From the Illinois Monthly Magazine
ON THE INTERCOURSE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WITH THE INDIANS.
Need we pursue the navigators of these and other nations to the different quarters of the globe into which scientific curiosity, mercantile enterprise and naval skill, have penetrated? Such an investigation would but add new facts in support of the positions we have taken; ' we think it unnecessary to burthen an article like this with an accumulated mass of testimony. We prefer to throw out the hints, leaving intelligent readers to make the application, and to draw the proofs from the stores of his own memory.
We may pause here to inquire, how it has happened, that wherever the civilized European has place (sic) his foot upon heathen soil, he seems at once to have been transformed into a barbarian. All the refinements of civilized life, seem to have been forgotten. His benevolence, his sensibility, his high sense of honor, his nice perception of justice, his guarded deportment, his long habits of integrity, punctuality, and kindness, are all thrown aside; and not only has he been less honest than the savage in his dealings, but has far out-stripped him in all the worst propensities of human nature-in avarice, revenge, rapine, bloodthirstiness, and wanton cruelty.
In searching out the moving causes of this apparently anomalous operation of the human mind, by which a change of circumstances seem to have produced an instantaneous and radical transformation of character, I remark, in the first place, that the age of discovery was an age of ignorance. None of the great fountains of light had yet been opened to pour out that flood of knowledge which has since penetrated to every quarter of the globe, and to disseminate those pure principles of conduct which now regulate the intercourse of men, and of nations. In Europe the great mass of people-all of those whose united opinions make up what is called public sentiment, were alike destitute of moral culture; the ruler and the subject, the noble and the plebeian, the martial leader and the wretched peasant, were alike deficient in literature and science. All knowledge was in the hands of the priests, and was by them perverted to the forwarding of their own selfish purposes. The great secret of their influence consisted in an ingenious concealment of all the sources of knowledge. The Bible, the only elevated, pure, and consistent code of Ethics, which the world has ever known, was a sealed book to the people. The ancient classics were carefully concealed from the public eye; and the few sciences which were at all cultivated, were enveloped in the darkness of the dead languages. No system could have been more ingenious or more successful, than thus to clothe the treasures of knowledge in languages difficult of attainment, and accessible only to the high-born and wealthy-for as the latter are precisely the persons who seldom undergo the labor of unlocking the stores of learning, and who still less frequently teach what they have acquired to others, or turn their acquisitions to any profitable account, such a system amounted in practice to a monopoly of learning in the hands of the priesthood. And it is curious to remark-if I may be indulged in making the remark in this place-that the monastic system of education, thus originating in a foul conspiracy against the intellect of man, and designed to accumulate the stores of knowledge in the hands of a few, and to wither up the vigor and enterprise of the common people in the imbecility of hopeless ignorance, was the plan which all the colleges of Europe at first were founded, ' is still the plan with but little variation, of all our seminaries of learning; the alumni of which, if they ever acquire distinction, obtain it not by the aid, but in spite, of their college educations.
Not only were the people of that day destitute of education, but the intercourse of nations with each other, previous to the discovery of the mariner's compass, was extremely limited; and the wonderful facilities for gaining and diffusing intelligence, afforded by the art of navigation, had but just began to operate in the days of Columbus and Cortes.
Again, the era, of which I speak, was a martial age. The people were, everywhere, accustomed to scenes of violence. The right of conquest was universally acknowledged. The act of gain and the power of holding by fraud or force, always vested a sufficient title. Private rights, whether of person or property, were but little understood and universally disregarded; and national justice, in any enlarged systematic sense, was neither practised nor professed.
It was besides, and age of intolerance, bigotry, superstition and clerical despotism; when those who regulated the minds and consciences of men; were monsters of depravity, monuments of perverted taste, intellect, and morals, anomalies in the intercourse of human life--men who lived estranged from society, aliens from its business, strangers to its domestic relations, enemies to its best interest, its noblest virtues, its kindliest affections; but, who yet presided at the altars, and in the courts of justice, who stood behind the throne and in the closet, who held the heartstrings of the peasant and the peer, and wielded the avenues of empires, while they grasped the hard earnings of the industrious poor. It was, in short, the age of the inquisition and the rack when opinions were regulated by law and enforced by the stake and the spear; and when departures from established maxims were punished by torture, disfranchisement, and death.
