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The TRUTH about the Americas before Columbus

The Indians and the USA Constitution!

    
INDIANS AND THE USA CONSTITUTION?

From the book "1491" by Charles Mann

The Great Law of Peace

     In the rest of this book, I have tried to portray the
scholarly consensus-the ideas that most researchers in the field
believe-while giving due recognition to dissenters. Here I am
about to voice ideas that most scholars don't believe, and argue
that they should be given a second chance. My remarks apply
primarily to historians of North America. South of the Rio
Grande, the indigenous influence on colonial and post-colonial
society has been celebrated for decades, although it has not
always led to teaching children there accurately about those
native societies, or to treating contemporary indigenous people
fairly. The native imprint is obvious in Latin American arts; the
art and architecture produced by a synthesis of Indian and
European styles from Mexico to Chile, the Clark University art
historian Gauvin Alexander Bailey argued in a 2005 monograph, is
"one of humanity's greatest and most pluralistic achievements."
But this synthesis is apparent in many other aspects of the
culture, too, as would be expected in a place where as much as
three-quarters of the population claims some Indian descent.
North of the Rio Grande the picture is different: as a rule, the
possibility of such influences is ignored when not denied. To
some extent this is understandable. Indians were and are less
numerous in the north. And most native societies in what is now
the United States and Canada did not have the written languages,
monumental architecture, or wide-ranging aesthetic traditions of
their neighbors to the south. Yet the English, French, and Dutch
who took over the hemisphere north of Florida were just as
fascinated by native cultures as the Spaniards and Portuguese who
emerged victorious to the south. The great European thinkers of
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were much concerned with
new ideas of liberty and the refashioning of society. How could
they not have paid heed to the novel forms of government coming
into view across the Atlantic? If they wanted to know the
condition of "natural man," where better to look than the
"natural men" discovered in the Americas (or, rather, the people
whom they believed to be "natural men")?
     To these thinkers, Indians were living demonstrations of
wholly novel ways of being human-exemplary cases that were mulled
over, though rarely understood completely, by countless
Europeans. Colonists and stay-at-homes, intellectuals and
commoners, all struggled to understand, according to the
sociologist-historian Denys Delage, of Laval University in
Quebec, "the very existence of these relatively egalitarian
societies, so different in their structure and social
relationships than those of Europe." The result, Delage
explained, was to promote a new attitude of "cultural relativism"
that in turn fed Enlightenment-era debates "about the republican
form of government, the rearing of children, and the ideals of
freedom, equality, brotherhood, and the right to happiness."
     It is no accident that Thomas More, writing Utopia in 1615,
situated his exemplary nation in the Americas. Nor is the
frequent referral to Indian examples in the writings of
Montaigne, Locke, Voltaire, Jefferson, Franklin, and Thomas
Paine. Nor that Hobbes's source for his claim that the life of
men outside society is "solitary, nasty, poor, brutal, and short"
was "the savage people in many places of America." Nor that the
young Rousseau should put some of his earliest thoughts about
society and the individual in an operetta about Columbus and
the Indians. (The operetta, which is not viewed favorably even by
Rousseau's most ardent admirers, was never produced.) All were
riveted, puzzled, inspired, and dismayed by what they heard of
these strange new people across the sea.
     If these faraway intellectuals were much concerned with the
lessons of native life, what about English and French colonists
themselves, who knew intact native cultures for some three
centuries? In the first two centuries of colonization, the border
between natives and newcomers was porous, almost nonexistent. The
two societies mingled in a way that is difficult to imagine now.
In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, the aging John Adams recalled
the Massachusetts of his youth as a multiracial society. `Aaron
Pomham the Priest and Moses Pomham the Kind of the Punkapaug and
Neponsit Tribes were frequent Visitors at my Father's House...,"
he wrote nostalgically. "There was a numerous Family in this Town
[Quincy, Mass., where Adams grew up], whose Wigwam was within a
Mile of this House." They frequently visited Adams, "and I in my
boyish Rambles used to call at their Wigwam, where I never failed
to be treated with Whortle Berries, Blackberries, Strawberries or
Apples, Plumbs, Peaches, etc.. .." Colonist Susanna Johnson
described eighteenth-century New Hampshire as "such a mix ... of
savages and settlers, without established laws to govern them,
that the state of society cannot easily be described." In
Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was equally familiar with Native
American life. As a diplomat, he negotiated with the confederacy
of Five Nations in 1744; in those days, knowledge of Indian ways
was an essential part of the statesman's toolkit. Among his
closest friends was Conrad Weiser, an adopted Mohawk, and the
Indians' unofficial host at the talks. And one of the mainstays
of Franklin's printing business was the publication of Indian
treaties, viewed then as critical state documents.
     During those centuries, Indians were greatly influenced
culturally, technologically, intellectually by colonists. It
seems implausible that the exchange could have been entirely
one-waythat the natives have had little or no long-lasting impact
on the newcomers. At the least the claim is something to be
demonstrated rather than assumed.
     As Franklin and many others noted, Indian life - not only
among the Haudenosaunee, but throughout the Northeast - was
characterized by a level of personal autonomy unknown in Europe.
Franklin's ancestors may have emigrated from Europe to escape
oppressive rules, but colonial societies were still vastly more
coercive and classridden than indigenous villages. "Every man is
free," the frontiersman Robert Rogers told a disbelieving British
audience, referring to Indian villages. In these places, he said,
no other person, white or Indian, sachem or slave, "has any right
to deprive [anyone] of his freedom." As for the Haudenosaunee,
colonial administrator Cadwallader Colden declared in 1749, they
had "such absolute Notions of Liberty, that they allow of no Kind
of Superiority of one over another, and banish all Servitude from
their Territories." (Colden, who later became vice governor of
New York, was an adoptee of the Mohawks.)
     Rogers and Colden admired these Indians, but not every
European did. "The Savage does not know what it is to obey,"
complained the French explorer Nicolas Perrot in the 1670s.
Indians "think every one ought to be left to his own Opinion,
without being thwarted," the Jesuit Louis Hennepin wrote twenty
years later. The Indians, he grumbled, "believe what they please
and no more" - a practice dangerous, in Hennepin's view, to a
well-ordered society. "There is nothing so difficult to control
as the tribes of America," another Jesuit unhappily observed.
"All these barbarians have the law of wild assesthey are born,
live, and die in a liberty without restraint; they do not know
what is meant by bridle and bit."
     Indian insistence on personal liberty was accompanied by an
equal insistence on social equality. Northeastern Indians were
appalled by the European propensity to divide themselves into
social classes, with those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy
compelled to defer to those on the upper. The French adventurer
Louis Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron of Lahontan, lived in French
Canada between 1683 and 1694 and frequently visited the Huron.
When the baron expatiated upon the superior practices of Europe,
the Indians were baffled. The Huron, he reported in an account of
his American years, could not understand why one Man should have
more than another, and that the Rich should have more Respect
than the Poor.... They brand us for Slaves, and call us miserable
Souls, whose Life is not worth having, alleging, That we degrade
ourselves in subjecting our selves to one Man [a king] who
possesses the whole Power, and is bound by no Law but his own
Will.... [Individual Indians] value themselves above anything
that you can imagine, and this is the reason they always give
for't, That one's as much Master as another, and since Men are
all made of the same Clay there should be no Distinction or
Superiority among them. [Emphasis in original.]
     Lahontan's works, immensely popular, were translated into
English almost as soon as they appeared; twenty-five editions
appeared in France over the next half century, and his vision of
an American paradise seem to have fed into the views of Voltaire,
Rousseau, and Diderot. Still, those writers would likely have
been thinking of Indians without him-the essayist Montaigne had
noted the same antiauthoritarian attitudes a century earlier.
Indians who visited France, he wrote, "noticed among us some men
gorged to the full with things of every sort while their other
halves were beggars at their doors, emaciated with hunger and
poverty. They found it strange that these poverty-stricken halves
should suffer [that is, tolerate] such injustice, and that they
did not take the others by the throat or set fire to their
houses."
     I asked seven anthropologists, archaeologists, and
historians if they would rather have been a typical citizen of
Europe or the Haudenosaunee in 1491. None was delighted by the
question, because it asked them to judge the past by the
standards of today - a fallacy disparaged as "presentism" by
social scientists. But every one of the seven chose the Indians.
Some early colonists gave the same answer. The leaders of
Jamestown tried to persuade Indians to transform themselves into
Europeans. Embarrassingly, almost all of the traffic was the
