An Address by the REV. CALVIN COLTON
before the Lyceum Amherst, Mass.-
delivered Jan. 5, 1830
I will conclude with three reasons, why this whole nation ought to rouse itself immediately for the vindication of the cause, and for the maintenance of the rights of the Indians.
1. Justice demands it. It is said, that a sense of justice was so disproportionate and so trifling an ingredient in the moral temperament of Bonaporte, that he disbelieved its existence, as an essential attribute of man; that he relied entirely upon fear and interest for the success of his plans, and that he never apprehended a retribution for what is vulgarly called injustice. And this supposition is the most rational account of the fact-that he never demurred an instant to outrage the common sense of justice, in all its forms, whenever it interfered with his designs. And when he tumbled from his throne, he went down mightily, having no sympathy on this wide earth, but that which stands aghast at fallen greatness.
The noiseless tenants of the grave were moved at his coming;-they that had been chief-kings on the earth, and who were cast down by him, stirred themselves up to mark his overthrow: 'Is this the man, that made the earth to tremble-did shake kingdoms? That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof: That opened not the house of his prisoners? Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us? All other kings of the nations, lie in state-in their own tombs. But this man is cast out like an abominable branch-as a carcass trodden under foot. He is not joined with other kings in burial, because he wasted the earth, and slew the people.'
The wrongs he has done the world have left their traces in blood and fire all over Europe, and beyond the Mediterranean, crossing themselves in every direction. The deep impressions of his injustice, as felt and experienced with unmitigated agony, have left their indelible stamp on thousands and millions of minds that have gone before him, and are crowding after him to judgement.
And be it remembered by us, by this nation, by all whom it may concern: That justice is a reality in the moral universe, and that it exerciseth supremacy over the natural; that the whole physical energy of creation is armed and ready for its summons; that its very bidding would fire such magazines of retribution as no created power could stand before; and that to the wrong doer, wherever found, it is a sure and fearful avenger.
Justice is a stern, an immutable, invincible, and all conquering sovereign. She standeth out, the chief-the foremost of the perfections of the infinite Jehovah. All other attributes of God are her attendants, and if occasion demand, her ministers. In the heart of all moral beings she is an innate principle--she hath written there the indelible image of herself, which cannot be deceived, nor practiced on. She despises, abhors all sophistry, that would make the worse appear the better cause. And while the world stands, the world can never be convinced, whatever logic may be employed, however many volumes may be written to prove it-can never be convinced, that European enterprise, crossing the Atlantic, and lighting on these shores, thereby became entitled to this continent, in contempt of the will of its elder lords. And though it should be undertaken to be proved, that the Indian is not a man-the world will still reply-he is a man-and must be respected as a man.- And though still it should be pleaded, that civilization and refinement, so called, in themselves create lordship and sovereign property over the more uncultivated portions of the human family-who shall be the jury to determine the line of demarcation, to say, what particular portion shall be lords, and who shall be slaves? and who will undertake to make the world content and submissive under such an assignment? to silence the voice, or stand before the march of justice?
All that has been said, written or done, to establish the claims of Europeans over this soil, independent of the will of the aborigines-vanishes, like the child's air bubble before the breath of his mouth, at the simple statement, the truth of which every body feels, viz: that the Indian is the primeval and rightful lord of this continent. No deed of right can fasten here, without his uncompelled voluntary seal. Such is, and will forever be, the decision of justice--of the common sense of justice, prevalent in the world.
But who does not know, that nearly all the present possessions of the descendants of Europeans on this continent, have been obtained by methods and for considerations, not altogether fair, when judged by the rule: 'Do to others, as ye would that others should do to you'- which after all is the only standard of justice in the commercial transactions of men. Tantalized, cajoled, overreached, and outraged, as the feelings and rights of the Indians have been-driven back, hemmed in, and cut off on every side-till they have become strangers in the land of their fathers, with scarcely room to bury their dead;--Justice surely demands, as the least satisfaction, that the nation should fulfil their own formal and solemn engagements, though made too late to save the primitive rights of the Indians; - that they should keep their own plighted faith from violation,-stand between the forsaken and persecuted Indian and those who are ready to swallow up and devour him. And not only so, but for past injuries, done to him, and for advantages gained to themselves by such means, they should cherish him as a child, and do all in their power to elevate his condition, and fit him for the enjoyments, not only of civilization, but of refinement. I say, justice demands such protection, and such parental care, as the least that can now be rendered by this nation for all the injuries done that scathed and desolate people-and for all the advantages we have gained in consequence. And if justice be denied in this demand, I for one would tremble for the future retribution of her hand.
