Lydia Maria Child, “Appeal for the Indians” (1868)


From An Appeal For the Indians
By L. Maria Child
New York: Wm. P. Tomlinson, 1868

[The occasion for Child’s Appeal was a government report “Of the Indian Peace Commission,” which, she writes, “at last . . . manifests something like a right spirit toward the poor Indians” and so “encourages a hope that the Anglo-Saxon race are capable of civilization.” Much of the 22-page pamphlet quotes from and discusses the findings of the Commission. Below are several of Child’s perorations.]


I know it is an almost universal opinion that Indians are incapable of civilization; but I see no rational ground for such an opinion. Their mode of warfare is certainly barbarous; but then, all wars are barbarous to a shocking degree. . . .

Do we say that their modes of torture indicate irreclaimable barbarism? Let us glance at the record of modern nations, and see whether it proves our natures to be essentially different from theirs. . . . I might fill columns with similar monstrosities practiced by nations of the white race. The tortures of the Inquisition were almost entirely for differences of belief concerning theological doctrines; an insanity of cruelty of which Indians were never guilty. . . .

The Indians are at least more consistent that white men. They profess to believe in revenge, and practice accordingly; while we profess a religion of love and forgiveness, and do such things as these! . . .

It is generally supposed that the Indians knew nothing of agriculture, till they saw it practised by the whites; but this is not true. In our war with the Indians, 1794, Gen. Wayne destroyed many settlements of the Wyandots and Miamis on the shores of Lake Erie. In an official dispatch, he wrote thus: “The very extensive and cultivated fields and gardens show the work of many hands. The margins of the rivers appear like one continued village for miles. I have never beheld such immense fields of corn in any part of America, from Canada to Florida.” All this was laid waste by white men. The Cherokee tribe in Georgia, numbering about twenty thousand, resolved to adopt our mode of life. They made good progress in Agriculture and various mechanic arts, and were as orderly as any other citizens. But the state of Georgia coveted their lands, and they were driven off to a Territory beyond Arkansas, by a series of insupportable persecutions, at which the Government of the United States winked, if it did nothing worse. How can people improve, who are never secure in the possession of their lands? Yet, while we are perpetually robbing them, and driving them “from post to pillar,” we go on repeating, with the most impudent coolness, “They aredestined to disappear before the white man.” And we “nail it with Scripture,” just as we did our enslavement of the negroes; “Japhet shall be enlarged, and inhabit the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant.” If the white man is Japhet, all I have to say is, he has behaved in a rascally manner toward Shem and Canaan.

Presented from such points of view, how must our religion appear to the Indians, who have always believed in One Great Spirit, the Father of the whole human race? No wonder there has been so little success in attempts to convert them to Christianity. Their ideas of politeness prevent them from ever ridiculing or contradicting the theological ideas of other people; but when missionaries told them of a hell, where sinners were punished to all eternity, perhaps there was some latent sarcasm in their reply, “If there be such a place, it must be for white men only.”

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