Columbus Day/521e: Au commencement le Monde entier était Amérique (There was no « Europe » before 1492: How Columbus discovered Europe)

https://i2.wp.com/libcom.org/files/images/history/Indians.jpghttps://jcdurbant.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/9d7d3-columbus.gifAinsi au commencement le Monde entier était Amérique, et plus que ce ne l’est maintenant; car nulle part on ne connaissait de chose telle que l’Argent. Trouvez quelque chose ayant son Usage et sa Valeur parmi ses Voisins, et vous verrez le même Homme commencer rapidement à agrandir ses Possessions. John Locke
Hey Americans! Feeling uncomfortable with Columbus Day? You are cordially invited to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. Stephanie Carvin (University of Ottawa)
America, as it appears in these famous words from the Two Treatises of Government, is John Locke’s political Genesis. For Locke, America is the beginning of civilization, to the extent that it reveals civil society’s natural origins. But Locke’s vision of the new world is a ‘beginning’ for the old world, in a different, although equally profound, sense. Steeped in the colonial zeal of his patron, the Earl of Shaftesbury, John Locke saw America as the second Garden of Eden; a new beginning for England should she manage to defend her claims In the American continent against those of the Indians and other European powers. America, like the world described in the original Genesis, is England’s second chance at paradise, providing the colonial masters of the old world, with a land full of all the promise known in that first Idyllic state. America thus represents for Locke and his readers a two-sided Genesis, a place to find both the origins of their past and the promise of their future. It is the role of America and Its native inhabitants In Locke’s political theory which has been previously overlooked in scholarship on the Two Treatises. Given the number of specific references In this work to America, and Locke’s lifelong Involvement In the colonization of the new world, it Is Indeed surprising that so little has been written on the subject. The oversight is Important for without considering Locke’s use of  America and its inhabitants in light of the collection of American ‘travelogues’ within his own personal library and the political needs of Shaftesbury’s colonial enterprise in Carolina, an important aspect of the Two Treaties will be missed. This thesis will argue that Locke’s Two treatises of Government were a defense of England’s colonial policy in the new world against the counterclaims of the Indians and other European powers to the continent. In particular, it will be shown that the famous chapter on property, which contains most of the references to to American Indians in the Two treatises, was written to justify the dispossession of the American Indians of their land, through a vigorous defense of England’s ‘superior’ claims to proprietorship. Morag Barbara Arneil
Columbus’s voyages caused almost as much change in Europe as in the Americas. This is the other half of the vast process historians now call the Columbian exchange. Crops, animals, ideas, and diseases began to cross the oceans regularly. Perhaps the most far-reaching impact of Columbus’s findings was on European Christianity. In 1492 all of Europe was in the grip of the Catholic Church. As Larousse puts it, before America, « Europe was virtually incapable of self-criticism. » After America, Europe’s religious uniformity was ruptured. For how were these new peoples to be explained? They were not mentioned in the Bible. The Indians simply did not fit within orthodox Christianity’s explanation of the moral universe. Moreover, unlike the Muslims, who might be written off as « damned infidels, » Indians had not rejected Christianity, they had just never encountered it. Were they doomed to hell? Even the animals of America posed a religious challenge. According to the Bible, at the dawn of creation all animals lived in the Garden of Eden. Later, two of each species entered Noah’s ark and ended up on Mt. Ararat. Since Eden and Mt. Ararat were both in the Middle East, where could these new American species have come from? Such questions shook orthodox Catholicism and contributed to the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517. Politically, nations like the Arawaks-without monarchs, without much hierarchy-stunned Europeans. In 1516 Thomas More’s Utopia, based on an account of the Incan empire in Peru, challenged European social organization by suggesting a radically different and superior alternative. Other social philosophers seized upon the Indians as living examples of Europe’s primordial past, which is what John Locke meant by the phrase « In the beginning, all the world was America. » Depending upon their political persuasion, some Europeans glorified Indian nations as examples of simpler, better societies, from which European civilization had devolved, while others maligned the Indian societies as primitive and underdeveloped. In either case, from Montaigne, Montesquieu, and Rousseau down to Marx and Engels, European philosophers’ concepts of the good society were transformed by ideas from America. America fascinated the masses as well as the elite. In The Tempest, Shakespeare noted this universal curiosity: « They will not give a doit to relieve a lambe beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian. » Europe’s fascination with the Americas was directly responsible, in fact, for a rise in European self-consciousness. From the beginning America was perceived as an « opposite » to Europe in ways that even Africa never had been. In a sense, there was no « Europe » before 1492. People were simply Tuscan, French, and the like. Now Europeans began to see similarities among themselves, at least as contrasted with Native Americans. For that matter, there were no « white » people in Europe before 1492. With the transatlantic slave trade, first Indian, then African, Europeans increasingly saw « white » as a race and race as an important human characteristic. James W. Loewen

Attention: une découverte peut en cacher une autre !

En ce 521e anniversaire de la découverte de l’Amérique par Christophe Colomb

Qui, politiquement correct oblige, se voit accuser de tous les maux de la terre …

Et où nos amis canadiens en profitent discrètement pour fêter leur Thanksgiving

Retour sur l’autre découverte que rendit possible celle de Colomb avec ses inexplicables « Indiens » et ce nouveau jardin d’Eden extra-biblique …

Mais aussi l’immensité des nouveaux espaces ouverts qui inspirera à Locke sa fameuse définition de la propriété

A savoir au-delà naturellement de la justification des visées coloniales de son employeur le comte de Shaftesbury

L’autodécouverte, par l’Europe elle-même, de sa propre identité …

Essai sur la véritable Origine, l’Étendue et la Fin du Gouvernement Civil.

John Locke

Chapitre V

De la Propriété.

25. Que nous considérions la Raison naturelle, qui nous dit que les Hommes, à la naissance, ont droit à la Conservation de soi, et donc au Boire et au Manger, et à ces autres choses que la Nature procure pour leur Subsistance; ou la Révélation, qui nous représente ces Concessions que Dieu a faites du Monde à Adam, et Noé, et ses Fils, il est très clair, que Dieu, comme le dit le Roi David, Ps. CXV. xvi. a donné la Terre aux Enfants des Hommes, l’a donnée à l’Humanité en commun. Mais ceci étant supposé, il subsiste pour certains une très grande difficulté, comment quiconque pourrait-il jamais devenir Propriétaire de quoi que ce soit: je ne me bornerai pas à répondre que s’il est difficile de comprendre la Propriété, dans l’hypothèse que Dieu donna le Monde à Adam et à sa Postérité en commun; il est impossible que qui que ce soit, sauf un Monarque universel, devienne Propriétaire, dans l’hypothèse que Dieu donna le Monde à Adam et à ses Héritiers dans l’ordre de Succession. Mais je tâcherai de montrer comment les Hommes ont pu devenir Propriétaires de parties différentes de ce que Dieu donna à l’Humanité en commun, et ceci sans Contrat exprès de tous les Usagers.

