This article was originally published at Robinia Press.
Guilt is a strong word.
Within the American legal system, to cast a tried soul as “guilty,” you must first find motive, then means, and then the task itself. In this case—murder.
In the case of the Native Peoples and America, we have murder and means, but do we have motive?
In a 2006 publication for The Heritage Foundation’s First Principles Essays, the Hoover Institution Scholar, Dinesh D’Souza, wrote that “the white man” was not “guilty of genocide against the native Indians.”
This was because, D’Souza argued, the Europeans lacked a motive. D’Souza continued, “For the most part, they died by contracting diseases … which they had not developed immunities.” He claims that, although a “tragedy on a grand scale,” it “is not genocide,” because it lacked an intention to conquer and kill.
Modern historical estimates argue that between 90 – 95% of Eastern Native Americans died within the first 100 years of European contact—a number in the many of many millions. David Cook of the University of Texas at Austin concluded that this “genocide” was undeniably the “greatest human catastrophe in history, far exceeding even the disaster of the Black Death of medieval Europe.”
D’Souza’s argument that, without motive, the murder and following conquering of the New World cannot be a negative blemish upon the American soul is a bit stale and entirely sour.
John Locke wrote at the beginning of this “non-genocide genocide” that the New World yearned for the colonizing and enlightening force of civil society. You can read Locke’s Second Treatise paragraph 40 and on to learn more.
But, If mankind was not born “with saddles on their backs,” to quote one of Locke’s greatest students (Thomas Jefferson), then how could he argue that Britain, by Right, “was the favored few booted and spurred” who were “ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god?”
The points here to consider is that murder without motive is not innocence and simply waving off the one of the “greatest human catastrophes” of known history as pure accident does not produce a virtue worth emulating. The depopulation of America’s original peoples was a convenient truth that facilitated the future and complete conquering and colonization of its lands. It supplied the young nation a polemic ground to argue Manifest Destiny, the eradication of native populations in the East, and the subjugation and relocation of ancient homelands.
The rhetoric of Murder without Motive fueled many of America’s later “Indian Policies.” John Quincy Adams argued that one “treaty” was an “eternal disgrace upon the country,” and Frances Trollope described the resulting American policies as: “with one hand hoisting the cap of liberty, and with the other…driving from their homes the children of the soil.”
Yes, the Europeans did not calculate the creation of “killer germs.” Of course not. But they were coming anyway and later history speaks plainly of thier motives: possess and depopulate. We should not look back at history and say, “oh well.” We should learn from it and begin to know better.
If you enjoyed this article, Robinia Press’ latestest book release, Boone: An Unfinished Portrait, has entire chapters dedicated to such topics.