29 July 2009

Triumph of the English

While students in my American Indian History course are taking an exam that some find brutal, I spend some time reading my scribblings in an old spiral notebook. Modern classrooms are equipped with computers, including access to the library and JSTOR, so I again tracked down a critical footnote in A Patriots History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen and wrote from there. Then, I searched my own blog to find that I have penned in my notebook an alternative ending for my post "Triumph of the English" (April 2008).

Schweikart and Allen maintain that the English triumphed over rival European powers--principally Spain and France--in the struggle for North America because they cultivated a climate receptive to innovation.

Receptive Climate
Insofar as the response to crises has to deal with a continuing legacy of competing claims, and sustains and tolerates ideological diversity, innovation is enhanced.
Jack Gladstone, "Cultural Orthodoxy," 132
Schweikart and Allen bury their exposition of the English "culture of technological inquisitiveness" within their discussion of Europe’s generally receptive climate for "risk taking and innovation" that "reached its most advanced state in England" (15). The stirrup was invented in the Middle East, but used to effect hundreds of years later by Charles Martel’s knights at Poitiers, they tell us (citing a text that lists neither stirrups nor Martel in the index). But Poitiers is in France. They present no English examples to buttress their hypothesis. Rather they quote from the second paragraph of Jack Gladstone’s 1987 Sociological Theory article, "Cultural Orthodoxy, Risk, and Innovation: The Divergence of East and West in the Early Modern World."

After quoting Gladstone, Schweikart and Allen step away from his arguments. First they emphasize "stability of the state, the rule of law" (15). Gladstone highlighted the lasting effects of such crises as the Puritan Revolution, as well as its precipitating causes. The revolution, he argues did not manifest immediately the requisite institutional changes until the reign of William III (William of Orange).

Although the English radicals failed to fully institutionalize their rule, and the monarchy and Anglican Church were restored, the radical challenge left a legacy which served as a hedge against reassertion of absolute authority.
Jack Gladstone, "Cultural Orthodoxy," 130

Gladstone cites the English Bill of Rights (1689), explicit religious toleration, and the Act of Settlement (1701).*

Schweikart and Allen offer a list of the benefits of toleration of new ideas: "entrepreneurship, invention, technical creativity, and innovation" (15). The last three fall within Gladstone's use of the term innovation, but he cautions against over-emphasis upon entrepreneurship, which "is more a facility for exploiting opportunities and filling economic niches than a facility for technological innovation" (128). Of course, as I mentioned in the original version of this post, Schweikart and Allen highlight innovative business practices.

They draw Gladstone into their argument, it seems, because they like one passage:

The West did not overtake the East merely by becoming more effecient at making bridles and stirrups, but by developing steam engines ... [and] by taking unknown risks on novelty.
Gladstone, as cited in Schweikart and Allen, 15.

That quote comes from the end of the second paragraph. They might have cited another passage near the end of the first page.

Concurrent innovations in agriculture, transport, manufacturing, financing, machining, education, and marketing, rather than a few major inventions, were responsible for the transformation of the West.
Jack Gladstone, "Cultural Orthodoxy," 119

Gladstone's thesis buttresses the minor chords in Schweikart and Allen's song, but he does not contribute to their crescendo highlighting property rights as the foundation of English and American success.

*Gladstone does not actually mention the Act of Settlement, but mixes up the long and short names of the English Billl of Rights as if they were separate acts. However, his descriptions, dates, and citations reveal his intended reference.

26 July 2009

Madison on Human Nature

Celebrations of John Calvin's birthday have brought out a flurry of pronouncements of an old idea. Many Americans in the nineteenth century accepted the idea that God extended special grace to the men who drafted the Constitution of the United States in the hot Philadelphia summer of 1787. After the emergence of history as a profession, also known as evidence-based scholarship, that idea declined in influence. Or, perhaps, it was the influence of Charles A. Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913) that rendered the old view out of fashion. Beard's views, too, have waned in their influence as new theories from intellectual history became dominant. Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967) probably remains on more graduate student reading lists than most other secondary histories of the founders.

