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America is Not Stolen Land, it is Spear-Won Land
How the United States Conquered the Indians and then Tragically Mismanaged them as Defeated Peoples
“Alexander led his army to the Hellespont and transported it over from Europe to Asia…When he touched land he hurled his spear from his ship and it stuck in the earth. Then he leapt ashore, the first of the Macedonians to do so, and declared that he accepted Asia as a spear-won gift from the gods.” - Diodorus of Sicily [17.17.1-2]
“Nothing made it more difficult for the Romans to overcome the surrounding peoples and parts of the more distance provinces than the love many peoples in those times had for liberty, which they defended so stubbornly that they would never have been subjugated except by extraordinary ability. The dangers to which they exposed themselves to preserve or to regain their liberty, and the revenge they took against those who had deprived them of it are known through many examples.”
- Machiavelli [Discourses, II.2]
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[Note: Throughout this article I will be using American Indian, Native American, and variations thereof interchangeably, as does every non-woke Indian I’ve ever known. Similarly, “American” consistently means “Of the United States,” as we use it here.]
If you live in America, or are a follower of American culture, you are wholly aware of a scolding segment of the population which we now call “woke,” who go around demanding constant contrition for this country’s very existence, especially from their hated enemy, the straight white male. This takes many forms, such as the ridiculous and wholly discredited 1619 Project which argues that racial oppression is the purpose of America. More commonly, we are harangued about the “original sin” of what they like to call the “genocide” of the Native American people [who didn’t have anything resembling a unified identity until well into the 19th century.] This also takes forms such as demanding Columbus Day be called “Indigenous People’s Day,” where the vast majority of the population is meant to self-flagellate for having their homes, nation, and history. Disregard the fact that a majority of this country’s population are descended from people who immigrated after 1880, there is no need to bring logic into it. Another form of this sentiment is the now common “Land Acknowledgement Statements” where institutions such as universities force professors to make ridiculous statements about how the university is on stolen land that should be returned [something they have no intention of doing, it’s an insultingly hollow gesture.] It doesn’t matter whether or not there is evidence that tribe ever had meaningful ownership of that specific tract of land; it is performative wokeness at its most cringe-inducing.
The great American tradition of Thanksgiving, where we are meant to enjoy time with our families and commemorate a moment of positive interaction between early settlers and Indians is one of the worst times for demanded contrition and performative wokeness. Some American Indians argue that it should be a national day of mourning, and of course there are always white liberals racing to express historic guilt in the hope of being an “ally” [note that the Native author of the linked article says he had happy, large, family Thanksgivings with his family as a child then decided to hate the tradition later.]
[I feel compelled to note how much more popular this satire page mocking the Biden Admin is than ABC]
However, far from being a source of national shame, America’s conquest of this nation- “From Sea to Shining Sea”- once called “Manifest Destiny,” a concept as far out of favor as it is possible to be, was a glorious thing showing a combination of extreme Fortune and manly virtue. It was never assured that the American colonies would survive at all, much less attain victory against the United Kingdom and all the many tribes and colonize the continent from east to west.
America was not stolen, but was fairly won under the “law of conquest,” recognized by everyone in the Old World and the New, until people fell into the fallacious notion that the [recently ended] Post-WW2 Peace represented a new era in human history with permanently changed rules and values, and was not simply a cabal of winners making a treaty to establish authority over matters of war and peace. While America getting its land through war is just the course of history, the Indians were horribly and tragically mismanaged as a conquered people. America should have followed the model of Rome’s conquest of Italy, and used a combination of alliances and integration to make the Natives ultimately become full members of the American project. Instead, America left them in a strange status of federal wardship that is allegedly to preserve their culture while only ensuring their poverty.
When the English first began to successfully colonize what is now the United States in 1607 the native peoples of the Americas had already been wiped out by pestilence introduced by contact with the Spanish more than a century before. Some tribes had lost as much as 90% of their population, meaning the American Indians were living in what amounted to a post-apocalyptic society. Though Indians north of Mexico were never as advanced as the Aztec or Inca, many had previously lived in settled cities which were mostly abandoned due to disease and population collapse. Most survivors reverted to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle with limited agriculture. This is why colonists thought they were finding a “virgin land,” even though much of what they were encountering were regrown forests which used to be clearings for villages and farms. The Indian tribes that colonists found were in every way living in a less advanced society than they had in the mid 15th century. Though we are supposed to view it as unfair prejudice now, it is easy to see why colonists considered themselves culturally superior to what were essentially a neolithic people living in small bands.
