President Chester A. Arthur Aims to Turn Indians into U.S. Citizens, 1881

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  • Datum přidání: 01. července 2007
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President Chester A. Arthur Aims to Turn Indians into U.S. Citizens, 1881

One of the main distinctive features of American history is the problem of settlers dealing with the native inhabitants. “The Indian problem” has been an issue in ever since the first Europeans came onto the continent. The area of present-day United States of America was particularly attractive for British colonists, who had quite different approach to the handling of the native inhabitants than the other colonizing nations. The British always tried to leave the natives alone or keep the Indians away from themselves – trying to live life according to pure principles of Christian belief. This approach led to relatively few contact between the two sides. But the immigration of ever-new immigrants, as well as their own reproduction caused slow but sure move of the society’s natural boundary to the west. This fairly neutral relationship lasted until the “hop” over the Appalachian Mountains in the final period of the colonial America and in the era of the early republic. The old approach to the Indian problem (particularly during 1820s and 30s) was the treatment of the tribes as independent nations within certain boundaries, with the consequence of treaty and removal policies. Simplified, this method can be expressed by the words “isolation” (removals, clear boundary) and “not interfering” (into their nomadic lifestyle). But as the colonization of the continent moved more and more to the west, with gradual but certain dissolving of the clear frontier between “white” and “red” during the Reconstruction period, more and more Indian tribes were confronted with the great number of newcomers. This confrontation, caused mostly by the hunger for land and natural resources, initiated many racial and tribal conflicts. In this paper, the author criticizes previous methods of dealing with the Indian problem and recommends a new one, which should be supported by congressional actions. This new approach should lead to Indians’ integration and assimilation. The writer is the 21st president of the United States – Chester A. Arthur. Whether Arthur wrote this piece or not is quite difficult to find out, but most probably it was written either directly by him or indirectly by someone of his advisors who put his ideas in textual form. In author’s view, there have to be three major changes in the process of solving the problem.

First, he suggests legislative adjustments leading to the application of state laws in the Indian reservations (with the exception of the Five Civilized Tribes in today’s Oklahoma). This jurisdiction will lead, according to Arthur, to the protection of the Indian by the law, “valuable to him in his progress toward civilization” (line 38). Secondly, and most importantly, the author urges for a general law “permitting the allotment in severalty .. of a reasonable quantity of land”. This private property estate would help them in their “present welfare an their permanent advancement”. Writer’s intention is to break up Indians’ tribal and nomadic communities, accused for the under-development of their civilization. Thirdly, there shall be a certain amount of money assigned for the support of Indian schools. This idea was later developed (some can say also misused) by the initiative to obtain this money from the sale of the redundant Indian land. Arthur’s suggestions, which voiced the general sentiments, led to the Indian General Allotment, also known as the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. This law really rationed the land, confirming 160 acres to each individual household and half that to orphans and single adults. The rest, unfortunately, was quickly purchased by speculators and railroad companies. The title of this paper is: “President Chester A. Arthur Aims to Turn Indians into U.S. Citizens”. We may assume that this in a few years really happened, however, all Indians were made citizens only in 1924. Still today, despite Arthur's original ideas, Indian tribes are political entities, which generally are outside the jurisdiction of the individual states in which they live. Another inconsistency can be found in the lines 54-56, where the author expresses his rather subjective will of the reality and the outcome of his proposed changes. I quite doubt the “well-attested reports” of Indians’ increasing interest in husbandry (line 54). In reality, his “gratifying results at once” were in fact not achieved. What actually happened was, as he continues in this paragraph, the dissolution of the tribal bound with all its’ negative consequences. Although it is quite difficult to say whom this text is addressed to, the interest of the author is definitely to change the policy of dealing with the Indian problem. From this view it is a public text.

Most likely it is a complete document, although any kind of summary or conclusion is missing. It seemed to me, at first, as if this paper was some kind of recommendation for the American Congress - with an aim of passing a bill implementing author’s proposals (“there is imperative need for legislative action” - line 29). But in paragraph 11, Arthur mentions that his suggestions had already received to some extent a consideration by Congress (line 31), which to some extent rejects my previous thought. More probable might be, that this article was written in a form of a newspaper or a diplomatic letter, or it could be even a text of president’s public speech. The structure of the rather short text is quite simple – after the brief introduction of the topic comes the critique of old methods of dealing with the Indian problem. The main body of the paper consists of author’s proposals for the new federal actions and their reasoning. The conclusion is somehow missing. Rhetorical mode of the text is trying to be more appealing one than descriptive. We cannot find any irony, pathos or many metaphors in the text. One of the few combinations of words that I found in the paper interesting is the author’s use of the word “our” in the case of Indian problem (lines 2 and 12). On the one hand, it can state the attitude of the American president, representing the whole nation, on the other, though, it seemed to me as if he spoke only from the superior “white” side. My further impressions were evoked by the remarkable but truthful expressions used in the fifteenth paragraph. Arthur writes about Indians that “their hunting days are over”, which can be understood in the metaphorical sense, as well as in its literal meaning (consider the almost extinction of bison, for example). Later in the paragraph, author uses expression “new order of things” that describes really cardinal changes of the country after the industrial and market revolutions and the Civil War. Today’s writers would work with this idiom slightly more carefully. All in all, president Arthur supported here the new approach to dealing with the Indian problem that influenced Native Americans forever. Its consequences are rather controversial, nevertheless some facts are apparent: this tactic, hand in hand with many other factors, led to the almost total disappearance of the Native Americans’ lifestyle and culture. Therefore, by forced assimilation, brought them to the edge of extinction. On the other hand, though, it is quite natural, that the “dominant culture” one way or another wins over the other ones. In this light, Arthur’s recommendations seem at that time the only hope. As one commissioner put it in 1889: “This civilization may not be the best possible, but it is the best the Indian can get.

They can not escape it, and must either conform to it or be crushed by it.”.

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