26. Dieu, qui a donné le Monde aux Hommes en commun, leur a aussi raison donnée pour l’utiliser au mieux et à la commodité de la Vie. La Terre, et tout ce qui s’y trouve, est donnée aux Hommes pour le Soutien et le Confort de leur existence. Et bien que tous les Fruits qu’elle produit naturellement, et toutes les Bêtes qu’elle nourrit, appartiennent à l’Humanité en commun, en tant qu’ils sont produits par la main spontanée de la Nature; et bien que personne n’ait à l’origine de Domination privée, à l’exclusion du reste de l’Humanité, sur n’importe lequel d’entre eux, en tant qu’ils sont dans leur état naturel: cependant, donnés pour être utilisés par les Hommes, il doit nécessairement y avoir un moyen ou un autre de les approprier avant qu’ils ne puissent servir ou bénéficier à qui que ce soit. Les Fruits, ou le Gibier, qui nourrissent l’Indien sauvage, ne connaissant point la Clôture et encore Tenancier en commun, doivent être à lui et tellement à lui, c’est-à-dire partie de lui-même, que personne ne peut plus y avoir droit, avant de pouvoir lui être d’aucun bien pour le Soutien de sa Vie.

27. Bien que la Terre, et toutes les Créatures inférieures soient communes à tous les Hommes, cependant chacun d’eux est Propriétaire de sa propre Personne. Sur elle nul n’a de Droit sauf lui-même. On peut dire que le Labeur de son Corps, et l’Ouvrage de ses mains sont proprement à lui. A tout objet, donc, qu’il tire de l’État où la Nature l’a procuré et laissé, il a mêlé son Travail, et joint quelque chose qui est son bien, et le fait par là sa Propriété. En le retirant de l’état commun où la Nature l’a placé, ce Travail lui a annexé quelque chose, qui exclut les autres Hommes du droit d’usage. Car, Propriété incontestable de celui qui le fournit, personne d’autre ne peut avoir droit à ce à quoi il est désormais joint, du moins là où il en reste assez, et d’aussi bonne qualité, en commun pour d’autres.

28. Celui qui se nourrit de Glands ramassés sous un Chêne, ou de Pommes cueillies sur l’Arbre dans les Bois, se les est certainement appropriés. On ne peut nier qu’ils ne soient à lui. Je demande alors, à partir de quand? Au moment où il les a digérés? mangés? fait bouillir? ramenés chez lui? ou ramassés? Il est évident que rien ne le pourrait, si les cueillir d’abord ne le faisait. Ce travail les a mis à part de ceux qui sont en commun. Il leur a ajouté quelque chose de plus que ce qu’avait fait la Nature, la commune Mère de tout; et ainsi ils sont devenus son droit privé. Et dira-t-on qu’il n’avait point droit aux Glands ou aux Pommes qu’il s’est ainsi appropriés, parce qu’il n’avait pas le consentement de toute l’Humanité pour les faire siens? Était-ce donc un Vol que de supposer à lui ce qui appartenait à tous en Commun? S’il fallait un tel consentement, l’Homme serait mort de faim, nonobstant l’Abondance que Dieu lui a donnée. On voit dans les Communaux, qui le restent par Contrat, que c’est le fait de prendre une partie de ce qui est commun et de la retirer de l’état où la Nature la laisse, qui fait naître la Propriété; sans laquelle le Communal n’ait d’aucune utilité. Et prendre telle ou telle partie ne dépend pas du consentement exprès de tous les Usagers. Ainsi l’Herbe que mon Cheval a broutée; la Tourbe que mon Serviteur a découpée; et le Minerai que j’ai extrait n’importe où je partage avec d’autres un droit d’usage, deviennent ma Propriété, sans assignation ni consentement de quiconque. Le travail qui était mien, en les retirant de cet état commun où ils étaient, y a fixé ma Propriété.

29. S’il fallait un consentement explicite de tous les Usagers à tous ceux qui s’approprient une partie de ce qui est donné en commun, Enfants ou Serviteurs ne pourraient pas couper la Viande que leur Père ou leur Maître leur a fourni en commun, sans leur assigner de part en particulier. Bien que l’Eau à la Fontaine soit à tout le monde, qui peut douter que dans le Pichet elle ne soit qu’à celui qui l’a tirée? Son travail l’a retirée des mains de la Nature, où elle était en commun et appartenait également à tous ses Enfants, et l’a par là appropriée à lui-même.

30. Ainsi cette Loi de la raison fait du Cerf le bien de l’Indien qui l’a tué; il est permis que les biens auxquels il a appliqué son travail soient à lui, bien qu’auparavant chacun en eût le droit d’usage. Et parmi ceux qui passent pour la partie Policée de l’Humanité, qui ont fait et multiplié les Lois positives pour déterminer la Propriété, ce Droit de la Nature originel pour faire naître la Propriété, dans ce qui était auparavant en commun, a encore cours; c’est en vertu de lui que le Poisson capturé dans l’Océan, ce grand Communal encore subsistant de l’Humanité; ou l’Ambre gris qui y est pris, deviennent par le Travail, qui les retire de l’état commun où la Nature les laissait, la Propriété de celui qui s’en donne la peine. Et même parmi nous, la Hase, que l’on court, est pensée comme lui appartenant par son poursuivant au cours de la Chasse. Puisqu’étant une Bête qui passe encore pour commune, et n’est Possession privée de Personne; quiconque a employé autant de travail à quoi que ce soit, que la débusquer et la poursuivre, l’a retirée par là de l’état de Nature où elle était commune, et a fait naître une Propriété.

31. On objectera peut-être à ceci, Que si cueillir des Glands, ou d’autres Fruits de la Terre, &c. donne droit à eux, alors n’importe qui peut accaparer autant qu’il veut. A quoi je Réponds, Non. Le même Droit de la Nature, qui nous donne par ce moyen la Propriété, limite également cette Propriété aussi. Dieu nous a donné toutes choses richement, 1 Tim. vi. 17. est la Voix de Raison confirmée par l’Inspiration. Mais jusqu’où nous l’a-t-il donné? Pour jouir. Autant que quelqu’un peut en utiliser en faveur de la vie avant qu’il ne se gâte; autant il peut y fixer une Propriété par son travail. Tout ce qui est au-delà, est plus que sa part, et appartient à autrui. Dieu n’a rien créé pour que l’Homme le gâte ou le détruise. Et ainsi vu l’abondance des Vivres naturels qu’il y avait longtemps dans le Monde, le peu de consommateurs, et la petitesse de la fraction des vivres sur lesquels l’industrie d’un Individu pouvait s’étendre et qu’elle pouvait accaparer au détriment d’autrui; surtout s’il restait dans les limites mises par la raison à ce qui pouvait lui servir; Querelles ou Litiges sur la Propriété ainsi établie n’avaient donc guère de place.

32. Mais l’objet principal de Propriété n’étant pas maintenant les Fruits de la Terre, ni les Bêtes qui y subsistent, mais la Terre elle-même; comme ce qui englobe et comporte tout le reste: je pense qu’il est évident, que la Propriété en ce qui la concerne s’acquière aussi comme la précédente. Autant de Terres qu’un Homme Laboure, Plante, Améliore, Cultive, et dont il peut utiliser le Produit, autant est sa Propriété. Par son Travail il les enclôt, pour ainsi dire, du Communal. Et cela n’invalidera pas son droit de dire que Tout autre y a un Titre égal, et qu’il ne peut donc approprier, enclore, sans le Consentement de tous ses Co-Usagers, de toute l’Humanité. Dieu, quand il donna le Monde en commun à toute l’Humanité, commanda aussi à l’Homme de travailler, et l’Indigence de son État le lui imposa. Dieu et sa Raison lui commandaient de soumettre la Terre, c’est-à-dire de l’améliorer en faveur de la Vie, et ce faisant d’y dépenser quelque chose qui était son bien, son travail. Celui qui, Obéissant à ce Commandement de Dieu, en soumettait, labourait et ensemençait une partie, lui annexait ainsi quelque chose qui était sa Propriété, à laquelle autrui n’avait point de Titre, ni ne pouvait lui prendre sans lui léser.

