Address on the Present Condition and Prospects of Aboriginal Inhabitants of North America Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The condition and circumstances of the race of people of whom I am by blood one, and in the well being of who I am, by the ties of kindred and the common feelings of humanity, deeply interested, sufficiently apologise, and tell the reason for my seeking this occasion of appearing before this audience, in this city. Not only the eyes and attention of you, our neighbors—but also of the councils of this great nation are turned upon us. We are expected to do, or to refuse to do, what the councils of this nation, and many private men are now asking of us—what many favour and advocate—yet what many discountenance and condemn.

My relation to my kindred people being as you are aware it is, I have thought it not improper—rather that it was highly proper—that I should appear before you in my own person and character in behalf of my people and myself, to present some facts, and views, and reasons, which must necessarily have a material bearing upon our decisions and doings at the present juncture of our affairs.

Hitherto our cause has been advocated almost exclusively, though ably and humanely by the friends of the human right and human weal, belonging by nature to a different, and by circumstances and education, to a superior race of men. The ability and humanity of its advocated however, does not do away the expediency, nor even the necessity of those of us who can, standing forth with our own pen and voices, in behalf of that same right and that same weal as connected with ourselves, which have been and now are by a powerful and perhaps fatal agency almost fatally jeopardized.

It has been said and reiterated so frequently to have obtained the familiarity of household words, that it is the doom of the Indian to disappear—to vanish like the morning dew—before the advance of civilization; and melancholy is it to us—those doomed ones—that the history of this country, in respect to us and its civilization, has furnished so much ground for the saying, and for giving credence to it.

But whence and why are we thus doomed? Why must we be crushed by the arm of civilization, or the requiem of our race be chanted by the waves of the Pacific which is destined to engulph us?

It has been so long and so often said as to have gained general credence, that our natural constitution is such as to render us incapable of apprehending and incompetent to practice upon those principles from which result the characteristic qualities of Christian civilization, and so by a necessary consequence, under the sanction of acknowledged principles of moral law, we must yield ourselves sacrifices, doomed by the constitution which the Almighty has made for us, to that other race of human beings, whom the sale Almighty has endowed with a more noble and more worthy constitution.

These are the premises: these the arguments: these the conclusions; and if they are true and just and legitimate, in the language of the Poet, we must say

“God of the just—thou gavest the bitter cup,

We bow to thy behest, and drink it up.”

But are they true and just, and legitimate! Do we as a people, lack the capacity of apprehending and appreciating any of the principles which form the basis of Christian civilization? Do we lack the competency of practising upon those principles in any or all their varieties of application?

A general reference to facts as they are recorded in the history of the former days of our existence, and as they now are transpiring before the eyes of the whole enlightened world give an answer which should ever stifle the question, and redeem us from the stigma.

Before citing particular exemplifications of the truth of this, I will allude to one question which is triumphantly asked by those who adopt the doctrine of the untameable nature of the Indian, viz: Why have not the Indians become civilized and christianized as a consequence of their intercourse with the whites—and of the exertions of the whites to bring about so desirable a result? Who that believes the susceptibilities and passions of human nature to be in the main uniform throughout the rational species, needs an answer to this question from me?

Recur to the page, which records the dealings both in manner and substance, of the early white settlers and of their successors, down even to the present day, with the unlettered and unwary Red man, and then recur to the susceptibilities of your own bosom, and the question in answered.

Say ye, on whom the sun light of civilization and Christianity has constantly shone—into whose lap Fortune has poured her brimful horn, so that you are enjoying the highest and best spiritual and temporal blessing of this world. Say, if some beings from fairy land, or some distant planet, should come to you in such a manner as to cause you to deem them children of greater light and superior wisdom to yourselves, and you should open to them the hospitality of your dwellings and the fruits of your labor, and they should, by dint of their superior wisdom dazzle and amaze you, so as for what to them were toys and rattles they should gain freer admission and fuller welcome, till finally they should claim the right to your possessions and of hunting you, like wild beasts, from your long and hitherto undisputed domain, how ready would you be to be taught of them.—How cordially would you open your minds to the conviction that they meant not to deceive you further and still more fatally in their proffers of pretended kindness.

How much of the kindliness of friendship for them, and of esteem for their manners and customs would you feel? Would not “the milk of human kindness” in your breasts be turned to the gall of hatred towards them?

And have not we, the original and undisputed possessors of this country, been treated worse than you would he, should any supposed case be transformed to reality?

But I will leave the consideration of this point for the present, by saying, what I believe every person who hears me will assent to, that the manner in which the whites have habitually dealt with the Indians, make them wonder that their hatred has not burned with tenfold fury against them, rather than that they have not laid aside their own peculiar notion and habits, and adopted those of their civilized neighbors.

Having said thus much as to the question, “Why have not the Indians been civilized and christianized by the intercourse and efforts of the whites?”

I would now call your attention to a brief exemplification of the point I was remarking upon before alluding to the above-mentioned question, viz: “That the Indian is capable of apprehending and is appreciating, and is competent to practice on those principles which form the basis of Christian civilization.”

I do not know that it has ever been questioned and especially by those who have had the best opportunities to learn by experience and observation, that the Indian possesses [sic] as perfect a physical constitution as the whites, or any other race of men—especially in the manner of hardy body, swift foot—sharp and true eye, accompanied by a hand that scarcely ever drew the bowstring amiss or raised the tomahawk in vain.