These days, theocentric histories cite secular authorities--the writings of James Madison, for example,--as I sought to illustrate in "Calvin and the Constitution". The theocentrists argue that belief in human nature as fallen led to limited government and separation of powers.
Because of man’s sinful nature, we cannot live in a state of anarchy; we need government to maintain law and order. But because those in authority have the same sinful nature as the rest of us, we cannot trust government with too much power. This led to the system of limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, and reserved individual rights that characterize republican self-government.
John Eidsmoe, "Celebrating Calvin's Legacy"
This argument rests upon a reading of a brief passage from Federalist 51:
It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
Federalist 51
But, Madison's views were more complex, or they changed over time. Federalist 55, also attributed to Madison although either or both may have been written by Alexander Hamilton, offers a more benign view of human nature, one that Jonathan Rowe claims is "barely consistent with Calvinism":
As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be, that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.
Federalist 55
Self-government requires the capacity for virtue. Madison saw depravity in human nature, but he saw virtue as well. His view of human nature may have owed more to John Locke than to John Calvin. In any case, as Saul K. Padover asserted more than a half-century ago, Madison often appeared to steer a middle course between the extremes.
Moderation and balance permeated Madison's whole thought. At the Constitutional Convention he took a middle position between what today would be called the Right and the Left, between men like Hamilton who distrusted the people and those like Wilson who had confidence in them. In Madison's view, people, whether Americans or others, were neither inherently good nor naturally bad; they were, he argued, what society made them. If shown confidence, they would be likely to reciprocate it; if degraded by their rulers, they would become depraved.
Padover, The Complete Madison: His Basic Writings (1953), 11

24 July 2009

Calvin and the Constitution

History is eloquent in declaring that American democracy was born of Christianity and that Christianity was Calvinism.
Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (1932)
Had he lived, John Calvin would have been 500 years old this month. He died, but his ideas live on, perhaps even in the Constitution of the United States. A writer for the New York Times asked Calvin's most recent biographer whether it was "fanciful" to detect traces of Calvin's thought in the Constitution. “Absolutely not,” replied Bruce Gordon, author of Calvin (2009).
Calvin’s legacy has been traced in everything from modern marriage and modern science to modern liberal government and of course modern capitalism. By many accounts, he is a major source of modernity’s very understanding of the self.
Peter Steinfels, "Man of Contradictions, Shaper of Modernity. Age? 500 Next Week," New York Times 3 July 2009
Several bloggers celebrated Calvin's birthday by posting claims that he is the virtual author of our republican form of government; others mocked these assertions. Reed R. Heustis, Jr. found quite a few new readers for his "John Calvin and the American Founding" at Worldview Times. Heustis sees the world in clear dichotomies--one is either a Calvinist or a Marxist. Such logic gathers ridicule as a dog gathers fleas. Ed Brayton asserts that Heustis deserves ridicule, noting that Heustis "presents not a single quote from even a single founding father that supports that claim." But Heustis does cite an authority: John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (1987).

Many joined the chorus denouncing Heustis by posting comments at Dispatches from the Culture Wars (Brayton's blog), including yours truly. To support my initial claim that Calvin's influence was predominantly negative--an example to avoid, rather than emulate--I quickly found a quote from the pen of Thomas Jefferson in Edwin Gaustad's Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation (1987).
The Presbyterian clergy are loudest, the most intolerant of all sects, the most tyrannical and ambitious; ready at the word of a lawgiver, if such a word could be now obtained, to put the torch to the pile, and to rekindle in this virgin hemisphere, the flames in which their oracle Calvin consumed the poor Servetus.
Jefferson to William Short, 1820, as quoted in Gaustad (48)
My response nagged at me, in part because I knew that I had Eidsmoe's book someplace in an box yet to unpack. Although I had missed a slice the birthday cake baked for Calvin at the Presbyterian university here in Spokane because I had been busy moving my belongings to our new home, I now had time to consider the man's legacy. It takes me a few weeks to unpack a ton of books. Two hours of unpacking, sorting and repacking--it is a smaller house--was sufficient to locate Eidsmoe's Christianity and the Constitution.