The early American colonies had a founding similar to other historic colonies, described by Machiavelli as follows,
“When peoples who are compelled to abandon their homeland are not numerous, they are not as dangerous as those we have discussed, because they cannot employ such violence and are obliged to occupy some location with cunning and, once it has been occupied, to maintain themselves there by means of allies and confederations. This can be seen from what Aeneas, Dido, the Massilienses, and other similar peoples did, all of whom with the consent of their neighbors were able to remain in the places to which they had come.” [Discourses, II.9]
However, initially it was hard to survive in an unfamiliar wilderness, which of course is the origin of the Thanksgiving holiday- that natives helped the starving colonists survive in this new and different world.
While the new colonists were small in number, and with America mostly depopulated anyway, it was initially possible to find an uneasy peace. This was especially true as the colonists had a far more organized and technologically advanced society and native peoples could benefit from buying objects they could not import or manufacture themselves. Similar to ancient Greek colonization of the Mediterranean and Black Sea, the more primitive local peoples gained advantages from being near small settlements of a maritime people who had much greater access to trade the goods which Natives were able to produce a surplus of, in this case most notably furs.
With multiple English settlements in a loose sort of alliance and a large number of tribes, the opportunities for conflict to arise were vast. This was especially true as the Indians were still living in the “state of nature” described by Hobbes where raiding those around you was generally considered acceptable unless you had an active peace treaty [Greek and Italian city-states lived this way well into the Iron Age, and some European tribes much longer.] It was the blessings of Fortune and the virtue of our earliest founders which allowed the colonization project to thrive in this hostile new environment.
Under English rule, the colonies continued to grow in population, partially from immigration but mostly from high birth rates due to the healthy climate and fertile soil of places like New England. At the same time, the Indians continued to be afflicted by repeated epidemics, most notably smallpox, and their populations never came close to recovering to pre-contact levels. However, the Natives were still brave and proud peoples who loved their freedom and would not be easily conquered. While the English still ruled, the tribes were slowly pushed back. England found it advantageous to make alliances with groups such as the Iroquois League and was mostly interested in keeping colonies near the coast where they could be easily traded with. The English remained more concerned with revenue and saw the natives as a pawn in conflicts with their European rivals, the most famous of which is the French and Indian War, known as the Seven Years’ War in Europe. This was the first instance where England relied on their colonists for a large-scale formal conflict, and it would prove fateful that the colonists gained military training and combat experience, most of all because a young American officer named George Washington would later go on to lead a new continental military in a successful war of independence. This represents the beginning of the American martial tradition which would later lead to the conquest of the continent, and then, for a time, global hegemony. The military threat posed by native tribes, and the Crown using those tribes as a hedge against colonial power was a grievance specifically listed in the Declaration of Independence. It reads,
“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
We’re supposed to dismiss that as atrocity propaganda, but given the brutality of the Old World I know this to be how humanity functions, especially as while the Indians had some slavery, they did not have a large scale slave trade such as when the Mediterranean existed in comparable conditions and thus had little economic use for captured women and children [in antiquity, it was rare to intentionally kill women and children when a city was captured, but they would routinely be taken as slaves.] The American victory in the Revolutionary War was a major blow to powerful tribes such as the Iroquois League who had sided with the British and they saw much of their land ceded as part of the peace treaty without being consulted: such is the fate of a proxy when the power they are attached to loses a war. The Iroquois decision to side with the United Kingdom is understandable, both as they seemed likely to win and the UK was concerned about broader geopolitical issues whereas the colonists were directly on their borders wanting land for their rapidly expanding population. It both appeared they were picking the winning side, and it would have been better for them regardless for that side to win.
