Madison said that the American Revolution was driven by the “sacred fire of liberty.” The question is: liberty for whom? For all people or only for the Europeans?
The American Declaration of Independence begins with these lines: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”—this sounds like a triumph of liberty, equality, and fraternity. But in the section known as Grievance 27, the Declaration of Independence clarifies that all are free and equal except the slaves and the natives.
Here’s the text of Grievance 27: “He has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored 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.”
The Declaration of Independence brands the Indians as savages. The words “domestic Insurrections” is a reference to the slave revolts which most Americans believed the British were inciting. In 1775, the British had announced that they would give freedom to the African slaves if they joined the British Army. The American colonies feared the outbreak of slave revolts—the Grievance 27 addresses their concerns and clarifies that the slaves would not be freed. For the Native Indians and the slaves, the “scared fire of liberty” entailed new chains of bondage.
The Founders of America are the most deified figures in Western history. But they did not believe that the slaves and the natives could become civilized. To them becoming civilized was becoming white—something that the slaves and the natives could not do. How did the Native Americans see the founders? In the Seneca tribe, Washington was known as a “town destroyer.” They held him responsible for decimation of their cornfields and several villages. The Shawnee tribe knew Jefferson as the man who tried to have them exterminated, when he was the Governor of Virginia.
The success of the American revolution led to an intensification in the campaign against the Native Indians. In 1779, Washington sent this terrible order to his military commander: “The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their [Native Indian] settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible...Parties should be detached to lay waste to all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner; that the country may not be merely overrun but destroyed.”
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