33. Et cette appropriation d’une parcelle de Terre, moyennant son amélioration, ne nuisait à personne, puisqu’il y en avait encore assez, et d’aussi bonne; et plus que ne pouvait utiliser celui qui était encore dépourvu. Si bien qu’en effet, il ne restait jamais moins aux autres de la clôture pour soi. Car celui qui laisse autant qu’un autre peut utiliser, fait comme s’il ne prenait rien. Personne ne pouvait s’estimer lésé par ce qu’un autre buvait, même s’il s’agissait d’une bonne Gorgée, si toute une Rivière de la même Eau lui restait pour étancher sa Soif. Et il en est exactement de même pour la Terre, là où, comme de l’Eau, il y en a assez.

34. Dieu donna le Monde aux Hommes en Commun; mais puisqu’il le leur donna pour leur bien, et pour les plus grandes Commodités de la Vie qu’ils étaient capables d’en tirer, on ne peut supposer que ce fût pour qu’il restât toujours en commun et non cultivé. Il le donna à l’usage de l’Industrieux et du Rationnel (et le Travail devait être son Titre); non à la Fantaisie ou à la Cupidité du Querelleur et du Chicaneur. Celui qui en avait d’aussi bon pour l’améliorer que ce qui était déjà pris, n’avait pas à se plaindre, ne devait pas se mêler de ce qui était déjà amélioré par le Travail d’un autre: S’il le faisait, il est évident qu’il voulait profiter de la Peine d’autrui, à laquelle il n’avait point droit, et non du Sol que Dieu lui avait donné à travailler en commun avec les autres, et dont il restait d’aussi bonne qualité que ce qui était déjà possédé, et plus qu’il ne savait en faire, ou que son Industrie pouvait attraper.

35. Il est vrai, dans la Terre qui est commune en Angleterre, ou ailleurs, où il y a une Abondance de Gens sous Gouvernement, qui ont Monnaie et Commerce, personne ne peut enclore ou approprier quelque partie que ce soit, sans le consentement de tous ses Co-Usagers: parce qu’elle est laissée en commun par Contrat, c’est-à-dire par le Droit foncier, qui ne doit pas être violé. Et, si elle est Commune, relativement à certains, elle ne l’est pas à toute l’Humanité; mais elle est la co-propriété de telle Contrée, ou de telle Paroisse. En outre, le restant, après une telle clôture, ne serait pas aussi bon au reste des Usagers que ne l’était le tout, quand ils pouvaient tous l’utiliser: alors qu’au commencement et au premier peuplement du grand Communal du Monde, il en était tout autrement. La Loi sous laquelle était l’Homme, était plutôt pour l’appropriation. Dieu Commandait, et ses Besoins le forçaient au travail. C’était sa Propriété qu’on ne pouvait lui prendre partout où il l’avait fixée. Et de là nous voyons que soumettre ou cultiver la Terre, et avoir la Domination, vont ensemble. L’un donnait Titre à l’autre. Si bien que Dieu, en commandant de soumettre, donnait Pouvoir d’approprier. Et la Condition de la Vie Humaine, qui nécessite Labeur et Matières à travailler, introduit nécessairement les Possessions privées.

36. La Nature a bien établi la mesure de la Propriété, par l’étendue du Travail humain, et la Commodité de la Vie humaine: il n’y avait personne dont Travail pût soumettre ou approprier tout: ni la Jouissance consommer plus qu’une petite partie; si bien que personne ne pouvait, par ce moyen, empiéter sur le droit d’autrui, ou acquérir, pour lui, une Propriété aux dépens de son Voisin, qui trouverait encore place pour une Possession aussi bonne, et aussi grande (après que l’autre a pris la sienne) qu’avant son appropriation. Cette mesure limitait la Possession de chacun à une Proportion très modérée, et telle qu’il pouvait s’approprier, sans Léser qui que ce soit aux Premiers Ages du Monde, quand les Hommes risquaient plus de se perdre, en s’écartant de leur Compagnie, dans les alors vastes Déserts de la Terre, que d’être empêchés de s’établir par manque de place. Et la même mesure vaut encore, sans nuire à qui que ce soit, aussi plein que le Monde paraisse. Car, si un Homme, ou une Famille, dans l’état où ils étaient au premier peuplement du Monde par les Enfants d’Adam, ou de Noé, s’établissait dans quelque endroit vacant d’Amérique situé à l’intérieur des terres, nous verrions que les Possessions qu’il pourrait se constituer, en fonction des mesures que nous avons données, ne seraient pas très grandes, et que, même aujourd’hui, elles ne nuiraient pas au reste de l’Humanité, ou ne lui donnerait pas de raison de se plaindre, ou de s’estimer lésé par l’Usurpation de cet Homme, quoique la Race humaine se soit maintenant disséminée aux quatre coins du Monde, et surpasse infiniment le petit nombre qu’elle était au commencement. Bien plus, l’étendue du Sol vaut si peu, sans travail, que j’ai entendu dire qu’en Espagne même, on peut être autorisé à labourer, semer et moissonner, sans être inquiété, sur une Terre à laquelle l’on n’a d’autre Titre que l’usage qu’on en fait. Mais qu’au contraire les Habitants s’estiment obligés par celui dont l’Industrie sur une Terre négligée, et donc vaine, a accru le fonds de Grains, dont ils avaient besoin. Mais quoi qu’il en soit de ceci, je ne m’y appuierai point; Voici ce que j’ose affirmer hardiment, la même Règle de Propriété, (à savoir) que chacun devait avoir autant qu’il pouvait utiliser, subsisterait encore dans le Monde, sans gêner personne, puisqu’il y a assez de Terres dans le Monde pour suffire au double d’Habitants, si l’Invention de l’Argent, et la Convention tacite des Hommes pour lui mettre une valeur, n’avaient introduit (par Consentement) des Possessions plus grandes, et Droit à celles-ci; je vais bientôt montrer plus en détail comment cela s’est fait.

37. Il est certain, Qu’au commencement, avant que le désir d’avoir plus que les Hommes n’avaient besoin, n’eût modifié la valeur intrinsèque des choses, qui ne dépend que de leur utilité pour la Vie humaine; ou n’eût convenu qu’un petit morceau de Métal jaune, qui se conserverait sans s’user ni s’altérer, vaudrait un grand morceau de Viande ou tout un tas de Grains; quoique les Hommes eussent chacun Droit de s’approprier, par leur Travail, autant de choses de la Nature qu’ils pouvaient utiliser: ce ne pouvait cependant pas être beaucoup, ni nuire à autrui, là où ceux qui utiliseraient la même Industrie en trouvaient encore tout aussi abondamment. J’ajoute, que celui qui s’approprie de la Terre par son travail, ne diminue pas mais accroît le fonds commun de l’humanité. Car les vivres servant au soutien de la vie humaine, qui sont produits par acre de terre enclose et cultivée, représentent (sans exagération) dix fois plus que ceux rendus par acre de Terre, d’une égale richesse, restant vaine en commun. Et donc on peut vraiment dire de celui qui enclôt la Terre et obtient de dix acres une plus grande abondance de commodités de la vie que celle qu’il pourrait avoir de cent laissées à la Nature, qu’il donne quatre-vingt-dix acres à l’Humanité. Car son travail le pourvoit maintenant de vivres tirés de dix acres, qui n’étaient le produit que de cent restant en commun. J’ai évalué ici très bas la terre amélioration en n’envisageant son produit que dans le rapport de dix à un, alors qu’il est beaucoup plus près de cent à un. Car franchement, mille acres dans les bois sauvages et dans les terres vaines incultes d’Amérique laissées à la Nature, sans aucune amélioration, labour ou culture, rendraient-ils aux habitants nécessiteux et miséreux autant de commodités de la vie que ne le font dix acres de terres d’égale fertilité dans le Devonshire où elles sont bien cultivées?