Before the war the colonies saw themselves as separate from each other and it is in part the Revolution itself which formed a national identity. It is similar to how the historian Sallust describes Rome becoming a state,
“These peoples, though they were of different races, dissimilar languages, living each in a different way, after they came together within a single city’s walls, it is incredible to relate how easily they coalesced: in so short a time did a disparate and wandering crowd because of internal harmony become a state.” - [Catiline’s Conspiracy, 6]
Though the United States had bitter political conflicts from the start, the people as the whole were remarkable in coming together as the first truly new nation founded in the world probably since the Venetians moved onto small sandbars to avoid the wars on land. Like the Romans, after the United States found freedom, the men of the new nation showed remarkable virtues which led to overwhelming success. Sallust continues,
“Once liberty was attained, it is incredible to recount how great the state became in a short time. So strong was the desire for glory that came over them…they had passionate desires, but those desires were for splendid armour and warhorses, not for prostitutes and parties. And so for men like this no hard labour was unfamiliar, no place was harsh or difficult, no armed enemy brought fear: their manly virtue had dominated everything. [Catiline’s Conspiracy, 7]
Though the Indians fought valiantly and showed an admirable love of their own liberty and way of life, they proved no match for the energetic new country with much higher population growth due to disease resistance and and a more productive economic structure. [While we’re here, I need to briefly mention, there is one recorded instance of the famed “smallpox blankets” and it was a British officer. There is no indication that any sort of common or organized biological warfare took place.] Throughout the complex military and diplomatic history of the Indian Wars the Americans emerged victorious time after time. While initially the Europeans had major technological advantages, later on the Indians had horses and guns and were well trained in both, as well as being fighting in their own territory which they were familiar with. These things constitute large advantages in warfare against a regular army fighting on what they consider the frontier. The list of Indian Wars is incredible, and it is a unique delusion of our time to claim this constitutes “theft” as opposed to properly earned “victory.” The only way for the Indians to have guaranteed themselves better treatment would have been to win more of these wars, many of which they started, thus creating a genuine need for the United States to pacify their territories.
For all of recorded history it was understood that this simply is how the world works, and further that it is the job of any state to weaken or eliminate dangerous competitors to create a safe and prosperous life for its people. This is no different from how the Natives behaved, the difference is they lost and Western academics decided to shame their own history, despite continuing to admire historical figures such as Alexander and even Genghis Khan, men who are no different from Cortez and were violent on a much larger scale than America’s military and public during the Indian Wars. Those men were truly after empire, whereas the Americans and early Romans were interested in protecting themselves and providing land for their rapidly growing societies [though Rome did refer to it as an empire when their territory was the size of Rhode Island.] Hobbes writes in Leviathan:
“Cities and kingdoms…(for their own security) enlarge their dominions, upon all pretences of danger, and fear of invasion, or assistance that may be given to invaders, and endeavour as much as they can, to subdue, or weaken their neighbors, by open force, and secret arts, for want of other caution, justly; and are remembered for it in after ages with honour.”
Any normal society would see ourselves on our own side and admire our ancestors for what they accomplished. It is national suicide to be ashamed of such a thing, even though like any learned man we can recognize that not every action was always honorable and that war is by its very nature brutal. The ultimate result is that from humble people fleeing poverty and oppression in Europe, our ancestors [or antecedents, for more recent immigrants] proved themselves up to every task and battle, and one way or another, made it from the East to West Coast. If you’ve read the first 10 books of Livy, as our most prominent founders had, you would know how similar this is to Rome’s rise to power through a combination of Fortune and virtue. A Machiavelli quote about how Rome established its population is particularly relevant, notwithstanding the fact that like Rome, early America pumped out native born children like crazy,
“Those who design a city to create a great empire must strive with great diligence to fill it full of inhabitants, because without this abundance of men it will never succeed in becoming a great city. This may be done in two ways: either through love or through force. It is done through love by keeping the pathways open and safe for foreigners who wish to come there to live, so that everyone may live there willingly; it is done through force after nearby cities are destroyed, by sending their inhabitants to live in your city.” [Discourses, II.4]
For the most part the United States has done a good job of inviting foreigners to live in our ranks to expand our population, but has always vacillated about integrating the Indians, who granted, didn’t have proper cities to capture or destroy. Still, this is where we’ve failed compared to Rome’s decisions within the Italian peninsula [for our purposes here, we can consider Italy, Sicily, and Transalpine Gaul [Provence] to be the comparison to the United States, with other holdings being imperial possessions- Rome’s policies massively changed when it moved past that point.] While we have accepted foreigners into our ranks, the Native Americans have largely remained in a strange state of wardship which pretends to respect their culture but perpetuates their oppression and poverty. This is especially absurd as America doesn’t have a state religion and has always been multilingual in one sense or another, so no policy of destroying or preserving their culture ever needed to be implemented, they simply needed to be made to “get with the times,” so to speak. The actual original Romans were a tiny segment of their later population [as it is uncommon to be recognizably of English descent in America today, though I personally am.] In fact, the Julia were a Sabine noble family which moved to Rome after the reconciliation following the Rape of the Sabine, and the Octavia were of Volscian descent only recently raised to Patrician status recently before Augustus took power- both of these tribes were long-time enemies of Rome. [These, of course, being the families of Julius and Octavian Caesar.] The biggest mistake in our understanding is viewing American Indians as one people, when in reality they are diverse peoples who should have been integrated piecemeal as possible and appropriate- ideally without something as devastating as the early 1st century BC Social War where all of Italy rose up against Rome- which ultimately led to citizenship being extended to all freeborn men across the Italian Peninsula, mostly ending the system where every tribe had different agreements with Rome. [It is perhaps the most confounding conflict for Rome to have won, and also a key example of Machiavelli’s belief that conflict is generally what drives good policy.]