Under such auspices, commenced the intercourse of civilized, with savage nations; and unfortunately , the pioneers who led the way in the discovery and colonization of our new countries, were with a few bright exceptions, the worst men of their time--the priest, the soldier, and the mariner; men inured to cruelty, violence and rapine, and from whose codes of religion, morality, and law, imperfect as they were, the poor heathen was entirely excluded. It is easy therefore, to discover the motives which governed all their actions; and when we remember how lasting is the first impressions; how contagious is evil example; now difficult it is to eradicate prejudice; how next to impossible to soothe the irritation of excited passions; and to build up social and kind relations, in the midst of a chaos of tumult, crime and violence-it is not difficult to trace out the chain of circumstances, acting with the certainty of cause and effect, which have perpetuated the errors and misdeeds of the first discoverers through the successive generations of their descendants, and operating with equal power upon the unhappy victims of oppression.
In the settlement of North America, the conduct of the whites towards the Indians was far less blameable than in the instances above quoted; but it was by no means free from violence. The founders of New England were a pious race, who brought with them a political creed far more enlightened, and a much purer system of moral action, than any portion of Europe had yet learned to tolerate. They were disposed to act conscientiously in their public, as well as their private concerns; and their relations with the Indians were commenced in amity and good faith. Their great fault was their religious intolerance. Theirs was an intolerant age; and it is not surprising that a people who persecuted one another on account of sectarian differences of opinion should have little charity for unbelievers. They who burned old women for indulging in the innocent pastime of riding on broomsticks, fired quakers for wearing broad brimmed hats, and enacted, from the purest impulse of conscience, all the other extravagances of the blue laws, may well have fancied themselves privileged to oppress the uncivilized Indian. They could not brook the idea of associating with heathens as with equals, they looked upon them with scorn, and negotiated with them as with inferiors. However a sense of duty might restrain them from open insult or injury, they could not conceal their abhorrence of the persons and principles of their new allies. That a free untainted race, accustomed to no superiors, should long remain in amicable intercourse, with a precise sectarian people who held them in utter aversion, was not to be expected; and accordingly, we find that the hollow friendship of these parties was soon interrupted. The stern ancestors of the Warrens, Putnams, and Adamses, however well they understood the fortiter in resuaviter in modo. Wars ensued, and no lasting peace was ever restored, until the Indian tribes were extinguished or driven from the country.
In the southern colonies, we find the same consequences, resulting from nearly the same causes, evinced, however, in a somewhat different modus operandi. The English were kindly received by the natives, but no sustained effort was systematically made by the former to maintain the cordiality so vitally necessary to their own interests. Several fruitless attempts were made to plant a colony in Virginia, before that enterprise succeeded. 'The emigrants, notwithstanding, the orders they received had never been solicitous to cultivate the good will of the natives, and had neither asked permission when they occupied their country, nor given a price for their valuable property, which was violently taken away.- The miseries of famine were soon superadded to the horrors of massacre.' (See Chalmers' Political Annals, under the head Virginia.) Yet under all the disasters suffered by that colony, and with repeated examples and admonitions to warn them, they could never bring themselves to entertain sufficient respect for the Indians to treat them with civility, or negotiate with them in good faith. Their great error was that they did not consider themselves in their intercourse with savages, bound by the same moral obligations which would have governed their dealings with civilized men in their deportment they were loose and careless; they threw off the ordinary restraints of social life; decent and sober virtues were laid aside; and while as individuals they forfeited confidence by their irregularities, they lost it as a body politic, by weak councils, and bad faith.- It is to be recollected that the colonies were intruders in a strange land; they had to establish a character.- Their very coming was suspicious. There was no reason why the natives should think them better than they seemed; but many why they might suspect them to be worse. The Indians having few virtues in their simple code, practice those which they do profess with great punctuality; among these are truth; and the faithful observance of treaties; and they could not lightly esteem those who openly set at defiance all that they themselves hold sacred. That no attempt was made to convert or civilize the aborigines, nor any liberal feeling indulged towards them, will not be thought surprising, when we find the colonial governor of Virginia, so late as the year 1760 using the following language in a letter to his government:- 'I thank God there are no free schools, nor printing, and I hope we shall not have them for these hundred years. For learning has brought disobedience, heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the government. God keep us from both!' Such were the persons by whom the first impressions of our character was made upon the Indian mind!
