilling is more humano, by hunting is more bestiarum. I would as soon admit a right in the buffalo to grant lands, as in Killbuck, the Big Cat, the Big Dog, or any of the ragged wretches that are called chiefs and sachems. What would you think of going to a big lick or place where the beasts collect to lick saline nitrous earth and water, and addressing yourself to a great buffalo to grant you land? It is true he could not make the mark of the stone or the mountain reindeer, but he could set his cloven foot to the instrument like the great Ottomon, the father of the Turks, when he put his signature to an instrument, he put his large hand and spreading fingers in the ink and set his mark to the parchment. To see how far the folly of some would go, I had once a thought of supplicating some of the great elks or buffaloes that run through the woods, to make me a grant of a hundred thousand acres of land and prove he had brushed the weeds with his tail, and run fifty miles.

I wonder if congress or the different States would recognize the claim? I am so far from thinking the Indians have a right to the soil, that not having made a better use of it for many hundred years, I conceive they have forfeited all pretense to claim, and ought to be driven from it.

With regard to forming treaties or making peace with this race, there are many ideas:

They have the shapes of men and may be of the human species, but certainly in their present state they approach nearer the character of Devils; take an Indian, is there any faith in him? Can you bind him by favors? Can you trust his word or confide in his promise? When he makes war upon you, when he takes you prisoner and has you in his power will he spare you? In this he departs from the law of nature, by which, according to baron Montesquieu and every other man who thinks on the subject; the conqueror in doing otherwise becomes a murderer, who ought to be put to death. On this principle are not the whole Indian nations murderers?

"Indian Atrocities: Narratives of the Perils and Sufferings of Dr. Knight and John Slover, among the Indians, during the Revolutionary War" (1867)
Hugh Henry Brackenridge


In 1833, just as the Indians were being forcibly relocated, the poet William Cullen Bryant came to Illinois to visit his settler brother and published his famous poem "The Prairies." In his romantic view, it was the ordained will of God that the Indians must perish. (47)

Thus change the forms of being. Thus arise
Races of living things, glorious in strength,
And perish, as the quickening breath of God
Fills them, or is withdrawn.

And now that the land is empty, the new "civilized" era can begin:

The sound of that advancing multitude
Which soon shall fill these deserts.
From the ground
Comes up the laugh of children, the soft voice
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn
Of Sabbath worshippers. (48)

Dancing at Halftime (2002)
Carol Spindel


B) Complicity & Contradiction > Henry David Thoreau

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil, - to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that. (71)

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours' walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. (79)

Man and his affairs, church and state and school, trade and commerce, and manufactures and agriculture even politics, the most alarming of them all -- I am pleased to see how little space they occupy in the landscape. Politics is but a narrow field, and that still narrower highway yonder leads to it. I sometimes direct the traveler thither. If you would go to the political world, follow the great road, follow that market-man, keep his dust in your eyes, and it will lead you straight to it; for it, too, has its place merely, and does not occupy all space. I pass from it as from a bean field into the forest, and it is forgotten. In one half-hour I can walk off to some portion of the earth's surface where a man does not stand from one year's end to another, and there, consequently, politics are not, for they are but as the cigar-smoke of a man. (80-81)

Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free. Thither no business leads me. It is hard for me to believe that I shall find fair landscapes or sufficient wildness and freedom behind the eastern horizon. I am not excited by the prospect of a walk thither; but I believe that the forest which I see in the western horizon stretches uninterruptedly toward the setting sun, and there are no towns nor cities in it of enough consequence to disturb me. Let me live where I will, on this side is the city, on that the wilderness, and ever I am leaving the city more and more, and withdrawing into the wilderness. I should not lay so much stress on this fact, if I did not believe that something like this is the prevailing tendency of my countrymen. I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe. And that way the nation is moving, and I may say that mankind progress from east to west. (85-86)

We go eastward to realize history and study the works of art and literature, retracing the steps of the race; we go westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure. (86)

To Americans I hardly need to say,

"Westward the star of empire takes its way." (93)

The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind. Our ancestors were savages. The story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf is not a meaningless fable. The founders of every state which has risen to eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source. It was because the children of the Empire were not suckled by the wolf that they were conquered and displaced by the children of the northern forests who were. (94-95)

