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A STRAIGHT DEAL (chapter7)

2006-08-28 14:08

    CHAPTER VII: Tarred with theSame Stick

    The blackest page in our history is our treatment of the Indian. To speak of it is a thankless task——thankless, and necessary.

    This land was the Indian's house, not ours. He was here first, nobody knows how many centuries first. We arrived, and we shoved him, and shoved him, and shoved him, back, and back, and back. Treaty after treaty we made with him, and broke. We drew circles round his freedom, smaller and smaller. We allowed him such and such territory, then took it away and gave him less and worse in exchange. Throughout a century our promises to him were a whole basket of scraps of paper. The other day I saw some Indians in California. It had once been their place. All over that region they had hunted and fished and lived according to their desires, enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We came. To-day the hunting and fishing are restricted by our laws——not the Indian's——because we wasted and almost exterminated in a very short while what had amply provided the Indian with sport and food for a very long while.

    In that region we have taken, as usual, the fertile land and the running water, and have allotted land to the Indian where neither wood nor water exist, no crops will grow, no human life can be supported. I have seen the land. I have seen the Indian begging at the back door. Oh, yes, they were an "inferior race." Oh, yes, they didn't and couldn't use the land to the best advantage, couldn't build Broadway and the Union Pacific Railroad, couldn't improve real estate. If you choose to call the whole thing "manifest destiny," I am with you. I'll not dispute that what we have made this continent is of greater service to mankind than the wilderness of the Indian ever could possibly have been——once conceding, as you have to concede, the inevitableness of civilization. Neither you, nor I, nor any man, can remold the sorry scheme of things entire. But we could have behaved better to the Indian. That was in our power. And we gave him a raw deal instead, not once, but again and again. We did it because we could do it without risk, because he was weaker and we could always beat him in the end. And all the while we were doing it, there was our Bill of Rights, our Declaration of Independence, founded on a new thing in the world, proclaiming to mankind the fairest hope yet born, that "All men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," and that these were now to be protected by law. Ah, no, look at it as you will, it is a black page, a raw deal. The officers of our frontier army know all about it, because they saw it happen. They saw the treaties broken, the thieving agents, the trespassing settlers, the outrages that goaded the deceived Indian to despair and violence, and when they were ordered out to kill him, they knew that he had struck in self-defense and was the real victim.

    It is too late to do much about it now. The good people of the Indian Rights Association try to do something; but in spite of them, what little harm can still be done is being done through dishonest Indian agents and the mean machinery of politics. If you care to know more of the long, bad story, there is a book by Helen Hunt Jackson, A Century of Dishonor; it is not new. It assembles and sets forth what had been perpetrated up to the time when it was written. A second volume could be added now.

    I have dwelt upon this matter here for a very definite reason, closely connected with my main purpose. It's a favorite trick of our anti-British friends to call England a "land-grabber." The way in which England has grabbed land right along, all over the world, is monstrous, they say. England has stolen what belonged to whites, and blacks, and bronzes, and yellows, wherever she could lay her hands upon it, they say. England is a criminal. They repeat this with great satisfaction, this land-grabbing indictment. Most of them know little or nothing of the facts, couldn't tell you the history of a single case. But what are the facts to the man who asks, "What has England done in this war, anyway?" The word "landgrabber" has been passed to him by German and Sinn Fein propaganda, and he merely parrots it forth. He couldn't discuss it at all. "Look at the Boers," he may know enough to reply, if you remind him that England's land-grabbing was done a good while ago. Well, we shall certainly look at the Boers in due time, but just now we must look at ourselves. I suppose that the American who denounces England for her land-grabbing has forgotten, or else has never known, how we grabbed Florida from Spain. The pittance that we paid Spain in one of the Florida transactions never went to her. The story is a plain tale of land-grabbing; and there are several other plain tales that show us to have been land-grabbers, if you will read the facts with an honest mind. I shall not tell them here. The case of the Indian is enough in the way of an instance. Our own hands are by no means clean. It is not for us to denounce England as a land- grabber.