Avant l’appropriation des Terres, quiconque cueillait autant de Fruits sauvages, tuait, capturait ou domestiquait autant de Bêtes qu’il pouvait; quiconque employait sa Peine sur n’importe lequel des Produits spontanés de la Nature, à le modifier d’une façon ou d’une autre, à partir de l’état que lui donne la Nature, en y plaçant quoi que ce soit de son Travail, en devenait Propriétaire: Mais s’il périssait, en sa Possession, sans leur bonne et due utilisation; si les Fruits pourrissaient, ou le Gibier se putréfiait avant qu’il n’ait pu les consommer, il enfreignait le Droit coutumier de la Nature, et s’exposait à châtiment; il envahissait la part de son Voisin, car il n’avait point Droit, au-delà de ce que son Usage en demandait, et ils pouvaient servir à le pourvoir des Commodités de la Vie.

38. Les mêmes mesures gouvernaient également la Possession de la Terre: Tout ce qu’il labourait et moissonnait, mettait en réserve et employait avant que cela ne se perdît, lui appartenait en propre; tout ce qu’il clôturait, pouvait nourrir, et employer, Bétail et Produit, était aussi à lui. Mais si l’Herbe de son Enclos pourrissait sur le Sol, ou si les Fruits de son plantage s’abîmaient sans être cueillis, et mis en réserve, cette partie de la Terre, nonobstant sa clôture, devait encore être tenue pour Terre Vaine, et pouvait être Possession de n’importe qui d’autre. Ainsi, au commencement, Caïn pouvait prendre autant de Sol qu’il pouvait en labourer, et dont il pouvait faire sa propre Terre, et cependant en laisser assez aux moutons d’Abel pour y paître; un petit nombre d’Acres servait à leurs deux Possessions. Mais à mesure que les Familles s’accroissaient, et que l’Industrie augmentait leur Fonds, leurs Possessions s’étendaient avec leur besoin; mais c’était communément sans aucune propriété permanente du sol qu’elles utilisaient, jusqu’à ce qu’elles se fussent unies, établies ensemble, et qu’elles eussent construit des Cités, et donc que, par consentement, elles en vinrent à fixer les limites de leurs Territoires distincts, à convenir de leurs frontières avec leurs Voisins, et par des Lois internes, à établir les Propriétés des membres de la même Société. Car l’on voit, dans cette partie du Monde habitée en premier, et donc susceptible d’être la mieux peuplée, même en des temps aussi éloignés que celui d’Abraham, qu’elles erraient avec leur petit et gros Bétail, qui était leur substance, librement partout; et qu’il en était ainsi d’Abraham, dans un Pays où il était Étranger. D’où il ressort, qu’au moins une grande partie de la Terre restait en commun; que les Habitants ni ne l’évaluaient, ni n’en revendiquaient la Propriété sur plus qu’ils ne pouvaient utiliser. Mais quand il n’y avait pas au même endroit assez de place pour que leurs Troupeaux paissent ensemble, par consentement, comme le firent Abraham et Lot, Genèse xiii. 5. ils séparaient et étendaient leur pâture, où cela leur convenait le mieux. Et c’est ce qui fit qu’Esaü quitta son Père et son Frère, et s’établit dans la Montagne de Séïr, Gen. xxxvi. 6.

39. Et ainsi, sans prêter de Domination et de propriété privées à Adam, sur le Monde entier, à l’exclusion de tous les autres Hommes, ce qui ne peut être prouvé, ni être à l’origine de la propriété de qui que ce soit; mais en supposant le Monde donné comme ce le fut aux Enfants des Hommes en commun, on voit comment le travail pouvait faire des Hommes des titres distincts à des parcelles différentes, pour leurs usages privés; où il ne pouvait y avoir d’incertitude juridique, ni de place pour les différends.

40. Et il n’est pas aussi étrange que peut-être a priori il paraît, que la Propriété du travail puisse l’emporter sur la Communauté de la Terre. Car c’est en effet le Travail qui met la différence de valeur sur toute chose; et, quiconque s’interroge sur la différence entre un Acre de Terre plantée en Tabac ou en Sucre, ensemencée en Blé ou en Orge; et un Acre de la même Terre restant en commun, sans Culture, trouvera que l’amélioration du travail fait de loin la plus grande partie de la valeur. Je pense que ce ne sera en faire une Évaluer très modeste que de dire, que 9/10 des Produits de la Terre utiles à la Vie humaine sont les effets du Travail: bien plus, si l’on veut correctement estimer les choses à leur stade final, et calculer les différentes Dépenses qu’elles nécessitent, ce qui en elles est dû purement à la Nature, et ce qui l’est au travail, on trouvera que dans la plupart d’entre elles 99/100 sont à mettre intégralement au compte du travail.

41. Il n’y en a pas démonstration plus claire, que les diverses Nations Américaines, riches en Terre, et pauvres dans tous les Conforts de la Vie; qui, quoique la Nature les ait pourvues aussi libéralement que n’importe quel autre peuple des matières de l’Abondance, c’est-à-dire d’un Sol fécond, apte à produire copieusement, ce qui pourrait servir de nourriture, vêtement, et contentement; n’ont pas, faute de l’améliorer par le travail, la centième partie des Commodités dont nous jouissons: Et le Roi d’un vaste Territoire fécond là-bas se nourrit, se loge et s’habille plus mal qu’un Journalier en Angleterre.

42. Pour rendre ceci un peu plus clair, il suffit de suivre quelques uns des Vivres ordinaires, dans leurs différentes étapes, avant leur stade final, et de voir combien ils reçoivent de leur valeur de l’Industrie Humaine. Pain, Vin et Drap sont d’un usage quotidien, et de grande abondance, cependant nonobstant, Glands, Eau et Feuilles, ou Peaux constitueraient notre Pain, notre Boisson et notre Vêtement, si le travail ne nous fournissait pas de ces Denrées plus utiles. Car tout ce que le Pain vaut de plus que les Glands, le Vin que l’Eau, et le Drap ou la Soie que les Feuilles, les Peaux ou la Mousse, est intégralement dû au travail et à l’industrie. Les uns étant la Nourriture et le Vêtement dont la Nature inassistée nous pourvoit; les autres les vivres que notre industrie et nos peines nous préparent, quiconque calculera de combien la valeur de ceux-ci excède la valeur de ceux-là, verra alors combien le travail fait de loin la plus grande partie de la valeur des choses, dont nous jouissons en ce Monde: Et le sol qui produit les matières, doit à peine y être compté, comme toute autre partie, ou au plus que comme une infime partie; Si infime que, même parmi nous, la Terre totalement laissée à la Nature, que n’améliorent pas les Pâture, Labours, ou Plantage est appelée, comme elle l’est en effet, vaine; et l’on trouvera que son profit se monte à presque rien. Ceci montre, combien le nombre des hommes doit être préféré à la grandeur des dominations, et que l’accroissement des terres et leur bon emploi sont le grand art de gouvernement. Et le Prince qui sera assez sage et divin pour établir des lois libérales pour assurer protection et donner encouragement à l’honnête industrie humaine contre l’oppression du pouvoir et l’étroitesse partisane deviendra vite trop fort pour ses Voisins. Mais c’est là une parenthèse. Revenons à notre propos.