We mention these facts for the purpose of showing that civilized nations have never yet made a fair experiment of the practicability of christianizing the savage tribes; for although efforts of this kind have been attempted upon a limited scale; have everywhere been preceded and neutralized by injuries and insults of so flagitious a character, as to induce those upon whom they were perpetrated, to look with jealousy upon all subsequent advances, however, apparently benevolent, from the same quarter. We do not mean to infer that the breach is so wide that it can never be repaired; but merely to refute those who tell us that the Indians cannot be civilized, by showing that their assertions are not supported by evidence. Before we could admit a conclusion which would present so strange a paradox in the philosophy of the human mind, it must be shown that civilization has been presented to them in an amiable aspect, that it has been offered upon the terms which they could accept with credit and advantage, and that the invitation has been given by those in whose professions they had some reason to place confidence.
We think that we can prove that we have rightly estimated the conduct of the whites, in the two last instances which we have quoted, by referring to two others in which a contrary policy was pursued, and in both of which the results justify our position. The first is the case of William Penn. This enlightened man in his public conduct, consulted his conscience, his sense of right and wrong, and his knowledge of human nature. He believed that the Indians had souls. He treated them individually as human beings, as men, as friends; and negotiated with their tribes as with independent dignified, and responsible public bodies, trusting implicitly in their honor, and pledging in sincerity his own. He was a man of enlarged views, whose mind was above the petty artifices of diplomacy, which were considered justifiable by the statesmen of his day. He not only knew that such arts were dishonest, and condemned them as against conscience, but he also say that honesty was the best policy, 'His great mind was uniformly influenced in his intercourse with the aborigines by those immutable principles of justice, which every where and for all purposes must be regarded as fundamental, if human exertions are to crowned with noble and permanent results.' (Vaux's Anniversary Discourse.) In the 13th, 14th, and 15th sections of the constitution of his colony it was provided, as follows: 'No man shall, by any ways or means, in word or deed, affront or wrong an Indian, but he shall incur the same penalty of the law as if he had committed it against his fellow planter, and if any Indian shall abuse in word or deed, any planer of the province, he shall not be his own judge upon the Indian, but he shall make his complaint to the governor, or some inferior magistrate near him, who shall to the almost of his power, take care with the king of the said Indian, that all reasonable satisfaction be made to the injured planter. All differences between the planters and the natives shall also be ended by twelve men, that is six planters and six natives; that so we may live friendly together as much as in us lieth, preventing all occasions of heart burnings and mischiefs,' and that 'the Indians shall have liberty to do all things relative to improvement of their ground, and providing sustenance for their families, that any of the planters shall enjoy.'
In these simple articles we find the very essence of all good government; equality of rights. Instead of making one rule of action for the whites and another for the Indians, the same mode and measures of justice is prescribed to both; and while his strict adherence to the great principles of civil religious freedom, entitle the virtuous Penn to the highest place as a lawgiver and benefactor of mankind, it justly earned for him, from the Indians especially the affectionate title by which they always spoke of him 'their great and good Ones.' The result was that so long as Pennsylvania remained under the immediate government of its founder, the most amicable relations were maintained with the natives. His scheme of government embraced no military arm; neither troops, forts, nor any armed peasantry. The doctrine of keeping peace by being prepared for war, entered not into his system; his maxim was to avoid 'all occasion of heart burnings and mischiefs,' and to retain the friendship of his neighbors by never appearing to doubt it. The Indians, savage as they are represented to be; and as indeed they are, were awed and won by a policy so just and pacific; and the Quakers had no Indian wars.- The horrors of the firebrand and the tomahawk, of which other colonist had such dreadful experience, were unknown to them, and they cultivated their farms in peace, with no other armor than the powerful name of Penn, ' the inoffensiveness of their own lives. In Watson's 'Account of Buckingham and Solebury,' (in Pennsylvania,) published in the Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, we find the following striking remarks, 'In 1690 there were many settlements of Indians in these townships.'
'Tradition reports that they were kind neighbors, supplying the white people with meat and sometimes with beans and other vegetables, which they did in perfect charity bringing presents to their houses, and refusing pay. Their children were sociable and fond of play. A harmony arose out of their mutual intercourse and dependance. Native simplicity reigned in its greatest extent. The difference between the colonies or the white men and the Indian, in many respects was not great-when to live was the greatest hope, and to enjoy a bare sufficiency the greatest luxury,' (Vol. 1 part 2, page 298) This passage requires no comment; so strongly does it contrast with the accounts of the other new settlements, and so fully does it display the fruits of a prudent and equitable system of civil administration.