2. The good faith and public character of this nation are staked upon the treatment they shall render to the Indian in the present crisis.
The character of a community in a world of communities is no less important to itself, and in many respects is more so, than the character of an individual in a community of individuals. A man can bear slander, and still be respected and prosper, when it is always in his power to demonstrate his innocence. But no man can stand up against scandal, that is founded in truth. It will blast his name, and wither his prosperity. He has lost the respect and confidence of others, and what is worse, he has lost his own self-respect. He cannot hold up his head, and say to the world: I am an honest man.
And woe to that community, or nation, that shall trample its own faith in the mire of the streets and tell to the world, that it will not be bound by its own engagements. If one nation breaks treaty with an equal, the offence may be atoned by the indemnifications of war; that is, in the estimation of the world. But in the present instance there is no equality; there is no appeal, except to heaven; there is no possibility of hope of redress; the perfidy, if committed is of the basest sort. It is crushing the poor, and helpless that have thrown themselves upon our charity--them that were made poor and helpless, that we might be rich and strong.
Let it be remembered, that the solemn engagements, made by this nation in the pride of their character and nobleness of their feeling, to protect the Indian, to preserve the integrity of his possessions, and to maintain his rights-engagements made, when the justice of the claim and of the appeal was felt--let it be remembered. I say, that these engagements will not remain a secret from the world, if broken; but will be trumpeted round the globe on Rumor's thousand tongue, 'by that blunt monster of uncounted heads, the still discordant wavering multitude' of our enemies, that are waiting for our halving. Who, then, would be willing to own his country, if this were his country?
'The purest pleasure mortal times afford, is spotless reputation'-- a name as dear and as important to a nation, as to a man. Character is, wealth--is power. Infamy is poverty--that might seek the grave to hide its shame, and terminate its wretchedness. When a man dies for his country, he dies, peradventure, for his country's honor. Certainly its honor cannot be separated from his aspirations. And if that honor be stained, he is so far robbed of the reward of his martyrdom. O ye spirits of our fathers, who offered up your lives for us, and covenanted to indemnity the Indian for his wrongs-who imposed on us these obligations with our inheritance, be not witnesses of our shame, if we withdraw our hand from the fulfillment of these engagements!
3. But there is another consideration, taught by the sad experience of an ancient prince. 'The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth to whomsoever he will;' - and which extorted from that prince this notable confession: 'Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven-all whose works are truth, and his ways of judgement-and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.' What but pride could make us forget to be just, and turn away our heart from the deedy (sic)? Once we were willing to acknowledge our obligations to the Indians.
I have stated that the Indian has become a stranger in the midst of us. We were once the stranger; he is not-virtually. And it is remarkable, that God has coupled together the stranger, the widow, and the fatherless-propounded himself their advocate--and declared them under his special protection. And of the last two classes, he has said, and the same may fairly be inferred of the three: 'If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry. And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword. And your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.'
I know there are many people in the land who do not fear God, nor respect the judgements of his hand. But I hope it is not yet too late to address an argument to this nation from his high throne: that there is yet virtue enough in this land to desire his favor, and to tremble at his frown. And if it be not too late-if there be such remaining virtue-now, if ever, and in relation to the present crisis of the Indians, is the occasion for its demonstration. If God may ever be supposed to look down from heaven with interest on a cause that is pending between the weak and the strong, between the oppressed and the oppressor-he cannot me thinks be inattentive, or indifferent to the cause of the Indians, as it now stands. And if God be unchangeable; and will keep his own word, we cannot abuse the Indians, thus thrown in our power,cast upon our generosity, and commended to our sense of justice;--himself backed with a file of promises from under our own hand to treat him kindly; I say, we cannot abuse him, but at a peril from God, which ought to make us tremble. ' These that walk in pride, he is able to abase.' And he holdeth the moral and the physical elements all in his hand, and maketh them his ministers.
I do not believe that this nation, or any other, is to be punished for their sins by a miraculous series of dispensation. But this I believe, in the natural order of Providence:-that if there is not virtue enough in this nation to save the Indians, there is not enough to save the nation.
If what I have said needs an apology--my apology is this: that the rights of the weak and defenseless, which in jeopardy, are the cause of religion and humanity. The great question in this nation, as before remarked, is not a question of party, but of right. I do not regard it as a political question, any farther, than that honesty in nations, as well as in individuals, is the best policy. But it is question, between the rights of a small depressed people in the midst of us, and the justice of this great nation. It is possible, indeed, that interested individuals, and states, coveting these territories may yet make it a party question, to divide the nation. But I should deprecate the day. I cannot for the present, however, allow myself to doubt, that when the public are enlightened and awake, there will be but one pulse and one voice in the land.