Machiavelli explains how Rome primarily expanded through alliances, and writes, regarding methods of expansion,
“The second method is to make alliances for yourself, but not to the extent that you do not retain the position of command, the seat of the empire, and the credit for its achievements: the method that was employed by the Romans…The only effective method is the one followed by the Romans, which is even more admirable in so far as no example of it existed before that of Rome, and after Rome’s fall, no one has been capable of imitating it.”
- [Discourses, II.4]
The word “alliances” is somewhat euphemistic here, because what Rome generally did if they defeated someone in such a way that it seemed appropriate to show mercy [they were generally merciful to anyone who surrendered, though the ancient rules of war were that you could kill all adult males from a defeated city and sell the women and children into slavery if you chose to, and sometimes they took it even farther] was to force tribes to agree to have “the same friends and enemies.” This is a pretty decent deal if you can get it from a much superior power, because you maintain sovereignty and often don’t even pay tribute but instead simply contribute your warriors to the wars that are inevitably always going on. These alliances would have been a great way to integrate the Indians into the American project, while also giving those tribes a security guarantee, it does, however, require an end to routine plunder between tribes, which was a grievance in Italy and would have been in America. Over time the ties inevitably become closer as long as the deal can be maintained, and the wealth and success of Rome generally made the population of these tribes, or at least a segment of it, ever more loyal. However, there were many disputes about things such as intermarriage, the status of people who moved to the capitol or other Roman cities, and most of all land policy, a constant struggle within the Roman Republic. The answer to this is simply that free government is difficult, and problems must periodically be solved as appropriate.
Rome’s economy, quality of life, and governance was far better than anyone around them, which is also true of early America compared to the tribes. What are known as “The Five Civilized Tribes” initially showed a model of good policy for integrating the Indians into our society in a productive way. These tribes had agreed to a settled agricultural lifestyle under written laws and other European style institutions at the encouragement of George Washington, who pursued a policy of integrating peaceful tribes while going to war with hostile ones. Unfortunately, cupidity for their land and estates, and most of all a gold rush in Georgia, set America down a truly terrible course for relations with allied or conquered tribes. The Five Civilized Tribes easily could have been integrated fully into the United States in a way that reduced tensions and gave an excellent release valve for Natives who wanted to integrate but were from otherwise of hostile tribes, by creating a state which was not dominated by the white man. After their land was taken from them these tribes were removed in what is called “The Trail of Tears.” After this, other tribes had no reason to believe they would get good treatment no matter how much they capitulated and integrated into our economy and way of life. Still, their land can’t be said to be stolen since they agreed to recognize the authority of a superior force, though the situation can only be attributed to greed, unfair government, and what would now be called “white supremacy” [though more accurately chauvinism, in the sense of preferring your own people.] As Hobbes writes,
“It is not therefore the victory, that giveth the right of dominion over the vanquished, but his own covenant. Nor is he obliged because he is conquered; that is to say, beaten, and taken or put to flight; but because he cometh in, and submitteth to the victor.” - [Leviathan, 20.11]
Those Natives were moved to the federal territory of Oklahoma, at the time called “Indian Territory.” This required displacing other tribes, and still they were yet again encroached on by the insatiable appetite for land of poor whites with a much higher birth rate, by that point supplemented by high levels of immigration from the poor of Europe. It is the later period of moving west where things got the worst for the Indians, in something akin to the Gallic invasions of Italy, about which Machiavelli writes, “With all the other peoples, the Romans fought only about who was to be in command, while with the Gauls they always fought for their safety.” He continues,
“Peoples such as these leave their own lands…driven out by necessity, and this necessity arises either from famine or from a war and the oppression they have experienced in their own country, which has compelled them to seek new homelands. Such peoples come in great numbers, and then they violently enter the lands of others, murder the inhabitants, take possession of their property, create a new kingdom, and change the very name of the province, just as Moses did and those other peoples when they occupied the Roman Empire…Such peoples as these are, therefore, extremely formidable, since they are driven by extreme necessity, and if they do not encounter good armies, they are never stopped.” [Discourses, II.9]
It has historically always be the case, that men, like a beehive, send out colonies if their population becomes overcrowded, or even just ample enough to do so. It’s not clear what will happen in the world now that essentially the entire world is colonized and Elon Musk is too busy with Twitter to focus on his quest for Mars. Americans are currently facing waves of desperate people streaming across our borders, though fearmongering notwithstanding it is nowhere near as dire as Machiavelli described, especially as our population is massively higher than Central America’s. [As an aside, I always find it funny when people try to use arguments about how colonists didn’t have documents coming to America, being as we quite obviously don’t want what happened to the Natives to happen to us.]
