The History of the Butterfly, Part 118: “William Penn” Dissents

“Every careful observer of public affairs must have seen, that a crisis has been rapidly approaching, for several years past, in reference to the condition, relations, and prospects, of the Indian tribes, in the southwestern parts of the United States.  The attention of many of our most intelligent citizens has been fixed upon the subject with great interest.  Many others are beginning to inquire.  Several public documents, which have recently appeared in the newspapers, serve to awaken curiosity, and to provoke investigation.

Still, however, the mass of the community possess but very little information on the subject; and, even among the best informed, scarcely a man can be found, who is thoroughly acquainted with the questions at issue.  Vague and inconsistent opinions are abroad; and however desirous the people can be of coming at the truth, the sources of knowledge are not generally accessible.  Some persons think, that the Indians have a perfect right to the lands which they occupy, except so far as their original right has been modified by treaties fairly made, and fully understood at the time of signing.  But how far such a modification may have taken place, or whether it has taken place at all, these persons admit themselves to be ignorant.  Others pretend, that Indians have no other right to their lands, than that of a tenant at will; that is, the right of remaining where they are, till the owners of the land shall require them to remove.  It is needles to say, that, in the estimation of such persons, the white neighbors of the Indians are the real owners of the land.  Some people are puzzled by what is supposed to be the powers of the general government and the claims of particular States.  Others do not see that there is any hardship in bringing the Indians under the laws of the States, in the neighborhood of which they live; or, as the phrase is, within the limits of which they live.  Some consider it the greatest kindness that can be done to the Indians to remove them, even without their consent and against their will, to a country where, as is supposed, they will be in a condition more favorable to their happiness.  Others think, that if they are compelled to remove, their circumstances will be in all respects worse than at present; and that, suffering under a deep sense of injury, and considering themselves trodden down by the march of inexorable oppression, they will become utterly dispirited, and sink rapidly to the lowest degradation and to final extinction….

The character of our government, and of our country, may be deeply involved.  Most certainly an indelible stigma will be fixed upon us, if, in the plentitude of our power, and in the pride of our superiority, we shall be guilty of manifest injustice to our weak and defenseless neighbors.  There are persons among us, not ignorant, nor prejudiced, nor under the bias of private interest, who seriously apprehend, that there is a danger of our national character being most unhappily affected, before the subject shall be fairly at rest.  If these individuals are misled by an erroneous view of facts, or by adoption of false principles, a free discussion will relieve their minds.

It should be remembered, by our rulers as well as others, that this controversy…will ultimately be well understood by the whole civilized world…

It may be truly said, that the character which a nation sustains, in its intercourse with the great community of nations, is of more value than any other of its public possessions.”

William Penn

A series of essays were published in a serial style in a paper called The National Intelligencer.  They argued very passionately against the passage of the Indian Removal Act, and focused particularly on the conditions of the Cherokee tribe.

 The essays were written by Jeremiah Evarts, a missionary to the Cherokees and the Corresponding Secretary to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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