An Address by the Rev. Calvin Colton, before the Lyceum, Amherst, Mass. delivered, Jan. 5, 1830
'So I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power, but they had no comforter.'
THE DUTY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE TOWARDS THE INDIANS.
It is obvious that this subject must involve considerations of public and national character; and it is impossible to enter upon its discussion, without seeming in some measure to de______ the appropriate ground of statesmen. And indeed, the very genius of our government and institutions supposes that it will sometime become the special duty of every citizen to make himself acquainted with questions of national interest-that he may be able to discharge his own private responsibilities, as a member of the community. Judging that present conditions and prospects of the Indians within the jurisdiction and under the protection of the U. States, make a question of this sort. I have consented to attempt its discussion; having first satisfied myself on this point that the question is not a question of pride-or a question on which the grand political parties of the nation divide as such-but a simple question of right-the common cause of humanity. There maybe, there is undoubtedly a difference of opinion-but it is not a question of policy, in the common sense of the term- leaving us a choice between two courses, both of which are right in themselves-but one of which is better than the other. But it is a question of morality-of religion-between right and wrong-to be decided by the immutable and eternal principles of justice; and no citizen of the United States who has a conscience, can be indifferent to the result, or fail to share in the responsibility.
It is a singular fact, that the Indians commonly so called--the Aborigines of this country--the original and from time immemorial proprietors of this vast continent--have become the strangers in the midst of those, who have supplanted them; of those, who first solicited and received from them the rites of hospitality; of those, who had themselves, not a few of them, fled from a condition as grievous as Egyptian bondage; -who were
grateful to be allowed on any terms a small space, a little tenantry, in this wide retreat from European turmoil and lordly vassalage. It is true, indeed, that a portion of the first European settlements in North America was made from a spirit of worldly and political enterprise-that the first occupancy of some of these grounds was secured by an assumed right of discovery, under the patronage of kings and the prescripted prerogative of royal charters, and that not a few of those who came thus proud from the courts of princes, had the insolence to disregard the elder and principle claims of those they found in the peaceful and heretofore undisputed possession of these shores. But the world being a jury- (and let it be remembered the world will yet be jury of the question, when their finding shall correspond with the decree of Heaven's chancery) the world may bring a jury-no charters of kings, or force of their arms could annul the sacred right of the aboriginal tenants in the soil of their fathers. I do not speak of the right of discovery, for that were a mockery. As if I by an accidental, or covetous lifting up of my eye on my neighbor's grounds, thereby invested myself with the right of his ejectment.
So it happened, that the unsuspicious and generous Indians unpracticed in the arts and forcasts of civilized refinement (which are too often the arts of knavery ) first tendered and discharged the rights of hospitality to his European visitants;-next gave them, in all good faith, a piece of ground, and another, and still another until the coasts of this new world were lined with the colonial establishments of European emigrants. And let it be observed that the first footing gained by Europeans on this soil, and every subsequent acquisition were by sufferance of the natives or by stipulation-not by any inherent or independent claim. This continent was theirs not ours. And a claim set up by the Aborigines of this country over Europe, or one of its districts would have been equally valid as a claim created and asserted on the other side of the Atlantic over any of this regions from whatever authority it might have been founded independent of the consent of the occupants. Neither in moral rectitude could a bargain dictated by the superior sagacity of Europeans over the ignorance of the natives give a fair and righteous title.
But by sufferance and by contract, European settlements have been so multiplied and extended in these regions and their population so increased- the knowledge and arts of civilized life have so prevailed over the ignorance and consequent imbecility of the Indians that they have gradually resigned their territory and themselves dwindled away, till they have become a weak and dependent people, and altogether at the mercy of those whom they first entertained upon these shores as guests, and whom for ages they held in their power, either to let live, or exterminate forever.
As it should not be forgotten, that the means by which the present lords of this precious heritage have gained such ascendency, have not in all cases have been perfectly fair. It is true indeed, that knowledge is power; and that refinement placed by the side of barbarism, industry thriving against idleness, will soon lift up itself on high, and wither and blast the sluggish intellect, and the unnerved arm that might otherwise have been a superior. Such have been the influences of European cultivation, manners, arts, and enterprise, over the physical and moral vicissitude of a savage population on this side of the Atlantic. And had the gradual ascendancy and ultimate domination of the Europeans over the natives rested alone on such a basis, there would seem to be a righteous law in it, settled by the immutable and wise orders of Providence. Especially would it have been their righteous, if proper endeavors had been made all along to improve the intellectual and moral condition of the natives, and thus a chance given them of maintaining their rights and securing their future existence.