43. Un Acre de Terre qui rend ici Vingt Boisseaux de Blé, et un autre en Amérique, qui, identiquement Cultivé, en rendrait autant, ont sans doute la même Valeur naturelle, intrinsèque. Mais cependant le Bienfait que l’Humanité retire de l’un, en un an, vaut 5 l. et de l’autre probablement pas un Penny, si tout le Rapport qu’un Indien en tire était évalué, et vendu ici; du moins, à vrai dire, pas 1/1000. C’est donc le Travail qui met la plus grande partie de la Valeur sur la Terre, sans lequel elle vaudrait à peine quelque chose: c’est à lui que l’on doit la plus grande partie de tous ses Produits utiles: car tout ce que la Paille, le Son, le Pain, de cet Acre de Blé, valent de plus que le Produit d’un Acre d’aussi bonne Terre, qui reste vaine, est intégralement l’Effet du Travail. Car ce ne sont pas simplement la Peine du Laboureur, le Labeur du Moissonneur et du Batteur, et la Sueur du Boulanger, qui doivent être comptés dans le Pain que nous mangeons; le Travail de ceux qui ont dressé les Boeufs, qui ont extrait et travaillé le Fer et les Pierres, qui ont abattu et façonné le Bois employé pour la Charrue, le Moulin, le Four, ou n’importe lequel des innombrables Ustensiles requis pour ce Blé, depuis son existence de semence à semer jusqu’à celle sous forme de Pain, tous doivent être imputés au Travail et reçus comme un effet de celui-ci: La Nature et la Terre n’ont fourni que les Matières en elles-mêmes presque sans valeur. Combien étrange serait le Catalogue des choses fournies et utilisées par l’Industrie pour chaque Miche de Pain avant son stade final, si nous pouvions en suivre la trace: Fer, Arbres, Cuir, Écorce, Bois, Pierre, Briques, Charbons, Glu, Drap, Teintures, Poix, Goudron, Mâts, Cordes, et toutes les Matières utilisées dans le Navire qui a apporté n’importe laquelle des Denrées employées par n’importe lequel des Ouvriers, à n’importe quel stade de l’Ouvrage, toutes Matières dont il serait presque impossible, du moins trop long, de faire le compte.

44. D’après tout ceci il est évident que, quoique les choses de la Nature soient données en commun, cependant l’Homme (en étant Maître de lui-même, et Propriétaire de sa propre Personne, ainsi que des actions ou du Travail de celle-ci) avait en soi le grand Fondement de la Propriété; et ce qui formait la plus grande partie de ce qu’il appliquait au Soutien ou au Confort de son existence, quand l’Invention et les Arts eurent amélioré les commodités de la Vie, était parfaitement son bien propre, et n’appartenait pas en commun à autrui.

45. Ainsi le Travail, au Commencement, donnait-il un Droit de Propriété, partout où quiconque se plaisait à l’employer, sur ce qui était en commun, qui resta, longtemps, la partie de loin la plus grande, et est encore plus que l’Humanité n’en utilise. Au début, les Hommes, pour la plupart, se contentaient de ce que la Nature inassistée Offrait à leurs Nécessités: et bien que par la suite, dans les parties du Monde (où l’accroissement des Gens et du Fonds, avec l’Usage de l’Argent) avait rendu la Terre rare et ce faisant de quelque Valeur, les diverses Communautés eussent établi les Frontières de leurs Territoires distincts, et par des Lois internes réglementé les Propriétés des Individus de leur Société, et qu’ainsi, par Contrat et Convention, elles eussent établi la Propriété engendrée par le Travail et l’Industrie; et par des Alliances, conclues entre plusieurs États et Royaumes, niant expressément ou tacitement toute Revendication et Droit sur la Terre en Possession d’autrui, elles eussent, par Consentement commun, renoncé à prétendre au Droit d’usage naturel, qu’elles avaient à l’origine sur ces Pays, et qu’ainsi, par convention positive, elles eussent établi une Propriété parmi elles, sur des Parties et Parcelles distinctes de la Terre: néanmoins il subsiste encore de vastes Étendues de Terre à découvrir, (dont les Habitants n’ont pas rejoints le reste de l’Humanité, dans le consentement à l’Usage de son Argent commun) qui restent vaines, et surpassent ce qu’en font les Gens qui y habitent, ou ce qu’ils peuvent en utiliser, et donc qui restent encore en commun. Quoique ceci puisse à peine exister dans la partie de l’Humanité qui a consenti à l’usage de l’Argent.

46. La plus grande partie des choses réellement utiles à la Vie humaine, et dont la nécessité de subsister fit s’occuper les premiers Usagers du Monde, comme elle le fait maintenant aux Américains, sont généralement des choses de brève durée; qui, si elles ne sont pas utilisées, s’altéreront et périront d’elles-mêmes: L’Or, l’Argent, et les Diamants sont choses, auxquelles la Fantaisie ou la Convention ont mis de la Valeur, plus que l’Usage réel, et le Soutien nécessaire de la Vie. Maintenant de toutes ces choses que la Nature a fournies en commun, chacun avait Droit (comme il a été dit) à autant qu’il pouvait utiliser, et était Propriétaire de tout ce qu’il pouvait effectuer avec son Travail: tout ce à quoi son Industrie pouvait s’appliquer, dont elle pouvait modifier l’État dans lequel la Nature l’avait mis, était à lui. Quiconque cueillait Cent Boisseaux de Glands ou de Pommes, en avait donc la Propriété; ils étaient ses Biens dès qu’il les avait cueillis. Il devait seulement veiller à les utiliser avant qu’ils ne se perdissent; sinon il prenait plus que sa part et volait autrui. Et c’était d’ailleurs aussi stupide que malhonnête que d’amasser plus qu’il n’en pouvait en utiliser. S’il en donnait une fraction à n’importe qui d’autre, de sorte qu’elle ne pérît point inutilement en sa Possession, c’était aussi en faire usage. Et si aussi il troquait des Prunes qui auraient pourri en une Semaine, contre des Noix qui pouvaient rester bonnes à manger pendant toute une Année, il ne lésait point; il ne gaspillait pas le Fonds commun; ne détruisait aucune part de la portion de Biens appartenant à autrui, tant que rien ne périssait dans ses mains inutilement. Derechef, s’il voulait donner ses Noix contre un morceau de Métal dont la couleur plaisait; ou échanger son Mouton contre des Coquillages, ou de la Laine contre un Caillou brillant ou un Diamant, et les conserver toute sa Vie, il n’usurpait pas le Droit d’autrui, il pouvait entasser autant de ces choses durables qu’il voulait; le dépassement des limites de sa juste Propriété ne résidant pas dans la grandeur de sa Possession, mais dans ce que quelque chose y périsse inutilement.

47. Et ainsi vint l’usage de l’Argent, quelque chose durable que les Hommes pouvaient conserver sans qu’il se perdît, et que par mutuel consentement ils pouvaient accepter en échange des Choses nécessaires à la Vie vraiment utiles, mais périssables.