It is said to be the task of the American "to work the virgin soil," and that "agriculture here already assumes proportions unknown everywhere else." I think that the farmer displaces the Indian even because he redeems the meadow, and so makes himself stronger and in some respects more natural. (101)

The weapons with which we have gained our most important victories, which should be handed down as heirlooms from father to son, are not the sword and the lance, but the bushwhack, the turf-cutter, the spade, and the bog hoe, rusted with the blood of many a meadow, and begrimed with the dust of many a hard-fought field. The very winds blew the Indian's cornfield into the meadow, and pointed out the way which he had not the skill to follow. He had no better implement with which to intrench himself in the land than a clam- shell. But the farmer is armed with plow and spade. (102)

The West is preparing to add its fables to those of the East. The valleys of the Ganges, the Nile, and the Shine having yielded their crop, it remains to be seen what the valleys of the Amazon, the Plate, the Orinoco, the St. Lawrence, and the Mississippi will produce. Perchance, when, in the course of ages, American liberty has become a fiction of the past -- as it is to some extent a fiction of the present -- the poets of the world will be inspired by American mythology. (105)

In short, all good things are wild and free. (106)

"Walking" (1862)
Henry David Thoreau


As one may reach the crest of a mountain in what looks to be wilderness and see a city on the other side, so Thoreau in his rhapsody about the wild and free suddenly joins forces with the march of progress which will spread cities, railroads, mines, and military bases across his vision of the West. It may demonstrate the power of the jingoism of the time that even so obstinately independent a citizen as Thoreau falls under its sway. Halfway through the essay, the guide who has set out to show us the glory that is absolute wilderness is taking us on a tour of the marvels of progress, cultural and geographical. In fact, in the spirit of his time, he conflates the two in one tide of advancing civilization, one celebration of westerly ascent of European man in America. (109-10)

The United States of America has, ever since this strange upwelling of nationalistic optimism, been distinguished by its amnesia, its sense of prodigious destiny - its looking ever forward and never back - and its frenzied transformation of landscape into real estate. (111-12)

Savage Dreams (1994)
Rebecca Solnit


[Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844] America is the country of the Future. From Washington,... through all its cities, states, and territories, it is a country of beginnings, of projects, of vast designs, and expectations. It has no past: all has onward and prospective look.... Gentlemen, there is a sublime and friendly Destiny by which the human race is guided. (97)

The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920 (1991)
William H. Truettner


C) Contesting Inevitability

The logic of the Georgians in this issue rather supported Benjamin Franklin's generalization: "So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or to make a reason for everything one has a mind to do." (86)

Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History (1935)
Albert Weinberg


After recounting his expedition with Scipiano to secure a peace, Perlot pens his longest meditation on the Indians he has met. It is a remarkable assessment for its time, making them out to be neither Diggers nor noble savages, but clearly indicating the writer's own politics: "This habit of judging without knowing each other is, I think, most of the time, the source of the wars which break out before peoples, whether they are savage or civilized," he says in conclusion to the treaty account, and then goes on: "We had built a false idea, certainly, of the Indian when we considered and treated him as a wild beast.... He is called savage, I hardly know why; whether by this word one means a ferocious, unsociable being, or simply living in a state of nature, it belongs in no way to the Indian. He has, just like us, his customs, his laws, his religion; only they differ from ours.... Doubtless, there is an institution which forms for so-called civilized peoples one of the bases - some of them simply say the base - of society, and which the Indian does not know: property. Is this a sign of inferiority? I will not decide the question. But who can tell us that the progress of civilization will not bring us, in this respect, to the point where the Indian is? (282-83)

Savage Dreams (1994)
Rebecca Solnit


In the course of his letter to Clay, Channing took a solid swipe at destinarian justifications:

"It is sometimes said, that nations are always swayed by laws, as unfailing as those which govern matter; that they have their destinies; that their character and position carry them forward irresistibly to their goal... that, by a like necessity, the Indians have melted before the white man, and the mixed, degraded race of Mexico must melt before the Anglo-Saxon. Away with this vile sophistry! There is no necessity for crime. There is no Fate to justify rapacious nations, any more than to justify gamblers and robbers, in plunder. We boast of the progress of society, and this progress consists in the substitutions of reason and moral principle for the sway of brute force. It is true, that the more civilized must always exert a great power over less civilized communities in their neighbourhood. But it may and should be a power to enlighten and improve.... We are destined (that is the word) to overspread North America; and, intoxicated with the idea, it matters little to us how we accomplish our fate. To spread, to supplant others, to cover a boundless space, this seems our ambition, no matter what influence we spread with us. Why cannot we rise to noble conceptions of our destiny?" (50-51)

Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (1995)
Anders Stephanson


The evil, Sir, is enormous; the inevitable suffering incalculable. Do not stain the fair fame of the country.... Nations of dependent Indians, against their will, under color of law, are driven from their homes into the wilderness. You cannot explain it; you cannot reason it away.... Our friends will view this measure with sorrow, and our enemies alone with joy. And we ourselves, Sir, when the interests and passions of the day are past, shall look back upon it, I fear, with self-reproach, and a regret as bitter as unavailing.

"Speeches on the Passage of the Bill for the Removal of the Indians Delivered in the Congress of the United States" (1830)
Edward Everett


[William Apess / Eulogy on King Philip, 1836] "Let the children of the pilgrims blush, while the son of the forest drops a tear, and groans over the fate of his murdered and departed fathers. He would say to the sons of the pilgrims, (as Job said about his birthday), let the day be dark, the 22nd of December, 1620; let it be forgotten in your celebration, in your speeches, and by the burying of the Rock that your fathers first put their foot upon. For be it remembered, although the gospel is said to be glad tidings to all people, yet we poor Indians never have found those who brought it as messengers of mercy, but contrawise. We say, therfore, let every man of color wrap himself in mourning, for the 22nd of December and the 4th of July are days of mourning and not of joy." (244-251)

Facing East from Indian Country (2001)
Daniel K Richter


Annual Report of the Secretary of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1938

In all our colorful American life there is no group around which there so steadfastly persists an aura compounded of glamour, suspicion, and romance as the Indian. For generations the Indian has been, and is today, the center of an amazing series of wonderings, fears, legends, hopes.

Yet those who have worked with Indians know that they are neither the cruel, warlike, irreligious savages imagined by some, nor are they the "fortunate children of nature's bounty" described by tourists who see them for an hour at some glowing ceremonial. We find the Indians, in all the basic forces and forms of life, human beings like ourselves. The majority of them are very poor people living under severely simple conditions. We know them to be deeply religious. We know them to be possessed of all the powers, intelligence, and genius within the range of human endowment. Just as we yearn to live out our own lives in our own ways, so, too, do the Indians, in their ways.

For nearly 300 years white Americans, in our zeal to carve out a nation made to order, have dealt with the Indians on the erroneous, yet tragic, assumption that the Indians were a dying race - to be liquidated. We took away their best lands; broke treaties, promises; tossed them the most nearly worthless scraps of a continent that had once been wholly theirs. But we did not liquidate their spirit. The vital spark which kept them alive was hardy. So hardy, indeed, that we now face an astounding, heartening fact.

Actually, the Indians, on the evidence of federal census rolls of the past eight years, are increasing at almost twice the rate of the population as a whole.

"We Took Away Their Best Lands, Broke Treaties" (1938)
John Collier


A speech given at Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?

Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation's ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

The fact that the church of our country (with fractional exceptions) does not esteem "the Fugitive Slave Law" as a declaration of war against religious liberty, im plies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love, and good will towards man.

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines, who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty and leave the throne of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, manstealers, and thugs. It is not that "pure and undefiled religion" which is from above, and which is "first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and with out hypocrisy." But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man.

Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and body-guards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from oppression in your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot, and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education; yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation-a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen, and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against the oppressor; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a three-penny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe "that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth," and hath commanded all men, everywhere, to love one another; yet you notoriously hate (and glory in your hatred) all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare before the world, and are understood by the world to declare that you "hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain in alienable rights; and that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, "is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose," a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

Fellow-citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad: it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing and a byeword to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. it fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement; the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet you cling to it as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation's bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

"The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro" (1852)
Frederick Douglass


I had also found a book of poems published in 1919 by Edgar Lee Masters of Spoon River Anthology fame. Masters called his collection Starved Rock, after the poem of that name....