Eidsmoe's Scholarship

John Eidsmoe blogs for the Foundation for Moral Law, where he posted "Celebrating John Calvin's Legacy--Not so much Charles Darwin's." His point in his blog entry is expressed in greater detail in his book: Calvin's emphasis on total depravity "led to the system of limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, and reserved individual rights that characterize republican self-government." He also cites in the blog, and in more detail in the book, the authority of two prominent nineteenth century historians: Leopold von Ranke and George Bancroft.
John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.
Leopold von Ranke, as cited in Eidsmoe (18)
In Christianity and the Constitution, Eidsmoe reveals his sources for the idea that Calvinism "stands out above all others" (18) among the ideas that influence the founders. Five of the first six footnotes--documenting the assertions of Ranke, Bancroft, Jean Henri Merle d’Aubigné, and Emilio Castelar--are to a single text: Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Boettner's book dates to 1932, but Eidsmoe cites a 1972 reprint. The remaining footnote for the first three pages of the chapter "Calvinism" is discursive. Eidmoe identifies himself as a minister of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, "lest [he] be accused of a Calvinistic bias" (19).

Boettner's text is a work of theology, not history. It does contain a brief section, "Calvinism in History" at the end. Eidsmoe's technique of citing authorities that declare the influence of Calvinism is readily aparent in Boettner's section on history, and he offers a longer list of authorities than Eidmoe. In Eidsmoe, the Ranke quote is attributed to E. W. Smith and cited from Boettner. Boettner gives us the source of Smith's statement.
In his book, "The Creed of Presbyterians," E. W. Smith asks concerning the American colonists, "Where learned they those immortal principles of the rights of man, of human liberty, equality and self-government, on which they based their Republic, and which form today the distinctive glory of our American civilization? In the school of Calvin they learned them. There the modern world learned them. So history teaches" (p. 121).
Boettner, 215
Egbert Watson Smith's The Creed of Presbyterians (1901) delves into history, as Boettner, at the end of a theological tract. Under the title "The Creed Tested by its Fruits" Smith strings together quotations from dozens of authorities, citing the source of many. Both Ranke and Bancroft are among his authorities, but for reasons not entirely clear to me, these two are omitted from the footnotes. I have failed to locate the source of Ranke's statement and failed as well to find the origin of Bancroft's frequently repeated line:
He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.
Eidsmoe, "Celebrating John Calvin's Legacy"
Eidsmoe presents hyperlinks. Ranke's line is referenced to Philip Vollmer, John Calvin: Theologian, Preacher, Educator, Statesman (1909) in which appears an essay, "Calvinism in America" by William Henry Roberts. Perhaps the work of Roberts is the Ur-text for arguments that "Calvinism is the chief source of modern republican government" (Vollmer, 202). Smith cites another text by Roberts, Proceedings Seventh General Council (1899). Eidsmoe's hyperlink for Bancroft's statement takes us to David W. Hall, Genevan Revolution and the American Founding (2005). Eidsmoe certainly deployed this quote in advance of the the publication of Hall's book (Boettner is cited in Christianity and the Constitution), but perhaps Hall documents it better. I'll add the book to my reading list.

As I mentioned to the author of the blog, Samuel at Gilgal (another list of quotes from Boettner), it would be helpful if someone could locate the source of Ranke's statement instead of joining the ranks of those that repeat it endlessly.

From Theology to History

The arguments that appear at the end of several theological treatises from a century ago are deployed at the beginning of Eidsmoe's Christianity and the Constitution. Where others end, he begins. The publisher (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan) makes a strong claim for Eidsmoe's scholarship on the dust jacket: "He meticulously documents his position, using the writings of the founders themselves." Eidsmoe does not rest on the authority of prior historians, but delves into the primary sources--writings of the founders--to elucidate their influences and support a thesis that that not begin with him. The core of Christianity and the Constitution is thirteen chapters, each one concerned with one of the so-called Founding Fathers. Twelve of these chapters concern men that were present in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Eidsmoe begins with John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). He was not at the convention, but is "the man who shaped the men who shaped America" (81). Eidsmoe accesses Witherspoon's writing and influence through two biographies and one master's thesis. Citations to the writing of this "founder" are all "as quoted in" Varnum Lansing Collins, President Witherspoon (1969 [1925]); Martha Lou Lemmon Stohlman, John Witherspoon: Parson, Politician, Patriot (1897); and Roger Schultz, "Covenanting in America: The Political Theology of John Witherspoon," MA Thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1985. No where does Eidsmoe cite Witherspoon's writings directly.

It may be a fine point, but I would not call extracts of primary sources from secondary works meticulous documentation from "the writings of the founders themselves." Perhaps he does better with James Madison. Indeed, The Papers of James Madison (1962), ed. William T. Hutchinson and William M. Rachel appear as the source for a long extract of Madison's Bible study notes. Eidsmoe also cites several letters from this scholarly resource. With respect to Madison, the publisher's claim has merit.

