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In the course of the Cabinet Library, it is proposed to give three volumes upon the Aborigines of North America, to consist of the present volume, entitled Celebrated Indians of North America, with one upon their Manners and Customs, and one upon their History
The general object of these works will be to make the reader familiar with the real character and genius of that remarkable and peculiar race of men, which, however divided into various tribes and nations, are still of one lineage, and were the masters of the American continent--the lords of the New World, in its entire length and breadth-when it was discovered by Columbus.
There are several reasons why this subject has not been well understood. The conquerors and spoilers of America had strong motives for first hating, and then defaming, the Aborigines. Cortez yearned for the wealth of Mexico, and, to obtain it, he must slaughter millions of the people, and enslave the rest. Having done this, he would naturally seek to justify his conduct to his own conscience and the world at large, by representing them in the most degrading and revolting colors. Pizarro would have the gold and silver of Peru, and, to cover up the atrocities he committed in obtaining it, must represent the people he betrayed and butchered, as ungodly heathen, whom it was not only lawful, but praiseworthy, to sweep from the face of the earth.
Even the more scrupulous settlers of North America, occupied a position unfavorable to a just judgment of the Indian character. They were almost constantly in a state of active hostility with the savages, until the Red Man was either driven away, or extirpated, or reduced to a state of imbecility, degradation and dependence. The savages were, therefore, enemies, and how hard is it to judge fairly of those we hate! They were also wronged, and we are told that the most offending are the least forgiving." It is interesting, yet painful, to note the relentless bitterness of feeling indulged, even by the godly pilgrims, toward such a chief as Philip of Mount Hopea savage indeed, and a ruthless enemy, yet a patriot and statesman, according to his knowledge, whose mighty efforts and melancholy fate should have extorted sympathy even from
And if such was the spirit of our ancestors, it is but natural that, as well to express their own feelings, as to make their conduct stand fair before the world, they should portray the Indians in the most unfavorable light. As they professed to be guided by religious motives in all things, they denounced the Indians as heathen, and, according to the morality of that period, held it to be lawful, nay, meritorious, to slay them, as worshippers of idols, and enemies of the true God. It is curious to see that, in New England, as well as in Mexico and Peru, the ministers of religion, generally, stimulated the soldiers to their work of death, by prayers and exhortations though it must not, indeed, be forgotten that pious missionaries were found, in both portions of the continent, to devote themselves to the conversion of the natives by the gentle means of persuasion.
The misrepresentations, procceding from the early settlers of America, dictated as well by a natural feeling of dislike, as by a desire to vindicate their harsh proceedings, constitute the main sources of history, to which we have been accustomed to go for our opinions of the Indians. A deep prejudice has
been thus engendered in our minds, and this is confirmed by our own observation of the present tribes—wasted, degenerated and brutalized, by contact with civilized man, who seems, in his commerce with savages, generally, to give in exchange only his vices, his diseases, and his crimes.
The difficulties in the way of truth, in respect to this subject, have not been diminished by the poets and novelists--who, for the purpose of effect—of dramatic contrast, or picturesque lights and shadows-have endowed their dusky heroes and heroines with the romantic sentiment of soul, and diversified association of mind, which belong only to a refined and luxurious state of society. These illusory representations have, however, been largely diffused and fondly cherished by a large part of the reading world, as genuine portraitures of the American race. Thus, between the harsh and distorted pictures of interested traducers, and the prismatic delineations of the sentimentalists, the real genius of the Indian has remained either obscured, or hidden from the view.
The disposition to theorize has been another cause of mistake and delusion, in respect to the natives of this continent. Almost every writer has discussed the subject for the purpose of sustaining some cherished hypothesis—of showing that they were the descendants of the lost tribe of the Jews, or of Carthaginians who had traversed the Atlantic, or of emigrants from Asia by way of the Polynesian islands; or some other supposition equally unreasonable, or insusceptible of demonstration. And even when no definite scheme was to be made out, the natural disposition to interpret the bosoms of others by our own, has led historians and philosophers to estimate the Indians by transatlantic standards of thought, feeling and action.
Whatever may have been the beginning of this race, they must be regarded, in the main, as an original people--carrying with them, doubtless, the languages of their remote fathers, and faint fragments of institutions and manners wrecked upon the