other way-scores of English joined the locals despite promises of
dire punishment. The same thing happened in New England. Puritan
leaders were horrified when some members of a rival English
settlement began living with the Massachusett Indians. My
ancestor's desire to join them led to trumped-up murder charges
for which he was executed-or, anyway, that's what my grandfather
told me.
     When an Indian Child has been brought up among us [Franklin
lamented in 1753], taught our language and habituated to our
Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian
Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return.
[But] when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners
young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho' ransomed
by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to
prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time
they become disgusted with our manner of life ... and take the
first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, when
there is no reclaiming them.
     Influenced by their proximity to Indians - by being around
living, breathing role models of human liberty - European
colonists adopted their insubordinate attitudes, which "troubled
the power elite of France," the historian Cornelius J. Jaenen
observed. Baron d'Arce was an example, despite his noble title;
as the passage he italicized suggests, his account highlighted
Indian freedoms as an incitement toward rebellion. In Voltaire's
Candide, the eponymous hero is saved from death at the hands of
an imaginary group of Indians only when they discover that he is
not, as they think, a priest; the author's sympathy with the
anticlerical, antiauthoritarian views of Indians he called
"Oreillons" is obvious. Both the clergy and Louis XIV, the king
whom Baron d'Arce was goading, tried to suppress these dangerous
ideas by instructing French officials to force a French education
upon the Indians, complete with lessons in deferring to their
social betters. The attempts, Jaenen reported, were "everywhere
unsuccessful."
     In the most direct way, Indian liberty made indigenous
villages into competitors for colonists' allegiance. Colonial
societies could not become too oppressive, because their
members-surrounded by examples of free life-always had the option
to vote with their feet. It is likely that the first British
villages in North America, thousands of miles from the House of
Lords, would have lost some of the brutally graded social
hierarchy that characterized European life. But it is also clear
that they were infused by the democratic, informal brashness of
Native American culture. That spirit alarmed and discomfited many
Europeans, toff and peasant alike. But many others found it a
deeply attractive vision of human possibility.
     Scholars have long acknowledged such borrowings as
moccasins, maize, and military tactics-the Indian-style guerrilla
skirmishes with which the rebellious colonists bedeviled British
soldiers. ("In this country," Gen. John Forbes argued in 1758,
"wee must comply and learn the Art of Warr, from Enemy Indians.")
With such adaptive changes, as the historian James Axtell has
called them, Europeans employed Indian technology and tactics to
achieve their goals. But they did not change how they viewed
themselves or the world. According to an influential essay Axtell
published to 1981, the most important role Indians played in the
evolution of the United States was as "military foes and cultural
foes"-to be the "otherness" that colonists reacted against. "The
whole colonial experience of trying to solve a related series of
'Indian problems' had much to do with giving the colonists an
identity indissolubly linked to America," he wrote. Collectively
recoiling from the native population of the Americas, Europeans
learned how to become a new version of themselves.
     Here, though, most US historians have stopped. They have
seen the Algonkian - and Iroquoian - speaking societies they
encountered in the Northeast as too different from British
societies to have exerted lasting changes on them. How could
these hierarchical, acquisitive, market-oriented, monotheistic,
ethnocentric newcomers have absorbed ideas and customs from the
egalitarian, reciprocal, noncapitalistic, pantheistic,
ethnocentric natives? The suggestion that the Haudenosaunee could
have had an impact on the American character is "naive,"
according to Alan Taylor of the University of California at
Davis, because it "minimizes the cultural divide separating
consensual natives from coercive colonists." Perhaps so, but then
skeptics must explain why the cultural divide between Indians and
Spaniards, who did deeply influence each other, was so much
smaller.
     (The historian Francis Jennings has wondered how "Iroquois
propagandists," as he calls them, can cite Benjamin Franklin's
words about Indians, as I just did, given his oft-expressed
"contempt for 'ignorant Savages' ... But people believe what they
want to believe in the face of logic and evidence." The argument
is baffling; it is like claiming that European-Americans were not
culturally affected by African-Americans because they reviled and
oppressed them.)
     