Eidsmoe's argument for the influence of Calvin on Madison begins with Madison's decision to attend the College of New Jersey, a Presbyterian college, even though Madison's family was Episcopal. Noting its pro-independence sentiment, he also claims "by 1769 the Episcopal church had become largely Calvinistic and not much different from Presbyterianism in basic doctrine" (95). Eidsmoe draws on Madison's letters to show the influence of Witherspoon, and Madison's attitudes toward Christian ministry, a career he considered for several years.

Unfortunately for the argument that Calvinism was a decisive influence on "the father of the Constitution," Madison spoke and wrote very little about religion after he entered politics. Eidsmoe addresses this problem, but departs from Madison's own writings, except for Federalist 51, and instead relies upon the analysis in James H. Smylie, "Madison and Witherspoon: Theological Roots of American Political Thought," The Princeton University Library Chronicle, Spring 1961, and a few extracts selected by Smylie. Smylie asserts, "man's innate depravity, of which Presbyterians are keenly aware, must be checked by counteracting forces" (Eidsmoe, 101).

Smylie extended his arguments through other articles, and studies of the influence of Witherspoon upon Madison and others has proceeded since his day. Perhaps because it is less less typical of historical scholarship, Terence S. Morrow's thesis in "Common Sense Deliberative Practice: John Witherspoon, James Madison, and the U.S. Constitution," Rhetoric Society Quarterly (Winter 1999), 25-47 is worth noting: "Madison's views on representation, this article contends, drew upon the teachings in rhetoric and moral philosophy that he received from John Witherspoon" (26).

Perhaps there is something of merit in assertions of Calvin's influence on our system of government beyond what is evident in Heustis's shoddy logic and convoluted argument. At first glance, Eidsmoe seems little better, and his "research" leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, he does offer leads to other scholarship. His argument leaves me far from convinced that Calvin was "the virtual founder of America," but his case suggests Calvinist churches, colleges, ministers, and ideas were not without influence.

23 July 2009

The Greek Chorus

John Woolman utterly lacks a sense of his own depravity.
James Stripes, Fall 1989
Professor Alex Hammond sought to provoke discussion with a question along the lines of how The Journal of John Woolman (1774) differed from the texts we had been reading. We were near mid-semester and had devoted the first half of this Seminar in Seventeenth and Eighteenth American Literature to the writing of the Pilgrims and Puritans--from William Bradford's Of Plimouth Plantation (c. 1650) and Anne Bradstreet's poetry to selections from Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) and Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." For the bulk of the next ninety minutes, we debated Puritan ideology again--some of my peers thought we were finally leaving that behind--and focused upon my perceptions of Woolman's self-righteousness.

John Woolman was a Quaker, and had been among the earliest prominent Americans to speak out against the institution of slavery. Perhaps Hammond thought our discussion might focus upon his enlightened liberalism, but my comment drove us back into the darkness of New England Puritanism. In comparison to the theological orthodoxy and intellectual vitality of the Puritans, Woolman represented a fall from grace: he was a naive simpleton. Whatever merits might have existed in Quaker theology and the beginnings of the anti-slavery movement on the eve of the American Revolution, his anthropology was deficient--he lacked accurate understanding of human depravity.

At least that's how the discussion began that night.

The Puritans held no such illusions. Several weeks earlier, perhaps the second or third week of class, the assigned reading had been Bradford's history. One of my classmates celebrated the author's report on the case of Thomas Granger. Although the Puritans may have picked up a reputation in the intervening years for sexual repression, they did not shrink from public discussion of the details of buggery. There was no question that the teenage Granger was to be put to death as a consequence of his conviction, but biblical law demanded also the death of those animals which he had known carnally. The beasts were paraded before the court so the youth could positively identify "a mare, a cowe, tow goats, five sheep, 2 calves, and a turkey." It was hard for him to identify precisely which sheep, Bradford tells us.