But it is too well known that these benevolent offices have been witholden (sic) excepting only the self-consecration of here and there an individual who has sacrificed his powers and life for their good, such as an Elliott, a Mayhew, a Brainerd, and a Kirkland. But these exceptions have been too rare for any permanent and general impression. The Indians have been abandoned to their ignorance. And in the light of the intellectual and moral superiorities of their neighbor, being left to compare their own uncultivated condition with their neighbors' refinements, and the fruits of the one with the fruits of the other- they have felt their ignorance- they have shrunk back and settled down, as if under a conscious debasement. The sight of higher and more demanding virtues-- so that they too have been reputed, in authentic story as in romance, to have been noble and generous and heroic-to have developed some of the native virtues in their softest forms and their most delicate hue-have, by a long succession of ill-treatment by the habitual indulgence of the baser passions of jealousy, resentment, and revenge, become diffident, sullen, and desperate. Whatever of moral worth and of moral courage they once possessed meriting distinction, seem to have departed from them forever;--except, now and then, when roused for a moment to tell a story of their wrongs, occasional gleams and some startling conversations shoot across their darkness, and then again die away into night.
From the almost utter neglect of that intellectual and moral culture, which we have owed them under that law which forbids us to do injury to our neighbors, they have sunk down in discouragement, and into almost every species of moral debasement. It were morally impossible, that they should not rise or fall by such a contract; rise if we had rendered unto them our obligations:--fall, as they have done, by our delinquency.- Seeking our own advantage in planting ourselves by their side, and coming into the midst of them, we were bound in the first place, not to injure them;--and next to do them all the good in our power. But pursuing only a negative course in relation to them, not making them partakers of our knowledge and refinements, and arts, was and must be their inevitable ruin.
But we have not only declined these benevolent, and as appears obligatory offices in relation to the aborigines,---but we have more or less directly or indirectly, abetted or employed physical means for their destruction. History too well attests that the mutual and destructive wars of the Indian tribes, have been, in no small degree fomented or remotely caused by their white neighbors. And often they have been challenged or unnecessarily provoked to commit depredations on the European settlements, and thus draw down upon themselves certain vengeance. And an apology for hostilities, as if in self-defence, has not unfrequently stretched out its prerogative, till it has grasped the sword of extermination. The imagination of the white man has clothed the Indian, as the enemy with all the terrors of a cannibal savage, and his treatment of him has made him so. He has sported with the rudeness of his nature, and provoked his untamed ferocity to the most savage daring. Hence the rupture of the first friendships, the breaking of treaties, the perpetual enmities. And hence the idea and name of
savage in the white man's vocabulary, and that of spoller in the Indians. For is not he a spoiler to me, who has driven me out, whether by stratagem or by violence from the inheritance and graves of my ancestors?-- And a spoiler too, as such another cannot be named.
But it has been an unequal conflict, and the poor Indian has long since retired from the field--his spirit broken--his tribe and nation all but annihilated--a little remnant only, soliciting mercy and protection of those whom once they might have despised and when but for their hospitality and generous disposition they might have driven into the sea. The Indian sees, and knows and feels that the white man has been his ruin. And such is the fact.
Since, however, the Indians have ceased to be the formidable enemy--especially since they have thrown themselves, like children, into the arms of our rulers for protection, the government of the United States has established in relation to them a generous policy, and extended over them a paternal care. From the moment they were seen to be a fallen people, their glory departed, their tribes wasted, and their last inheritance, the little territory left them by that cupidity and overreaching of the whites, fast dwindling away by the same causes--the current of public sympathy began to set in their favor. Public opinion authorized and demanded the heads of a department in our government to institute measures for their present and future protection. So long as our territorial borders were so wide, so long as our supremacy in relation to the aborigines was so well established, and before we had time to think, that we should ever covet even the small reservations allowed by our decrees to these outcasts from a band originally and rightfully theirs--so long a general sympathy, a sense of Justice, a public conscience generously and promptly pledged our Government and the nation and seconded all measures to secure and defend the remaining possessions and the rights of our red brethren. And we have reason to suppose that all measures, which have actually been taken from time to time, by Government and by their official agents; for these purposes, have been done sincerely, in honesty in good faith. The contrary supposition would be a high impeachment of the moral integrity our fathers and of ourselves--it would be a gross libel on the nation.
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