The other instance which we shall adduce, we deem to be particularly opposite, as it occurred at the same period under similar circumstances, and among a people the very reverse of the Quakers in character, and who had not the slightest communication, or connexion with them. The French settled in Kaskaskia previous to the year 1740. We cannot fix the precise date; but there are deeds now on record in the public offices at that place, which bear date in 1712, and it is evident that several years must have elapsed from the first settling of the colony before regular transfers of real estate could take place, and before there could have been officers authorized to authenticate such proceedings. It is the general understanding of the old French settlers and we suppose the fact to be so, that Philadelphia, Detroit, and Kaskaskia, were settled about the same time. The French in Illinois, lived upon the most amicable terms with the Indians. Like the Quakers, they kept up a mutual interchange of friendly officers, treating them with kindness and equity, and dealing with them upon terms of perfect equality. They even intermarried with them-which the Quakers could not do, without being turned out of meeting--and showed them in various ways that they considered them as fellow creatures, having a parity of interests, principles, and feelings with themselves. 'Their nearest civilized neighbors were the English on the shores of the Atlantic, distant a thousand miles from whom they were separated by a barrier then insurmountable, and with whom they had no more intercourse than with the Chinese.' They have five villages on the Mississippi; Kaskaskia, Prairie de Rocher, Saint Phillippe, Fort Chartres, and Cabbokia. Fort Chartres was a very strong fortification, and might have protected the village of the same name adjacent to it; there was a Fort at Kaskaskia,- but it was small and being on the opposite side of the river from the town, could have afforded little protection to the latter from an attack of the Indians; the only other fortress was at Cabbokai, and is described by an early writer as 'no way distinguished except by being the meanest log house in the town.' The villages of Prairie De Rocher and Saint Philippe had no military defenses. Yet we do not hear of burnings and scalpings among the early settlers of that region. Now and then an affray occurred between a Frenchman and an Indian, and occasionally a life was lost; but these were precisely the kind of exceptions which prove the truth of a general rule, for such accidents must have been the result of departures of individuals from those principles of amity which were observed by the respective communities to which they belonged. The French were expert in the use of fire arms, they roamed far and wide in to the Indian country, and it would have been a strange anomaly in the history of warriors and hunters, had no personal conflicts ensued. But these affairs did no disturb the general harmony. The Indians even suffered themselves to be baptized; and at one time a large portion of the Kaskaskiq tribe professes the Roman Catholic faith.
Let us now state the results which are known to every reader of American history. No sooner did Penn cease to rule in Pennsylvania than that colony began to be desolated by Indian wars. With him ceased all good faith with the tribes. His successors had neither his talents, his honesty nor his firmness; they followed none of his precepts, nor kept any of his engagements. Rum and gunpowder, were freely used in the colony, and sold to the Indians. The planters began to aim in self defence. Occasions of offence were frequent, and no effort was made to prevent them. The 'great good Ones' was no longer there to pour our his kind spirit, like oil, upon the waves of human passion. Hostilities ensued, the frontiers of Pennsylvania suffered all the horrors of border war, and the sentiments expressed by William Penn in 1682 proved to be prophetic:- 'If my heirs do not keep to God, in justice, mercy, equity, and fear of the Lord, they will lose all, and desolation will follow.'
The same result occurred on the Mississippi, in Illinois. The amiable French lived in peace with the Indians for a whole century; but as soon as the 'Long Knives' began to emigrate to the country, hostilities commenced, and continued until the whites gained the complete mastery.
In order to give full weight to these facts, and to our argument, it must be recollected that national prejudices are most deeply rooted and most lasting among unenlightened people. Those simple and unlettered tribes whose only occupations are war and hunting, hand down their tradition with singular fidelity from generation to generation. The only mental culture which the children receive consists in repeating to them the adventures of their fathers and the infant mind is thus indelibly impressed with all the predilections and antipathies of the parent; while their traditions are spread from tribe to tribe, by the historical tales and songs, repeated at their great councils. Among them too, revenge is a hollowed principle, sucked in with the mother's milk, and justified by their code of honor and the precepts of their religion; the wound inflicted upon the father rankles in the bosom of the child, and is only healed when recompense is made, or retaliation inflicted. We infer, then that we own the unhappy state of feeling which exists between the Indians and ourselves, to injuries inflicted on them ' prejudice extends by the discovers and first colonists, and to the want of sincere, judicious, and patient exertions for reconciliation on our part.