Before class I had confessed to a couple of my fellow students that I did not get through the reading assignment. My claim, perhaps true, was that Woolman's sense of his own righteousness rendered me nauseous. Perhaps my embrace of the Puritan doctrine of total depravity was nothing more than a typical student strategy for avoiding a discussion for which I was not prepared. I had read the better part of The Journal of John Woolman, but not all of it. Graduate students, like undergraduates, occasionally skimp on reading assignments. For those of us in English and history--my degree program bridged the two--each class was generally one book per week (we usually carried three such courses at a time, and they all required research papers on top of the reading). Most folks cannot read that much day after day, week after week, without occasional lapses. However, my peers held the belief that I always finished the assignments. One or two knew the truth that night.

During the break--these three hour classes always had a ten minute reprieve--two of my buddies took me to task for dominating the discussion of a book I hadn't read. That week I had been busy grading papers for the courses I taught, preparing the research for my paper on Cotton Mather as the father of American Studies, and visiting my children three hundred miles away--my divorce would soon be final. I did not start reading Woolman until the day class met, and was not able to get through the whole in one sitting.

A Corner of Paradise

My future wife, the writer Claudia Ann Peck (1952-1996), had called us the Greek Chorus because we sat together at one end of the long table and often seemed to speak as a group. We thought were were smarter than our peers--Thad certainly was. Claudia was one of the first in class to suffer our ire when she made up some sort of Jungian nonsense in answer to the professor's question regarding Puritan notions of type and antitype. Professor Hammond habitually assigned individual report topics to each student in his graduate seminars--a nifty means of assuring that long discussion classes would not break down in embarrassing silences because no one had anything to say. Claudia had missed the previous week's class to attend her sister's wedding and did not know that she was responsible for this topic. Although, as her mother would tell me later, "Claudia is from the Bible Belt," she had learned little of Calvinism growing up in east Tennessee.

She did not comprehend the New England Puritan understanding of biblical prophecy, but she was well versed in Carl Jung's notion of archetypes. Her answer drew a fair amount of disdain from the neo-Calvinists at the other end of the table. We were rude. During the break, she let us have a piece of her mind. I listened, apologized, and the courtship began. Mark and Thad had run off to get some coffee or bags of salty snack.

Thad, Mark, and I had established ourselves as Calvinists--secularized though we were--and approached the works of the eighteenth century colonists with a reverence and enthusiasm rather unusual for our time and place. Mark had been raised in the Dutch Reformed church and attended Calvin College for his undergraduate degree. No longer a practicing Christian when I met him, he remained a Calvinist in much of his thinking. Thad's undergraduate degree was in Philosophy, he was something like 22 years old--the average age in my graduate program was early 30s--and seemed to understand everything that he read. Some of my peers that were frustrated by my ability to bring Bible passages into discussions about anything and everything--I had read the Christian scriptures cover-to-cover at least five times in the early 1980s--were nonetheless comforted to believe that I no longer considered the text authoritative. Meanwhile, my patience for the politics of the Christian Right was growing thinner day by day.

Even so, I could discuss unconditional election as if I embraced the doctrine, and I believed in human depravity--Danny DeVito's famous expression of this perspective in The War of the Roses hit the theaters that winter.
At fifteen, I became an evolutionist, and it all became clear. We came from mud, and after 2.8 billion years of evolution, at our core is still mud. Nobody could be a divorce lawyer and doubt that.
Gavin (Danny DeVito) in The War of the Roses (1989)
DeVito expressed this mud at our core as evidence of science, but I heard it as religious doctrine--the anthropology of the human condition in moral terms. The movie was released near the end of my own messy divorce, and I was looking for secular expressions of my dark understanding of human moral potential: the Reagan years had demonstrated at least that much, and now the elder Bush had sold his soul to become the high priest of Voodoo Economics.

But, I was in paradise! In graduate school, we read constantly and our social lives consisted of extended discussions and debates about our reading. A typical English graduate seminar met from 6:00pm to 9:00pm in a classroom with two eight foot tables set end to end. A dozen or so of us would sit around these tables with the professor at the head and argue our points with ample references to the text(s) in question. After class ended, the professor would go home, but most of the students would hike the one block to the nearest pub where the arguments would continue another several hours over pitchers of stout or ale. There discussions of Puritan theology often gave way to arguments concerning the proper pronunciation of Kierkegaard and just pricisely what he was advocating at the edge of the precipice. On weekends in the same tavern, English graduate students competed in the recitation of poetry--as the beer flowed, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales were recited in Middle English.
Whan that Aprill with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,

20 July 2009

President Polk and the National Honor

Few United States presidents were as avowedly expressionistic as President James Knox Polk. During his administration (1845-1849) more land was added to the nation than during that of any predecessor save Thomas Jefferson. Only the Louisiana Purchase and the acquisition of Alaska were greater territorial gains than those made by Polk. He added California, the Territories of Oregon and New Mexico (embracing the Pacific Northwest and the American Southwest), and concluded the annexation of Texas.

