Civilization of the Indians

When we look back in the pages of history four or five hundred years, and see what then was the state of our own Ancestors, and whence sprang the most polished and scientific nations of Europe, we should scarcely have supposed, that any man, acquainted with history, or making any pretensions to candor, would be found among the objectors to attempts to civilize our Indians, and thus to save them from perishing. Yet, painful as is the fact, objections have been made to the present course of procedure with Indians, and from men too, whose standing and office in society are such, as it would be deemed disrespectful to pass unnoticed. “The project,” it has been said, “is visionary and impracticable. Indians can never be tamed; they are incapable of receiving, or of enjoying, the blessings proposed to be offered to them.” Some, I will hope, for the honor of our country, that the number is small, have proceeded farther, and said, “Indians are not worth saving. They are perishing – let them perish. The sooner they are gone, the better.” And to hasten such a catastrophe, a formal project has been actually devised and put on paper, and the projector has had the effrontery to offer his infernal project for the adoption of the government!!! 1

A sufficient answer to such of these objections, as require notice (for truly some of them are so shocking, that one can hardly think of them, much less undertake to answer them) will be found, conceive, in the facts collected into the Appendix of this work. 2 It is too late to say that Indians cannot be civilized. The facts referred to, beyond all question, prove the contrary. The evidence of actual experiment in every case, is paramount to all objections founded in mere theory, or, as in the present case, in naked and unsupported assertions. The specimens of composition, and the account given, on unquestionable authority, of the acquisitions of Indian youths, of other kinds of knowledge, in the Cornwall, and other Indian schools, can hardly fail to convince all, who are willing to be convinced, that it is practicable to civilize, educate and save Indians. Without fear of contradiction, then, we this point as established. Indians are of the same nature and original, and of one blood, with ourselves; of intellectual powers as strong, and capable of cultivation, as oars. They as well as ourselves, are made to be immortal. To look down upon then, therefore, as an inferior race, as untamable, and to profit by their ignorance and weakness; to lake their property from them for a small part of its real value, and in other ways to oppress them; is undoubtedly wrong, and highly displeasing to our common Creator, Lawgiver and final Judge.

Plan for Civilizing the Indians

The general plan, embracing all its ramifications, which i would respectfully submit to the consideration and adoption of the government, with the improvements hereafter mentioned, is that, substantially, which has been devised by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and is now in successful operation under the direction of this Board, and of other similar associations of different denominations, and has already received the sanction and patronage of the Government. This plan, “in the full tide of successful experiment,” is now in a course of exhibition before the public, and is looked at with joy and admiration, by philanthropists on both sides of the Atlantic. 3

Removal and Colonization of the Indians

On the subject of the removal of the Indians, who now dwell within our settlements, there are different opinions among wise and good men. The point on which they divide is, whether it he best to let these Indians quietly remain on their present Reservations, and to use our endeavors to civilize them where they are; or for the Government to take their Reservations, and give them an equivalent in lands to be purchased of other tribes beyond our present settlements. The Indians themselves too, are divided in opinion on this subject; a part are for removing, and a part for remaining, as in the case of the Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca, Oneida, Shawanee, and indeed most of the other tribes living among us. Difficulties in deciding this question present themselves, on which side so ever it be viewed. To remove these Indians far away from their present homes, from ”the bones of their fathers,” into a wilderness, among strangers, possibly hostile, to live as their new neighbors live, by hunting, a state to which they have not lately been accustomed, and which is incompatible with civilization, can hardly be reconciled with the professed views and objects of the Government in civilizing them. This would not be deemed by the world a wise course, nor one which would very probably lead to the desired end. Should that part of the tribes only remove, who are willing to go, and the remainder be permitted to stay- this division of already enfeebled remnants of tribes, would but still more weaken their strength, diminish their influence and hasten their destruction. Nor would this partial removal satisfy those who are for removing the whole; nor those either, who are for retaining the whole. The latter wish them to remain for the benevolent purpose of educating them all where they now are, urging, that they are now among us, in view of examples of civilized life; and where necessary instruction can be conveniently, and with little expense, imparted to them. On the other hand there is much to be said in favor of the removal of the smaller tribes, and remnants of tribes – not, however, into the wilderness, to return again to the savage life, but to some suitable, prepared portion of our country, where, collected in one body, they may be made comfortable, and with advantage be educated together, as has already been mentioned, in the manner in which we educate our own children. Some such course as this, I apprehend, will satisfy a great majority of the reflecting part of those who interest themselves at all in this subject, and is, in my belief the only practical course which can be pursued, consistently with the professed object of the Government. 4

Revolution Now in Operation Among the Indians

There is evidently a great and important revolution in the state of our Indian population already commenced, and now rapidly going forward, affecting immediately the tribes among as and on our borders, and which will ultimately and speedily be felt by those at the remotest distance. The evidence of this revolution exists in the peculiar interest which is felt and manifested for the general improvement and welfare of Indians, and in the peculiar corresponding feelings and movements among the Indians themselves. The civil and religious communities are remarkably aware on this subject, and are making joint efforts for the improvement and happiness d Indians, such as were never made in any former period of our history. The Chief and sensible men among these tribes, to a great extent, feel that a change in their situation has become necessary, that they must quit the hunter, and adopt the agricultural state, or perish. Of this fact I myself am a witness. There is an increasing willingness, which in some instances rises to strong desire, on the part of the Indians, to accept the benevolent offers of instruction held out to them by the Government, and by Christian Associations. There is a most remarkable reciprocity mf feelings on this subject, which plainly indicates, that the hand of heaven is in it; as no power short of this could ever have produced such a state of things. This is for our encouragement, and it is encouragement enough, to persevere. In such circumstances we cannot go back. Honor, justice, humanity, all that makes man respectable in the sight of God and men, imperiously require us to go forward, in full faith, till this work, so auspiciously commenced shall be accomplished.