Later the remnant of the Illini
Climbed up this Rock, to die
Of hunger, thirst, or down its sheer ascents
Rushed on the spears of Pottawatomies,
And found the peace
Where thirst and hunger are unknown.

Masters says that the rock's secret is defeat and change. The next to the last verse implicates us too.

This is the land where every generation
Lets down its buckets for the water of Life.
We are the children and the epigone
Of the Illini, the vanished nation.
And this starved scrap of stone
Is now the emblem of our tribulation,
The inverted cup of our insatiable thirst,
The Illini by fate accursed,
This land lost to the Pottawatomies,
They lost the land to us,
Who baffled and idolatrous,
And thirsting, spurred by hope
Kneel upon aching knees,
And with our eager hands draw up the bucketless rope. (62-3)

Dancing at Halftime (2002)
Carol Spindel


Benjamin Franklin had a specious little equation in providential mathematics:

Rum + Savage = 0.

Awfully nice! You might add up the universe to nought, if you kept on.

Rum plus Savage may equal a dead savage. But is a dead savage nought? Can you make a land virgin by killing off its aborigines?

The Aztec is gone, and the Incas. The Red lndian, the Esquimo, the Patagonian are reduced to negligible numbers.

0u sont les neiges d'antan?

My dear, wherever they are, they will come down again next winter, sure as houses.

Not that the Red Indian will ever possess the broad lands of America. At least I presume not. But his ghost will.

The Red Man died hating the white man. What remnant of him lives, lives hating the white man. Go near the Indians, and you just feel it. As far as we are concerned, the Red Man is subtly and unremittingly diabolic. Even when he doesn't know it. He is dispossessed in life, and unforgiving. He doesn't believe in us and our civilization, and so is our mystic enemy, for we push him off the face of the earth.

Belief is a mysterious thing. It is the only healer of the soul's wounds. There is no belief in the world.

The Red Man is dead, disbelieving in us. He is dead and unappeased. Do not imagine him happy in his Happy Hunting Ground. No. Only those that die in belief die happy. Those that are pushed out of life in chagrin come back unappeased, for revenge.

A curious thing about the Spirit of Place is the fact that no place exerts its full influence upon a newcomer until the old inhabitant is dead or absorbed. So America. While the Red Indian existed in fairly large numbers, the new colonials were in a great measure immune from the daimon, or demon, of America. The moment the last nuclei of Red life break up in America, then the white men will have to reckon with thc full force of the demon of the continent. At present the demon of the place and the unappeased ghosts of the dead Indians act within the unconscious or under-conscious soul of the white American, causing the great American grouch, the Orestes-like frenzy of restlessness in the Yankee soul, the inner malaise which amounts almost to madness, sometimes. The Mexican is macabre and disintegrated in his own way. Up till now, the unexpressed spirit of America has worked covertly in the American, the white American soul. But within the present generation the surviving Red Indians are due to merge in the great white swamp. Then the Daimon of America will work overtly, and we shall see real changes.

There has been all the time, in the white American soul, a dual feeling about the Indian. First was Franklin's feeling, that a wise Providence no doubt intended the extirpation of these savages. Then came Crevecoeur's contradictory feeling about the noble Red Man and the innocent life of the wigwam. Now we hate to subscribe to Benjamin's belief in a Providence that wisely extirpates the Indian to make room for "cultivators of the soil." In Crevecoeur we meet a sentimental desire for the glorification of the savages. Absolutely sentimental. Hector pops over to Paris to enthuse about the wigwam.

The desire to extirpate the Indian. And the contradictory desire to glorify him. Both are rampant still, today.

The bulk of the white people who live in contact with the Indian today would like to see this Red brother exterminated; not only for the sake of grabbing his land, but because of the silent, invisible, but deadly hostility between the spirit of the two races. The minority of whites intellectualize the Red Man and laud him to the skies. But this minority of whites is mostly a high-brow minority with a big grouch against its own whiteness. So there you are.

I doubt if there is possible any real reconciliation, in the flesh, between the white and the red.

Studies in Classic American Literature (1923)
D.H. Lawrence

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