Thursday, March 6, 1828
Vol. I, No. 3
Page 4, col. 3a
TRAITS OF INDIAN CHARACTER.
The following beautiful remarks are from the pen of WASHINGTON IRVING, originally published in the AN ELECTIC MAGAZINE.
"In the present times, when popular feeling is gradually becoming hardened by war, and selfish by the frequent jeopardy of life or property, it is certainly an unsuspicious moment to speak in behalf of a race of beings whose very existence has been pronounced detrimental to public security. But it is good at all times to raise the voice of truth however feeble; to endeavor if possible to mitigate the fury of passion and prejudice, and to turn aside the bloody hand of violence. Little interest, however, can probably be awakened at present, in favor of the misguided tribes of Indians that have been drawn into the present war. The rights of the savage have seldom been deeply appreciated by the white man-in peace he is the dupe of mercenary rapacity; in war he is regarded as a ferocious animal, whose death is a question of mere precaution and convenience. Man is cruelly wasteful of life when his own safety is endangered and he is sheltered by impunity-and little mercy is to be expected from him who feels the sting of the reptile, and is conscious of the power to destroy.
"It has been the lot of the unfortunate aborigines of this country, to be doubly wronged by the white men-first, driven from their native soil by the sword of the invader, and then darkly slandered by the pen of the historian. The former has treated them like beasts of the forest; the latter has written volumes to justify him in his outrages. The former found it easier to exterminate than to civilize; the latter to abuse than to discriminate.- The hideous appellations of savage & pagan were sufficient to sanction the deadly hostilities of both; and the poor wanderers of the forests were persecuted and dishonored not because they were guilty, but because they were ignorant.
"The same prejudices seem to exist in common circulation, at the present day. We form our opinions of the Indian character from the miserable hordes that infest our frontiers.- These, however, are degenerate beings, enfeebled by the vices of society, without being benefitted by its arts of living. The independence of thought and action that formed the main pillar of their character has been completely prostrated and the whole moral fabric lies in ruins. Their spirits are debased by conscious inferiority, and their native courage completely daunted by the superior knowledge & power of their enlightened neighbors. Society has advanced upon them like a many headed monster, breathing every variety of misery. Before it, went forth pestilence, famine and the sword; and in its train came the slow, but exterminating curse of trade. What the former did not sweep away, the latter has gradually blighted. It has increased their wants without increasing the means of gratification. It has enervated their strength, multiplied their diseases, blasted the powers of their minds and superinduced on their original barbarity the low vices of civilization. Poverty, repining and hopeless poverty-a cancer of the mind unknown to sylvan life-corrodes their very hearts.- They loiter like vagrants through the settlements, among spacious habitations replete with artificial comforts, which only render them sensible of the comparative wretchedness of their own condition. Luxury spreads its ample board before their eyes, but they are expelled from the banquet. The forest which once furnished them with ample means of subsistence has been levelled to the ground-waving fields of grain have sprung up in its place; but they have no participation in the harvest; plenty revels around them, but they are starving amidst its stores; the whole wilderness blossoms like a garden, but they feel like the reptiles that infest it.
"How different was their case while yet the undisputed lords of the soil.
Their wants were few, and the means of gratifying them within their reach.
They saw everyone around them sharing the same lot, enduring the same hardships,
living in the same cabins, feeding on the same aliments, arrayed in the same
rude garments. No roof then rose, but what was open to the houseless stranger,
no smoke curled among the trees, but he was welcome to sit down by its fire,
and join the hunter in his repast. "For, says an old historian of New
England, "Their life is so void of care, and they are so loving also that they
make use of those things they enjoy as common goods, and therein so compassionate
that rather than one should starve throughout, they would starve all, thus do
they pass their time merrily, not regarding our pomp, but are better content
with their own, which some men esteem so meanly of." Such were the Indians
while in the pride and energy of primitive simplicity; they resemble those wild
plants that thrive best in the shades of the forest, but which shrink from the
hand of cultivation, and perish beneath the influence of the sun.
[To Be Continued]