Prominent in Polk's rhetoric of expansion is language concerning national honor and destiny. Indeed, it was one of his supporters, John L. O'Sullivan, who coined the expression "manifest destiny."* At crucial points in his communications to Congress, Polk's arguments rely upon imprecise vocabulary: adjectives such as patriotic, just, honorable, and noble abound--often in their noun forms. He opened his inaugural address, for example, by describing the Presidency as "the most honorable and most responsible office on earth"; his "countrymen ... [h]onored [him] with this distinguished consideration" (Richardson, 2223)** Similarly, in his first annual message to Congress he articulated his objections to the British proposal to settle the boundary issue in Oregon:
The British proposition of compromise, which would make the Columbia the line south of 49°, with a trifling addition of detached territory to the United States north of that river, and would leave on the British side two-thirds of the whole Oregon Territory, including the free navigation of the Columbia and all the valuable harbors on the Pacific, can never for a moment be entertained by the United States without an abandonment of their just and clear territorial rights, their own self-respect, and the national honor. (Richardson, 2247-48)
Asserting these "clear territorial rights" was his principal goal as President.

Polk explained the United States' claims with respect to those of European nations in terms which echo the Monroe Doctrine:
it should be distinctly announced to the world as our settled policy that no future European colony or dominion shall with our consent be planted or established on any part of the North American continent. (Ricardson, 2249)
This policy of reserving to the United States exclusive rights of expansion in North America is based on "the principle that the people of this continent alone have the right to decide their own destiny" (Richardson, 2248).

Such language could seem anti-imperialistic, supporting the rights of all peoples to choose their own forms of government; but Polk intends it to be more narrowly construed. Such rights only belong to members of an enlightened, civilized society with republican institutions. Indigenous peoples, as European law asserts, have their title to land extinguished to make way for civilization. Even the Cherokee, the most exemplary of the "civilized tribes", "have not yet advanced to such a state of civilization as to dispense with the guardian care and control of the Government of the United States" (Richardson, 2280). Consequently, disputes between different factions of Cherokee require the paternal intervention of the federal government for resolution. However, Polk's attempts to resolve these disputes by negotiating a new treaty overlooks the fact that it is the refusal of certain members of the tribe to sacrifice their nation's political sovereignty in a treaty with the United States that created the factionalism in the first place.

In his policies towards tribal peoples Polk followed the pattern established by his mentor, Andrew Jackson. Indian tribes were removed from their homelands to Indian Territory where they would be out of the way of white settlers. In his first annual address, Polk described the relations between the United States and the several tribes as "favorable".
Our relations with the Indian tribes are of a favorable character. The policy of removing them to a country designed for their permanent residence west of the Mississippi, and without the limits of the organized States and Territories, is better appreciated by them than it was a few years ago, while education is now attended to and the habits of civilized life are gaining ground among them. (Richardson, 2261)
Those tribal members who most fully assimilate, while they must live in that territory designated for Indians, will be accorded a measure of respect and political autonomy. John Ross, for example, representing "what is termed the government party of the Cherokees" (Richardson, 2309) has his opinions transmitted by President Polk to Congress.

Native Americans (as they would be called later) are not the "natives of this land" who may determine their own destiny in Polk's messages. Rather, it is necessary to "cultivate amicable relations" with the tribes beyond the Rocky Mountains because "care and protection ... is due from the Government in that distant region" (Richardson, 2246). Polk claims in his inaugural address that "[o]ur title to the country of Oregon is 'clear and unquestionable'" (Richardson, 2231). This title is strengthened by America's most patriotic citizens: settlers of western lands.
It is to the enterprise and perseverance of the hardy pioneers of the West, who penetrate the wilderness with their families, suffer the dangers, the privations, and hardships attending the settlement of a new country, and prepare the way for the body of emigrants who in the course of a few years usually follow them, that we are in a great degree indebted for the rapid extension and aggrandizement of our country. (Richardson, 2259)
These men, at the time of his inaugural, are "Preparing to perfect that title [to Oregon] by occupying it with their wives and children" (Richardson, 2231).