Obligations of the Government to Meet this New State of Things

This new state of things requires corresponding measures the part of the government, to whom we look to take the lead in carrying on this revolution, which; if rightly directed and conducted, will save the Indians from ruin, and raise them to respectability and happiness, and reflect high and lasting honor on the Administration which shall accomplish it.

As the government assumes the guardianship of the Indians, and in this relation provides for their proper education, provision also should be made for the exercise of a suitable government and control over them. This government, unquestionably, should be in its nature parental – absolute, kind and mild, such as may be created by a wise union of a well selected military establishment, and an Education Family: The one possessing the power, the other the softening and qualifying influence; both combined would constitute, to all the purposes requisite, the parental or guardian authority. A code of laws and regulations must also be formed, to meet the new state of the Indians, which should remove the unjust, mortifying and provoking differences which are now made between them and white people, in the administration of justice; a code, which shall provide effectually against the introduction of spirituous liquors among them, which are the source and immediate occasion of most of the difficulties, quarrels and wars, which take place among themselves, and between them and us. This is an evil, which, if not effectually cured, will hinder and render abortive, all efforts which may be made for their benefit. No good can be done to the Indians, while this evil remains.

Another evil equally destructive of the Indians, and equally necessary to be provided against by proper laws and regulations, is, intercourse with unprincipled white people. Indians complain, and justify too, that their “morals are corrupted by bad white men,” This is well known to be the fact, and the cause of incalculable injury to the Indians, as well as of national disgrace. As we would hope to promote their welfare, this evil must, in some way, by the wisdom and arm of the government, be removed. It can be done effectually in one way, and but one way; and that is, by the appointment, exclusively of good men to fill all public offices relating to Indians; men of principle, who, in the discharge of their official duties, will honestly, faithfully and disinterestedly promote the welfare of Indians. Such men, of competent abilities and qualifications, can undoubtedly be found, and in sufficient numbers, to carry on the whole trade, and other intercourse with the Indians, on the plan suggested in another part of this Report; and to fill all the offices pertaining to the superintendancy and agency of Indian affairs, as well as to negotiate treaties for various objects, with the Indian tribes.*

I am fully aware of the delicacy of this subject, in the view of it I am now taking; but its importance in order to the attainment of the object of the government, forbids that I should pass it unnoticed. I dare not be unfaithful to my government- to my conscience- nor to my God. Example, in the case before as, peculiarly, as in all other cases, must accompany instruction and precept. We cannot reasonably expect that the latter will have any good effect, where the first is wanting. Let, then, the plan of Indian trade, the selection of officers and soldiers for the military establishments, which are connected with Indians, the appointment of Indian superintendents and agents, and treaty commissioners, all be made, in future, in reference to the influence which these establishments and officers, respectively, are expected to exert over the Indians. Let this whole combined influence be uniform in its character, and wholly good, and be made to bear upon every measure put in operation for the civil, moral, and intellectual improvement of the Indians.

In other words, and to come to the very pivot of this business. Let the whole existing system of operations in regard to Indians, embracing trade, and all other kinds of intercourse with them by Indian Agencies, Treaties for their lands, and all laws relating to them, be annulled, and all things removed out of the way, preparatory to the laying of new foundations and the erection of a new and more commodious and slightly fabric. I pass no censure on the present system. It was formed by our wise men. But it was formed for other times, and for a state of things among ourselves, and among the Indians, widely different from the present. The alterations in this system, which have been made at different periods, to meet the changes which have taken place, have deformed it. It is now an unsightly, and, compared with what it might be made, an inefficient mass. In many instances its operations are wasteful and injurious. Many agencies, formerly necessary, from the removal of the Indians, or a change in their circumstances, have become mere sinecures places of emolument, without business, consuming the public money, without contributing anything to the public good. Several of these
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combined would furnish no more business than a single man, of proper qualifications for an agent, could perform. The fault is in the system itself, not in the minister whose office it is to carry this system into effect; nor yet in the officers who occupy these sinecures. Many abuses, many sinks, uselessly swallowing up the public funds exist, which require, and no doubt will receive the pointed eye of the Executive, and remedies, which Congress alone can supply. These remedies will be found in a new system throughout, of all Indian affairs, into which is to be incorporated and that is sound and good in the old, leaving out only that which has become obsolete- a system shaped to the new state of things, to the great changes now in operation – a system, that shall combine in it all the results of past experience, all the wisdom of the Government, and command in its execution the energies of the nation- a system, which shall hereafter, when they shall have felt its effects, call forth the thanks of the Indians, and secure for our nation the applause of the world.Citations:

  1. I have not seen the document here referred to, but the fact stated rests on substantial authority.[]
  2. See Appendix M.[]
  3. See App. N.[]
  4. See Appendix O.[]

Morse, Rev. Jedidiah. A Report to the Secretary of War of the United States on Indian Affairs, Printed by S. Converse, 1822.

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