America’s Aboriginal Sin

You know what’s tiring and pointless?  Presuming to know what America’s “Founding Fathers” would think about this or that, and then using that probably-misinformed presumption to promote policy. Even if you could discern how these long-dead 18th century gents would react to contemporary mishegas (by the way, you cannot), why should we think their thoughts are sacred?

The colonial statesmen who concocted rebellion from the British monarchy wrote a lot, especially the ones who lived a long life. People in the 21st century can probably find select, isolated quotes from their heroes to justify whatever cause they are pushing, and historians are on hand to refute or bolster their claims.

Regardless of what the founders thought, wrote, or said, we do know what they produced: a nation-state with an economy predicated on slavery (America’s original sin, it is said), a power center run by white men, an electorate of property-owning white men, and a Constitution with enough ambiguity to sow confusion and dissent for two and a half centuries. Genius!

But before the path was clear for this Great Experiment, the path had to be cleared. What to do about the people who lived here before the Europeans showed up? Without the eradication and or displacement of the indigenous population–America’s aboriginal sin–there would be no America as we know it, for better or worse.

The founders certainly realized this. You can accuse me of cherry-picking (or better yet, accuse the Indian Country Today Media Network, who compiled the lineup of perfidy which follows), or taking words out of context, but even as one acknowledges that things might not be exactly as they seem, they still seem pretty bad. Click on the links to see which Floundering Father talked such smack and when. (I’m puffing up the parameters for “founder” to include American statesmen in the decades following the Revolution, when there was a need to justify the ever-expanding geography of the young United States.)

“If it be the design of Providence to extirpate these Savages in order to make room for cultivators of the Earth, it seems not improbable that rum may be the appointed means.”

 

“The immediate objectives are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops in the ground and prevent their planting more.”

 

“Is one of the fairest portions of the globe to remain in a state of nature, the haunt of a few wretched savages, when it seems destined by the Creator to give support to a large population and to be the seat of civilization?”

 

“What is the right of the huntsman to the forest of a thousand miles over which he has accidentally ranged in quest of prey? Shall the fields and vallies, which a beneficent God has formed to teem with the life of innumerable multitudes, be condemned to everlasting barrenness?”

 

This unfortunate race, whom we had been taking so much pains to save and to civilize, have by their unexpected desertion and ferocious barbarities justified extermination and now await our decision on their fate.”

 

The hunter or savage state requires a greater extent of territory to sustain it, than is compatible with the progress and just claims of civilized life, and must yield to it. Nothing is more certain, than, if the Indian tribes do not abandon that state, and become civilized, that they will decline, and become extinct. The hunter state, tho maintain’d by warlike spirits, presents but a feeble resistance to the more dense, compact, and powerful population of civilized man.”

 

Oppression, occupation, expulsion, genocide. These things are written into the American DNA. It is the nation’s aboriginal sin.

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