But this territorial "aggrandizement" is not a war of conquest. Rather, the structure of the United States as a "confederation of independent States," Polk suggests, assures that its "Government can not be otherwise than pacific" (Richardson, 2230). Even so, it was Polk who led the United States into war with Mexico. He said that this war should have been unnecessary because Mexico, like the United States, had been a European colony that cast off the rule of Europe to form a Republic. The republican government in Mexico proved weaker than that in the United States; under the military leadership of Santa Anna, Mexico pursued a course "of seizure and confiscation of the property of our citizens, the violation of their persons, and the insults to our flag" (Richardson, 2324). This list of Mexico's violations appears repeatedly in Polk's writing leading up to the war with Mexico, as well as in his retrospective comments as peace negotiations progressed. The order varies, but "violation of their persons" never comes first.

Polk prefers abstractions to specific terminology. Although his annual messages are filled with specific numbers listing desired appropriations, his arguments rest on language to which it was difficult to object. War was necessary because Mexico was not "restrained by the laws which regulate the conduct of civilized nations" (Richardson, 2324). Once war broke out, it was Polk's expressed "desire to terminate ... the existing war with Mexico by a peace just and honorable to both parties." The major obstacle to peace, indeed the true cause of the war, was "adjustment of a boundary between the two Republics which shall prove satisfactory and convenient to both" (Richardson, 2309).

Early in Polk's administration, he issued a presidential order mourning the death of Andrew Jackson. In the order George Bancroft, acting Secretary of War, memorialized Jackson as the nation's "most illustrious citizen ... Child of a forest region and a settler of the wilderness ... Crowned with glory in war, in his whole career as a statesman he showed himself the friend and lover of peace" (Richardson, 2234). As his mentor, Polk pursued "pacific" policies which resulted in such territorial gains that in his farewell address he could declare the frontier of the United States to be at its geographical center.

*See Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History: A Reinterpretation (1963).

**James D. Richardson, comp., Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. 4, part 3 (1911). Available since 2004 through Project Gutenberg.

13 July 2009

Laying Claim to Sacred Land

In 1938, as often before and after, Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, offered a reading of the significance of the four U.S. Presidents whose images were being carved into granite. He explained,
Jefferson appears on Mount Rushmore because he drew the Declaration of Independence; Washington, because he was the great presiding officer in shaping the Constitution; Lincoln, because it was Lincoln and no other than Lincoln, whose mind and heart, and finally life, determined that we should continue as a common family of states and in union forever. Roosevelt is joined with the others because he completed the dream of Columbus, opened the way to the East, [and] joined the waters of the great East and West seas. (Dean,* 56)
An entirely different view was offered in 1970 by Lehman Brightman, cofounder of United Native Americans. Brightman and others in his group had joined John Trudell, representing the United Tribes of Alcatraz, several members of the American Indian Movement, including Russell Means, and some Lakota elders for a protest at Mount Rushmore. The protest was planned as an assertion of the Sioux claim to the Paha Sapa, or Black Hills, as recognized in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Means reported his memories of Brightman's speech in his autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread (1995). According to Means,
Lee explained that George Washington had become famous as an Indian killer during the French and Indian War. He had risen quickly through the militia ranks by butchering Indian communities and burning the bones. ... Lee spoke of Thomas Jefferson, who more than once had proposed the annihilation of the Indian race to "cleanse" the Americas ... Abraham Lincoln ... signed an order to execute thirty-eight Indians for the so-called Great Sioux Uprising in Minnesota. ... Finally, Lee spoke about Teddy Roosevelt, the biggest thief ever to occupy the White House. Roosevelt violated scores of treaties, and illegally nationalized more Indian land than any president, before or since. (167-68)
There are many ever-changing variations of Borglum's celebratory tale, and of Brightman's iconoclastic narrative. Borglum's view reflects a tradition in historical scholarship, but which remains dominant in the histories consumed by tourists. Brightman's view, on the other hand, provokes memories not yet emergent in histories of the nation. These divergent views of the figures carved into Mount Rushmore express fundamental conflicts in the meanings of America as a nation.

*Robert J. Dean, Living Granite: the Story of Borglum and the Mount Rushmore Memorial (1949).

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