48. Et comme les degrés différents d’Industrie tendaient à donner aux Hommes des Possessions en Proportions différentes, cette Invention de l’Argent leur donna l’occasion de continuer à les agrandir. Car soit une Ile, coupée de tout Commerce avec le reste du Monde, où ne vivraient qu’une centaine de Familles, mais où il y aurait Moutons, Chevaux et Vaches, et d’autres Animaux utiles, des Fruits sains, et assez de Terres à Blé pour cent mille fois autant, mais rien qui soit, du fait de sa Généralité ou de sa Périssabilité, propre à occuper la place de l’Argent: Quelle raison quelqu’un pourrait-il y avoir d’agrandir ses Possessions au-delà de l’usage de sa Famille, et d’un approvisionnement abondant pour sa Consommation soit en produits sa propre Industrie, soit en produits qu’il pourrait troquer contre des Denrées pareillement utiles et périssables avec d’autres? Là où il n’y a rien à la fois de durable et de rare, et d’une valeur qui fasse qu’on l’amasse, on ne tendra pas à agrandir ses Possessions de Terre, si riche et si libre qu’elle fût. Car je vous le demande, Que vaudraient pour quelqu’un Dix Mille ou Cent Mille Acres d’excellente Terre, déjà cultivée, et également bien pourvue en Bétail, au milieu des Parties de l’Amérique à l’intérieur des terres, sans l’espoir de Commercer avec d’autres Parties du Monde, de tirer de l’Argent de la Vente du Produit? Enclore ne vaudrait pas la peine, et nous le verrions restituer au Communal sauvage de la Nature, tout ce qui dépasserait les Commodités de la Vie qu’il en pourrait tirer pour lui et sa Famille.

49. Ainsi au commencement le Monde entier était Amérique, et plus que ce ne l’est maintenant; car nulle part on ne connaissait de chose telle que l’Argent. Trouvez quelque chose ayant son Usage et sa Valeur parmi ses Voisins, et vous verrez le même Homme commencer rapidement à agrandir ses Possessions.

50. Mais puisque l’Or et l’Argent, peu utiles à la Vie humaine proportionnellement à la Nourriture, au Vêtement et au Transport, ne tiennent leur valeur que du consentement des Hommes dont le Travail fait cependant, en grande partie, la mesure, il est évident que les Hommes ont convenu d’une Possession disproportionnée et inégale de la Terre, quand ils ont par un consentement tacite et volontaire inventé la façon, dont un homme peut honnêtement posséder plus de terres qu’il ne peut lui-même en utiliser de produit, en recevant en échange du surplus, de l’Or et de l’Argent, ces métaux qui, ne se perdant ni ne s’altérant dans les mains du possesseur, peuvent être amassés sans léser qui que ce soit. Ce partage des choses, dans une inégalité des possessions privées, les hommes l’ont rendu réalisable hors des limites de la Société, et sans contrat, uniquement en mettant une valeur à l’or et sur l’argent et en convenant tacitement d’utiliser l’Argent. Car dans les Gouvernements les Lois règlent le droit de propriété, et des constitutions positives déterminent la possession de la Terre.

51. Et ainsi je pense qu’il est très facile de concevoir, sans aucune difficulté, comment le Travail a pu d’abord faire naître un titre de Propriété sur les choses communes de la Nature, et comment le dépenser pour notre usage le limitait. Si bien qu’il ne pouvait y avoir de sujet de différend sur le Titre, ni d’incertitude sur la grandeur de la Possession qu’il donnait. Droit et Commodité allaient de pair; car comme un Homme avait Droit à tout ce sur quoi il pouvait employer son Travail, il n’avait point la tentation de travailler pour plus qu’il pouvait utiliser. Il n’y avait pas place pour Controverse sur le Titre, ni pour Empiétement sur le Droit d’autrui; la Portion qu’un Homme se taillait se voyait aisément; et il lui était aussi inutile que malhonnête de s’en tailler une trop grande, ou de prendre plus qu’il n’avait besoin.

Columbus, the Indians and the ‘discovery’ of America

Howard Zinn on the « discovery » of America, the treatment of the native population and how it was justified as « progress ».

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:

They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

Columbus wrote:

As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? He had persuaded the king and queen of Spain to finance an expedition to the lands, the wealth, he expected would be on the other side of the Atlantic-the Indies and Asia, gold and spices. For, like other informed people of his time, he knew the world was round and he could sail west in order to get to the Far East.

Spain was recently unified, one of the new modern nation-states, like France, England, and Portugal. Its population, mostly poor peasants, worked for the nobility, who were 2 percent of the population and owned 95 percent of the land. Spain had tied itself to the Catholic Church, expelled all the Jews, driven out the Moors. Like other states of the modern world, Spain sought gold, which was becoming the new mark of wealth, more useful than land because it could buy anything.

There was gold in Asia, it was thought, and certainly silks and spices, for Marco Polo and others had brought back marvelous things from their overland expeditions centuries before. Now that the Turks had conquered Constantinople and the eastern Mediterranean, and controlled the land routes to Asia, a sea route was needed. Portuguese sailors were working their way around the southern tip of Africa. Spain decided to gamble on a long sail across an unknown ocean.

In return for bringing back gold and spices, they promised Columbus 10 percent of the profits, governorship over new-found lands, and the fame that would go with a new tide: Admiral of the Ocean Sea. He was a merchant’s clerk from the Italian city of Genoa, part-time weaver (the son of a skilled weaver), and expert sailor. He set out with three sailing ships, the largest of which was the Santa Maria, perhaps 100 feet long, and thirty-nine crew members.

Columbus would never have made it to Asia, which was thousands of miles farther away than he had calculated, imagining a smaller world. He would have been doomed by that great expanse of sea. But he was lucky. One-fourth of the way there he came upon an unknown, uncharted land that lay between Europe and Asia-the Americas. It was early October 1492, and thirty-three days since he and his crew had left the Canary Islands, off the Atlantic coast of Africa. Now they saw branches and sticks floating in the water. They saw flocks of birds.

These were signs of land. Then, on October 12, a sailor called Rodrigo saw the early morning moon shining on white sands, and cried out. It was an island in the Bahamas, the Caribbean sea. The first man to sight land was supposed to get a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life, but Rodrigo never got it. Columbus claimed he had seen a light the evening before. He got the reward.

So, approaching land, they were met by the Arawak Indians, who swam out to greet them. The Arawaks lived in village communes, had a developed agriculture of corn, yams, cassava. They could spin and weave, but they had no horses or work animals. They had no iron, but they wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears.

This was to have enormous consequences: it led Columbus to take some of them aboard ship as prisoners because he insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. He then sailed to what is now Cuba, then to Hispaniola (the island which today consists of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). There, bits of visible gold in the rivers, and a gold mask presented to Columbus by a local Indian chief, led to wild visions of gold fields.

On Hispaniola, out of timbers from the Santa Maria, which had run aground, Columbus built a fort, the first European military base in the Western Hemisphere. He called it Navidad (Christmas) and left thirty-nine crewmembers there, with instructions to find and store the gold. He took more Indian prisoners and put them aboard his two remaining ships. At one part of the island he got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two were run through with swords and bled to death. Then the Nina and the Pinta set sail for the Azores and Spain. When the weather turned cold, the Indian prisoners began to die.

Columbus’s report to the Court in Madrid was extravagant. He insisted he had reached Asia (it was Cuba) and an island off the coast of China (Hispaniola). His descriptions were part fact, part fiction:

Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful … the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold. . . . There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals….

The Indians, Columbus reported, « are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone…. » He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage « as much gold as they need … and as many slaves as they ask. » He was full of religious talk: « Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities. »

Because of Columbus’s exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans’ intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were « naked as the day they were born, » they showed « no more embarrassment than animals. » Columbus later wrote: « Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold. »

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.

The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.

Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.