    You cannot hate statistics more than I do. But at times there is no dodging them, and this is one of the times. In  we paid Napoleon Bonaparte fifteen millions for what was then called Louisiana. Napoleon had his title to this land from Spain. Spain had it from France. France had it——how? She had it because La Salle, a Frenchman, sailed down the Mississippi River. This gave him title to the land. There were people on the bank already, long before La Salle came by.

    It would have surprised them to be told that the land was no longer theirs because a man had come by on the water. But nobody did tell them. They were Indians. They had wives and children and wigwams and other possessions in the land where they had always lived; but they were red, and the man in the boat was white, and therefore they were turned into trespassers because he had sailed by in a boat. That was the title to Louisiana which we bought from Napoleon Bonaparte.

    The Louisiana Purchase was a piece of land running up the Mississippi, up the Missouri, over the Divide, and down the Columbia to the Pacific. Before we acquired it, our area was over a quarter, but not half, a million square miles. This added nearly a million square miles more. But what had we really bought? Nothing but stolen goods. The Indians were there before La Salle, from whose boat-sailing the title we bought was derived. "But," you may object, "when whites rob reds or blacks, we call it Discovery; land-grabbing is when whites rob whites——and that is where I blame England." For the sake of argument I concede this, and refer you to our acquisition of Texas. This operation followed some years after the Florida operation. "By request" we "annexed" most of present Texas——in . That was a trick of our slaveholders. They sent people into Texas and these people swung the deal. It was virtually a theft from Mexico. A little while later, in , we "paid" Mexico for California, Arizona, and Nevada. But if you read the true story of Fremont in California, and of the American plots there before the Mexican War, to undermine the government of a friendly nation, plots connived at in Washington with a view to getting California for ourselves, upon my word you will find it hard to talk of England being a land-grabber and keep a straight face. And, were a certain book to fall into your hands, the narrative of the Alcalde of Monterey, wherein he sets down what of Fremont's doings in California went on before his eyes, you would learn a story of treachery, brutality, and greed. All this acquisition of territory, together with the Gadsden Purchase a few years later, brought our continent to its present area——not counting Alaska or some islands later acquired—— ,, square miles.

    Please understand me very clearly: I am not saying that it has not been far better for the world and for civilization that we should have become the rulers of all this land, instead of its being ruled by the Indians or by Spain, or by Mexico. That is not at all the point. I am merely reminding you of the means whereby we got the land. We got it mostly by force and fraud, by driving out of it through firearms and plots people who certainly were there first and who were weaker than ourselves. Our reason was simply that we wanted it and intended to have it. That is precisely what England has done. She has by various means not one whit better or worse than ours, acquired her possessions in various parts of the world because they were necessary to her safety and welfare, just as this continent was necessary to our safety and welfare. Moreover, the pressure upon her, her necessity for self-preservation, was far more urgent than was the pressure upon us. To make you see this, I must once again resort to some statistics.

    England's area——herself and adjacent islands——is , square miles. Her population in  was eighteen and one half millions. At that same time our area was , square miles, not counting the recent Louisiana Purchase. And our population was ,,. With an area less than one third of ours (excluding the huge Louisiana) England had a population more than twice as great. Therefore she was more crowded than we were-how much more I leave you to figure out for yourself. I appeal to the fair-minded American reader who only "wants to be shown," and I say to him, when some German or anti-British American talks to him about what a land-grabber England has been in her time to think of these things and to remember that our own past is tarred with the same stick. Let every one of us bear in mind that little sentence of the Kaiser's, "Even now I rule supreme in the United States;" let us remember that the Armistice and the Peace Treaty do not seem to have altered German nature or German plans very noticeably, and don't let us muddle our brains over the question of the land grabbed by the great-grandfathers of present England.

    Any American who is anti-British to-day is by just so much pro-German, is helping the trouble of the world, is keeping discord alight, is doing his bit against human peace and human happiness.

    There are some other little sentences of the Kaiser and his Huns of which I shall speak before I finish: we must now take up the controversy of those men in front of the bulletin board; we must investigate what lies behind that controversy. Those two men are types. One had learned nothing since he left school, the other had.

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