The desire for prosperity of impoverished Europeans and America’s national desire for greatness meant that once America had the power to do so, seeking to move west was inevitable. The best realistic solution for all sides would have been to wholly integrate Natives into our society to the greatest extent possible. This would most of all have meant to set them to the same homesteading standards that were applied to whites so that they developed clear private property rights as we [the people with more power] understand them. The idea that this would have destroyed their culture is kind of irrelevant because they faced far worse things than they would have seeking to maintain traditions while assimilating. Further, the condition we found them in was post-apocalyptic, and primativists notwithstanding, the settled lifestyle objectively produces a much higher quality of life and would have improved their birthrates [when was the last time you experienced a famine?] Beyond which, nothing would have stopped someone who wanted to do so from having a small ranch while working as a professional hunter, and the buffalo herds could have been a great national resource if managed differently instead of having been destroyed to harm the hostile tribes. Perhaps tribes wouldn’t have agreed to homestead, but that would have left them in a state of war with the United States government and the settlers, leading to their extermination, which is basically what did happen because a policy of integration wasn’t consistently pursued.
Unfortunately, America behaved like an indecisive, weak republic, and its inconstancy caused great suffering, leaving the American Indians a tiny minority managed alternatingly between policies of segregation and forced displacement and integration. The proper policy was to make them Americans like everyone else with normal property rights, not groups with the nominal independence to ignore fireworks laws and catch more fish while the federal government massively restricts what they can do with their land. The current system is the result of some Ivy educated 1930s utopian socialist called John Collier who turned the reservations into what has been accurately described as a “socialist archipelago” within the United States; this continued prevention of economic development on the grounds of “preserving culture” is the reason that even in rural Idaho stores on the reservation have bars on the windows and that Native America lifespans are lower even than black Americans. Being a conquered people is never initially easy, but as there were not that many natives and a whole lot of land, all the federal government had to do was tell them to establish homesteads; instead the government assigned them collectively “owned” wildernesses that they could not, and the federal government would not, defend from white settlers desiring better lives or from the cupidity of big business and financial interests. [At a different time they also forced them to live in poverty in the cities as a form of forced integration on terrible terms.]
No nation which lives in shame will ever thrive, as with a man consumed by guilt, it is the path to suicide. Many or most nations get their names from war or conquest in some way or the other, including England itself from whence we arrived. There is no shame, and indeed great pride in our country, like Rome before it, taking over the land on which we live. Our cruelty and mistake is that we didn’t utilize the conquered natives and make them part of our strength as a nation, something which, following wars, was the best conclusion for all. This was mostly the result of bad government, and good old-fashioned greed, but was also caused by over-educated administrators seduced by Romanticist and utopian ideas. Still, to have won our homeland is a glorious thing for which we should feel no shame, though sadly, like Rome, we’ve also now lost our freedom and extended our power far past reasonable borders where we might integrate people into one nation as we should have done with the Indians. Far from self-flagellating, this Thanksgiving be thankful that your side won, unless you are an American Indian who has not integrated, in which case, like so many before you, being thankful to have survived being conquered will have to suffice.
In the immortal words of Thucydides: “You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” - [5.89]
Indeed, though some basic competent policy attained through the study of history on the American part would have been much more merciful while also increasing our power. Would that George Washington’s policy of integrating peaceful tribes while fighting the hostile ones had lasted.
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