The chief source-and, on many matters the only source-of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolome de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty. Las Casas transcribed Columbus’s journal and, in his fifties, began a multivolume History of the Indies. In it, he describes the Indians. They are agile, he says, and can swim long distances, especially the women. They are not completely peaceful, because they do battle from time to time with other tribes, but their casualties seem small, and they fight when they are individually moved to do so because of some grievance, not on the orders of captains or kings.

Women in Indian society were treated so well as to startle the Spaniards. Las Casas describes sex relations:

Marriage laws are non-existent men and women alike choose their mates and leave them as they please, without offense, jealousy or anger. They multiply in great abundance; pregnant women work to the last minute and give birth almost painlessly; up the next day, they bathe in the river and are as clean and healthy as before giving birth. If they tire of their men, they give themselves abortions with herbs that force stillbirths, covering their shameful parts with leaves or cotton cloth; although on the whole, Indian men and women look upon total nakedness with as much casualness as we look upon a man’s head or at his hands.

The Indians, Las Casas says, have no religion, at least no temples. They live in

large communal bell-shaped buildings, housing up to 600 people at one time … made of very strong wood and roofed with palm leaves…. They prize bird feathers of various colors, beads made of fishbones, and green and white stones with which they adorn their ears and lips, but they put no value on gold and other precious things. They lack all manner of commerce, neither buying nor selling, and rely exclusively on their natural environment for maintenance. They are extremely generous with their possessions and by the same token covet the possessions of then; friends and expect the same degree of liberality. …

In Book Two of his History of the Indies, Las Casas (who at first urged replacing Indians by black slaves, thinking they were stronger and would survive, but later relented when he saw the effects on blacks) tells about the treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards. It is a unique account and deserves to be quoted at length:

Endless testimonies . .. prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives…. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then…. The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians….

Las Casas tells how the Spaniards « grew more conceited every day » and after a while refused to walk any distance. They « rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry » or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays. « In this case they also had Indians carry large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings. »

Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards « thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades. » Las Casas tells how « two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys. »

The Indians’ attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed. So, Las Casas reports, « they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could turn for help. » He describes their work in the mines:

… mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on then: backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside….

After each six or eight months’ work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died.

While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into the excruciating job of digging and making thousands of hills for cassava plants.

Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides … they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation…. hi this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . .. and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile … was depopulated. … My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write. …

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, « there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it…. »

Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas-even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?)-is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure-there is no bloodshed-and Columbus Day is a celebration.

Past the elementary and high schools, there are only occasional hints of something else. Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian, was the most distinguished writer on Columbus, the author of a multivolume biography, and was himself a sailor who retraced Columbus’s route across the Atlantic. In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing: « The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide. »

That is on one page, buried halfway into the telling of a grand romance. In the book’s last paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus:

He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great-his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement. But there was no flaw, no dark side to the most outstanding and essential of all his qualities-his seamanship.

One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide.

But he does something else-he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him. Outright lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important-it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.

It is not that the historian can avoid emphasis of some facts and not of others. This is as natural to him as to the mapmaker, who, in order to produce a usable drawing for practical purposes, must first flatten and distort the shape of the earth, then choose out of the bewildering mass of geographic information those things needed for the purpose of this or that particular map.

My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians. But the map-maker’s distortion is a technical necessity for a common purpose shared by all people who need maps. The historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.

Furthermore, this ideological interest is not openly expressed in the way a mapmaker’s technical interest is obvious (« This is a Mercator projection for long-range navigation-for short-range, you’d better use a different projection »). No, it is presented as if all readers of history had a common interest which historians serve to the best of their ability. This is not intentional deception; the historian has been trained in a society in which education and knowledge are put forward as technical problems of excellence and not as tools for contending social classes, races, nations.

To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to de-emphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves- unwittingly-to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)-that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.

The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)-the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as « the United States, » subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a « national interest » represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.

« History is the memory of states, » wrote Henry Kissinger in his first book, A World Restored, in which he proceeded to tell the history of nineteenth-century Europe from the viewpoint of the leaders of Austria and England, ignoring the millions who suffered from those statesmen’s policies. From his standpoint, the « peace » that Europe had before the French Revolution was « restored » by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory workers in England, farmers in France, colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everywhere except in the upper classes, it was a world of conquest, violence, hunger, exploitation-a world not restored but disintegrated.

My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been, The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of Scott’s army, of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills, of the Spanish-American war as seen by the Cubans, the conquest of the Philippines as seen by black soldiers on Luzon, the Gilded Age as seen by southern farmers, the First World War as seen by socialists, the Second World War as seen by pacifists, the New Deal as seen by blacks in Harlem, the postwar American empire as seen by peons in Latin America. And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can « see » history from the standpoint of others.

My point is not to grieve for the victims and denounce the executioners. Those tears, that anger, cast into the past, deplete our moral energy for the present. And the lines are not always clear. In the long run, the oppressor is also a victim. In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.

Still, understanding the complexities, this book will be skeptical of governments and their attempts, through politics and culture, to ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nationhood pretending to a common interest. I will try not to overlook the cruelties that victims inflict on one another as they are jammed together in the boxcars of the system. I don’t want to romanticize them. But I do remember (in rough paraphrase) a statement I once read: « The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is. »

I don’t want to invent victories for people’s movements. But to think that history-writing must aim simply to recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat. If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.

That, being as blunt as I can, is my approach to the history of the United States. The reader may as well know that before going on.

What Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortes did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots.

The Aztec civilization of Mexico came out of the heritage of Mayan, Zapotec, and Toltec cultures. It built enormous constructions from stone tools and human labor, developed a writing system and a priesthood. It also engaged in (let us not overlook this) the ritual killing of thousands of people as sacrifices to the gods. The cruelty of the Aztecs, however, did not erase a certain innocence, and when a Spanish armada appeared at Vera Cruz, and a bearded white man came ashore, with strange beasts (horses), clad in iron, it was thought that he was the legendary Aztec man-god who had died three hundred years before, with the promise to return-the mysterious Quetzalcoatl. And so they welcomed him, with munificent hospitality.

That was Hernando Cortes, come from Spain with an expedition financed by merchants and landowners and blessed by the deputies of God, with one obsessive goal: to find gold. In the mind of Montezuma, the king of the Aztecs, there must have been a certain doubt about whether Cortes was indeed Quetzalcoatl, because he sent a hundred runners to Cortes, bearing enormous treasures, gold and silver wrought into objects of fantastic beauty, but at the same time begging him to go back. (The painter Durer a few years later described what he saw just arrived in Spain from that expedition-a sun of gold, a moon of silver, worth a fortune.)

Cortes then began his march of death from town to town, using deception, turning Aztec against Aztec, killing with the kind of deliberateness that accompanies a strategy-to paralyze the will of the population by a sudden frightful deed. And so, in Cholulu, he invited the headmen of the Cholula nation to the square. And when they came, with thousands of unarmed retainers, Cortes’s small army of Spaniards, posted around the square with cannon, armed with crossbows, mounted on horses, massacred them, down to the last man. Then they looted the city and moved on. When their cavalcade of murder was over they were in Mexico City, Montezuma was dead, and the Aztec civilization, shattered, was in the hands of the Spaniards.

All this is told in the Spaniards’ own accounts.