I believe also, that it is not denied that he is susceptible of hatred—and equally of friendship—that he even can love and pity, and feel gratitude—that he is prone to adoration of the Great Spirit—that he possesses an imagination, by which he pictures fields of the blessed in a purer and more glorious world than this; that he possesses the faculty of memory and judgment, and such a combination of faculties as enabled him to invent and imitate; that he is susceptible of ambition, emulation, pride, vanity; that he is sensitive to honor and disgrace; and necessarily has the elements of a moral sense or conscience. All these are granted as entering into his native spiritual constitution.

For instances of those natural endowments, which by cultivation, give to the children of civilization their great names and far-reaching fame, call to mind Philip of Mount Hope, whose consummate talents and skill made him the white man’s terror, by his display of those talents and skill for the white man’s destruction.

Call to mind Tecumseh, by an undeserved association with whose name, one of the great men of your nation has obtained more of greatness than he ever merited, either for deeds or his character—Call to mind Red Jacket, formerly your neighbor, with some of you a friend and a familiar, of the same tribe with whom I have the honor to be a humble member: to have been a friend and familiar with whom none of you feel it a disgrace. Call to mind Osceola, the victim of the white man’s treachery and cruelty, whom neither his enemy’s cunning or arm could conquer on the battle field, and who at last was consumed “in durance vile,” by the corroding of his own spirit. “In durance vile,” I say, (blot the fact from the records of that damning baseness, of that violation of all laws, of all humanity, which that page of your nation’s history, which contains an account of it must ever be—blot out the fact, I say before you rise up to call an Indian treacherous or cruel.) Cal to mind these and a thousand others, whom I have not time to mention, and my point is gained.

Here then the fundamental elements of the best estate of human nature are admitted as existing in the natural constitution of the Indian. The question now comes, are these elements susceptible of cultivation and improvement, so as to entitle their possessors, to the rank which civilization and Christianity bestow?

For an instance of active pity of deep, rational active pity, and the attendant intellectual qualities, I ask you to call to mind the story—surpassing—romance of Pocahontas; she who threw herself between a supposed inimical stranger, and the deadly club which had been raised, by the stern edict of her stern father—she begged for the victim’s life—she obtained his deliverance from the jaws of death by appealing to the affections which existed in the bosom of her Father, savage as he was, and which affections overcame the fell intent which had caused him to pronounce the white man’s doom. From this time she received the instruction, imbibed the principles and sentiments; adopted the manners and customs of the whites; in her bosom burned purely and rationally the flame of love, in accordance with the promptings of which, she offered herself at the Hymenial altar, to take the nuptial ties with a son of Christian England. The offspring of this marriage have been, with pride claimed as sons and citizens of the noble and venerable State of Virginia.

Ye who love prayer, hover in your imagination around the cot of [David] Brown, and listen to the strong supplications as they arise from the fervent heart of Catherine [Brown], and then tell me whether “the poor Indian whose untutored mind sees God in clouds and hears him in the wind,” is not capable by cultivation, of rationally comprehending the true God whose pavilion, though it be the clouds, still giveth grace even to the humble.

But perhaps I am indulging too much in minuteness. Let me then refer to one more instance which covers the whole ground and sets the point under consideration beyond dispute. The ill-starred Cherokees stand forth in colors of living light, redeeming the Indian character from the foul aspersions that it is not susceptible of civilization and Christianization. In most of the arts which characterise civilized life, this nation in the aggregate, have made rapid and long advances. The arts of peace in all their varieties, on which depend the comforts and enjoyments of the enlightened, have been practised and the results enjoyed by them. The light of revelation has beamed in upon their souls, and caused them to exchange the blind worship of the Great Spirit, for the rational worship and service of the God of the Bible. Schools have been established. An alphabet of the language invented by one of their own men; instruction sought and imparted; and letters cultivated in their own as well as the English language.

Hence many individuals have advanced even to the refinements of civilised life, both in respect to their physical and intellectual condition. A John Ross stands before American people in a character both of intellect and heart which many of the white men in high places may envy, yet never be able to attain. A scholar, a patriot, an honest and honorable man; standing up before the “powers that be,” in the eyes of heaven and men, now demanding, now supplication of those powers a regard for the right of humanity, of justice, of law—is still a scholar, a patriot, an honest and honorable man; though an Indian blood coursing in his veins, and an Indian color giving hue to his complexion, dooms him, and his children and kin to be hunted at the point of the bayonet by those powers, from their home and possessions and country, to the “Terra incognita” beyond the Mississippi.

But I will relieve your patience by closing my remarks; it were perhaps needless, perhaps useless, for me to appear before you with these remarks feebly and hastily prepared as they were: but as I intimated on the outset, the crisis which has nor arrived in the affairs of our people furnish the apology and reason for my so doing. And now I ask, what feature of our condition is there which should induce us to leave our present location and seek another in the western wilds? Does justice, does humanity, does religion in their relations to us demand it? Does the interest and well being of the whites require it? The plainest dictates of common sense and common honestly, answer No! I ask then in behalf of the New-York Indians and myself, that out white brethren will not urge us to do that which justice, humanity, religion not only do not require but condemn. I ask then to let us live on, where our fathers have lived—let us enjoy the advantages which our location affords us: that thus we, who have been converted heathen, may be made meet for that inheritance which the Father hath promised to give to his Son, our Saviour: so that he deserts and waste places may be made to blossom like the rose, and the inhabitants thereof utter forth the high praises of our God.

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