Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Zinn, Chapter 7

This chapter talks about the history of how the United States (nearly) destroyed the Native Americans, or American Indians, in the continental United States. Through murder, coercion, bribery, slavery, brutality, lies, and the rule of the almighty Law, the new Americans systematically and "legitimately" (props to Will for that gem) eradicated a group of peoples and their sovereign way(s) of life. Why? To cheaply and quickly promote "civilization." Zinn uses direct quotations and facts to support his thesis. I pulled particularly striking quotations from the chapter and pasted them here. I also added commentary where I felt compelled to do so.
  • "In 1820, 120,000 Indians lived east of the Mississippi. By 1844, fewer than 30,000 were left. Most of them had been forced to migrate westward. But the word "force" cannot convey what happened."
  • "In the Revolutionary War, almost every important Indian nation fought on the side of the British. The British signed for peace and went home; the Indians were already home, and so they continued fighting the Americans on the frontier, in a set of desperate holding operations."
  • At one time, Washington's "Secretary of War, Henry Knox, said: 'The Indians being the prior occupants, possess the right of the soil.' His Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, said in 1791 that where Indians lived within state boundaries they should not be interfered with, and that the government should remove white settlers who tried to encroach on them." Seems reasonable, no? 
  • And then the population grew. Jefferson and others changed their tune. "Jefferson's talk of 'agriculture . . . manufactures . . . civilization' is crucial. Indian removal was necessary for the opening of the vast American lands to agriculture, to commerce, to markets, to money, to the development of the modern capitalist economy." Obviously things to which free whites are divinely entitled. "Land was indispensable for all this, and after the Revolution, huge sections of land were bought up by rich speculators, including George Washington and Patrick Henry. In North Carolina, rich tracts of land belonging to the Chickasaw Indians were put on sale, although the Chickasaws were among the few Indian tribes fighting on the side of the Revolution, and a treaty had been signed with them guaranteeing their land."
  • Andrew Jackson was a total asshole. He was a "war hero" in the War of 1812 and then systematically dismantled the American Indians' ways of life (in addition to cold-bloodedly murdering them): "Jackson's 1814 treaty with the Creeks started something new and important. It granted Indians individual ownership of land, thus splitting Indian from Indian, breaking up communal landholding, bribing some with land, leaving others out-introducing the competition and conniving that marked the spirit of Western capitalism. It fitted well the old Jeffersonian idea of how to handle the Indians, by bringing them into 'civilization.'" Jackson said quite clearly that in making treaties he appealed to the Indians' fear and avarice. Effective.
  • Look up Lewis Cass, Jackson's Secretary of War and governor of Michigan, while you're at it. In addition to other belittling and arrogant quotations, Zinn shares these words by Cass: "A barbarous people, depending for subsistence upon the scanty and precarious supplies furnished by the chase, cannot live in contact with a civilized community." See, we had to kill them off in the name of progress, which is clearly superior to human life.
  • The colonists liked to play with rhetoric as much as anyone else, but the native peoples were not so submissive: "Not all the Indians responded to the white officials' common designation of them as 'children' and the President as 'father.' It was reported that when Tecumseh met with William Henry Harrison, Indian fighter and future President, the interpreter said: 'Your father requests you to take a chair.' Tecumseh replied: 'My father! The sun is my father, and the earth is my mother; I will repose upon her bosom.'" 
  • Jackson and other used force and coercion, but Zinn also talks about how they used the rule of law. When violence was not enough, those whites in power fell back, saying things like "It's the Law of the land; it's not our fault; we must simply abide by it" as though laws were not made by men in power for their own purposes, as though political laws superseded the laws of humanity. 
  • Some Indians fled, some fought and perished, and some, like a portion of the Cherokees, tried to assimilate in order to survive. They, too, were ultimately eliminated. "The Cherokees even started to emulate the slave society around them: they owned more than a thousand slaves. They were beginning; to resemble that civilization the white men spoke about, making what Van Every calls 'a stupendous effort' to win the good will of Americans. They even welcomed missionaries and Christianity. None of this made them more desirable than the land they lived on."
  • The Seminoles in Florida fought for eight long years, nearly exhausting the Americans (1500 died and $20 million was spent), but they were overwhelmed in the end.
  • President Martin van Buren: also a major asshole.

1 comment:

John L. Clark said...

Nicely done, Emily. It's like having an abridged version of Zinn with your marginalia.

Heh: "laws of humanity". What are those?