     Cultural influence is difficult to pin down in documents and
concrete actions. Nevertheless it exists. In 1630 John Winthrop
led what was then the largest party of would-be colonists from
Britain - some seven hundred people - to Massachusetts, where
they founded the city of Boston. As the expedition was under way,
the deeply religious Winthrop explained his vision of what the
new colony should become: "a citty upon a hill." The city would
be ruled by the principles of the Pilgrim's God. Among these
principles: the Supreme Deity loves each person equally, but He
did not intend them to play equal roles in society:

     GOD ALMIGHTY in his most holy and wise providence, hath so
     disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some
     must be rich, some poore, some high and eminent in power and
     dignitie; others mean and in submission.

     Winthrop's ideal community, that is, was not a place of
equal opportunity, nor a place where social distinctions were
erased; the "mean" circumstances of the poor were "in all times"
part of God's plan, and could not be greatly changed (if poor
people got too far behind, the rich were supposed to help them).
The social ideal was responsible adherence to religiously
inspired authority, not democratic self-rule.
     The reality turned out to be different. Instead of creating
Winthrop's vision of an ordered society, the Pilgrims actually
invented the raucous, ultra-democratic New England town meeting -
a system of governance, the Dartmouth historian Colin Calloway
observes, that "displays more attributes of Algonkian government
by consensus than of Puritan government by the divinely
ordained." To me, it seems unlikely that the surrounding Indian
example had nothing to do with the change.
     Accepting that indigenous societies influenced American
culture opens up fascinating new questions. To begin with, it is
possible that native societies could also have exercised a malign
influence (this is why the subject is not necessarily "pious" or
"romantic primitivism," as the Oxford historian Felipe
Fernandez-Armesto has complained). Look to the Southeast, where,
as Taylor has noted, "colonial societies sustained a slave system
more oppressive than anything practiced in Europe" and "the
slave-owners relied on Indians to catch runaways." There, too,
the native groups, descended from Mississippian societies, were
far more hierarchical and autocratically ruled than the Algonkian
- and Iroquoian - speaking groups in the Northeast. As Gallay has
documented, indigenous societies cooperated fully with the
slave-trading system, sending war captives to colonists for sale
overseas. In the Northeast, by contrast, the Wendat (Huron) and
Haudenosaunee either killed or, more common, adopted captives;
involuntary servitude, though it occurred, was strikingly rarer.
On the map, the division line between slave and non-slave
societies occurs in Virginia, broadly anticipating the
Mason-Dixon line that later split slave states from free. The
repeated pattern doubtless has to do with geography-southeastern
climate and soil favor plantation crops like tobacco and cotton.
And southern colonists' preference for slavery presumably
reflected their different ethnic, class, and religious
backgrounds. But can one readily dismiss the different Indian
societies who lived in these places? And if not, to what extent
are contemporary American conflicts over race the playing out, at
least in part, of a cultural divide that came into being hundreds
of years before Columbus?

     To my eye, historians have been puzzlingly ready to dismiss
such connections. Some of the reluctance may be a holdover from a
longdormant intellectual battle in which academics and activists
squared off about the purported Haudenosaunee role in the U.S.
Constitution - a battle that left a bad taste in the mouth for
both sides. Part of it may be a simple reluctance to credit that
the culture of liberty held so essential to the identity of the
United States could have so many different forebears. Think of 1.
Bernard Cohen, the distinguished historian who studied the
thought of the Framers of the Constitution, claiming that
Enlightenment philosophers derived their ideas of freedom from
Newtonian physics, when a plain reading of their writings shows
that they took many of their illustrations of liberty from
indigenous examples. So did the Boston colonists who held their
anti-British Tea Party dressed as "Mohawks." When others took up
European intellectuals' books and histories, images of Indian
freedom exerted an impact far removed in time and space from the
sixteenth-century Northeast. For much the same reason as their
confreres in Boston, protesters in South Korea, China, and
Ukraine wore "Native American" makeup in, respectively, the
1980s, 1990s, and the first years of this century.

     So accepted now around the world is the idea of the implicit
equality and liberty of all people that it is hard to grasp what
a profound change in human society it represented. But it is only
a little exaggeration to claim that everywhere that liberty is
cherished - Britain to Bangladesh, Sweden to Soweto - people are
children of the Haudenosaunee and their neighbors. Imagine - here
let me now address non-Indian readers - somehow meeting a member
of the Haudenosaunee from 1491. Is it too much to speculate that
beneath the swirling tattoos, asymmetrically trimmed hair, and
bedizened robes, you would recognize someone much closer to
yourself, at least in certain respects, than your own ancestors?
..........

Ah what true history brings forth. It is so good to see people
like Mann researching and re-writing the history books. If you
have children still being educated you need to obtain such new
books on history as "1491" by Charles Mann.

Keith Hunt


 
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