In Peru, that other Spanish conquistador Pizarro, used the same tactics, and for the same reasons- the frenzy in the early capitalist states of Europe for gold, for slaves, for products of the soil, to pay the bondholders and stockholders of the expeditions, to finance the monarchical bureaucracies rising in Western Europe, to spur the growth of the new money economy rising out of feudalism, to participate in what Karl Marx would later call « the primitive accumulation of capital. » These were the violent beginnings of an intricate system of technology, business, politics, and culture that would dominate the world for the next five centuries.

In the North American English colonies, the pattern was set early, as Columbus had set it in the islands of the Bahamas. In 1585, before there was any permanent English settlement in Virginia, Richard Grenville landed there with seven ships. The Indians he met were hospitable, but when one of them stole a small silver cup, Grenville sacked and burned the whole Indian village.

Jamestown itself was set up inside the territory of an Indian confederacy, led by the chief, Powhatan. Powhatan watched the English settle on his people’s land, but did not attack, maintaining a posture of coolness. When the English were going through their « starving time » in the winter of 1610, some of them ran off to join the Indians, where they would at least be fed. When the summer came, the governor of the colony sent a messenger to ask Powhatan to return the runaways, whereupon Powhatan, according to the English account, replied with « noe other than prowde and disdaynefull Answers. » Some soldiers were therefore sent out « to take Revenge. » They fell upon an Indian settlement, killed fifteen or sixteen Indians, burned the houses, cut down the corn growing around the village, took the queen of the tribe and her children into boats, then ended up throwing the children overboard « and shoteinge owit their Braynes in the water. » The queen was later taken off and stabbed to death.

Twelve years later, the Indians, alarmed as the English settlements kept growing in numbers, apparently decided to try to wipe them out for good. They went on a rampage and massacred 347 men, women, and children. From then on it was total war.

Not able to enslave the Indians, and not able to live with them, the English decided to exterminate them. Edmund Morgan writes, in his history of early Virginia, American Slavery, American Freedom:

Since the Indians were better woodsmen than the English and virtually impossible to track down, the method was to feign peaceful intentions, let them settle down and plant their com wherever they chose, and then, just before harvest, fall upon them, killing as many as possible and burning the corn… . Within two or three years of the massacre the English had avenged the deaths of that day many times over.

In that first year of the white man in Virginia, 1607, Powhatan had addressed a plea to John Smith that turned out prophetic. How authentic it is may be in doubt, but it is so much like so many Indian statements that it may be taken as, if not the rough letter of that first plea, the exact spirit of it:

I have seen two generations of my people the…. I know the difference between peace and war better than any man in my country. I am now grown old, and must the soon; my authority must descend to my brothers, Opitehapan, Opechancanough and Catatough-then to my two sisters, and then to my two daughters-I wish them to know as much as I do, and that your love to them may be like mine to you. Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions and run into the woods; then you will starve for wronging your friends. Why are you jealous of us? We are unarmed, and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner, and not so simple as not to know that it is much better to eat good meat, sleep comfortably, live quietly with my wives and children, laugh and be merry with the English, and trade for their copper and hatchets, than to run away from them, and to lie cold in the woods, feed on acorns, roots and such trash, and be so hunted that I can neither eat nor sleep. In these wars, my men must sit up watching, and if a twig break, they all cry out « Here comes Captain Smith! » So I must end my miserable life. Take away your guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy, or you may all die in the same manner.

When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory inhabited by tribes of Indians. The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a « vacuum. » The Indians, he said, had not « subdued » the land, and therefore had only a « natural » right to it, but not a « civil right. » A « natural right » did not have legal standing.

The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalms 2:8: « Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. » And to justify their use of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: « Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. »

The Puritans lived in uneasy truce with the Pequot Indians, who occupied what is now southern Connecticut and Rhode Island. But they wanted them out of the way; they wanted their land. And they seemed to want also to establish their rule firmly over Connecticut settlers in that area. The murder of a white trader, Indian-kidnaper, and troublemaker became an excuse to make war on the Pequots in 1636.

A punitive expedition left Boston to attack the NarraganseIt Indians on Block Island, who were lumped with the Pequots. As Governor Winthrop wrote:

They had commission to pat to death the men of Block Island, but to spare the women and children, and to bring them away, and to take possession of the island; and from thence to go to the Pequods to demand the murderers of Captain Stone and other English, and one thousand fathom of wampum for damages, etc. and some of their children as hostages, which if they should refuse, they were to obtain it by force.

The English landed and killed some Indians, but the rest hid in the thick forests of the island and the English went from one deserted village to the next, destroying crops. Then they sailed back to the mainland and raided Pequot villages along the coast, destroying crops again. One of the officers of that expedition, in his account, gives some insight into the Pequots they encountered: « The Indians spying of us came running in multitudes along the water side, crying, What cheer, Englishmen, what cheer, what do you come for? They not thinking we intended war, went on cheerfully… -« 

So, the war with the Pequots began. Massacres took place on both sides. The English developed a tactic of warfare used earlier by Cortes and later, in the twentieth century, even more systematically: deliberate attacks on noncombatants for the purpose of terrorizing the enemy. This is ethno historian Francis Jennings’s interpretation of Captain John Mason’s attack on a Pequot village on the Mystic River near Long Island Sound: « Mason proposed to avoid attacking Pequot warriors, which would have overtaxed his unseasoned, unreliable troops. Battle, as such, was not his purpose. Battle is only one of the ways to destroy an enemy’s will to fight. Massacre can accomplish the same end with less risk, and Mason had determined that massacre would be his objective. »

So the English set fire to the wigwams of the village. By their own account: « The Captain also said, We must Burn Them; and immediately stepping into the Wigwam … brought out a Fire Brand, and putting it into the Matts with which they were covered, set the Wigwams on Fire. » William Bradford, in his History of the Plymouth Plantation written at the time, describes John Mason’s raid on the Pequot village:

Those that scaped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie.

As Dr. Cotton Mather, Puritan theologian, put it: « It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day. »

The war continued. Indian tribes were used against one another, and never seemed able to join together in fighting the English. Jennings sums up:

The terror was very real among the Indians, but in rime they came to meditate upon its foundations. They drew three lessons from the Pequot War: (1) that the Englishmen’s most solemn pledge would be broken whenever obligation conflicted with advantage; (2) that the English way of war had no limit of scruple or mercy; and (3) that weapons of Indian making were almost useless against weapons of European manufacture. These lessons the Indians took to heart.

A footnote in Virgil Vogel’s book This Land Was Ours (1972) says: « The official figure on the number of Pequots now in Connecticut is twenty-one persons. »

Forty years after the Pequot War, Puritans and Indians fought again. This time it was the Wampanoags, occupying the south shore of Massachusetts Bay, who were in the way and also beginning to trade some of their land to people outside the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Their chief, Massasoit, was dead. His son Wamsutta had been killed by Englishmen, and Wamsuttas brother Metacom (later to be called King Philip by the English) became chief. The English found their excuse, a murder which they attributed to Metacom, and they began a war of conquest against the Wampanoags, a war to take their land. They were clearly the aggressors, but claimed they attacked for preventive purposes. As Roger Williams, more friendly to the Indians than most, put it: « All men of conscience or prudence ply to windward, to maintain their wars to be defensive. »

Jennings says the elite of the Puritans wanted the war; the ordinary white Englishman did not want it and often refused to fight. The Indians certainly did not want war, but they matched atrocity with atrocity. When it was over, in 1676, the English had won, but their resources were drained; they had lost six hundred men. Three thousand Indians were dead, including Metacom himself. Yet the Indian raids did not stop.

For a while, the English tried softer tactics. But ultimately, it was back to annihilation. The Indian population of 10 million that lived north of Mexico when Columbus came would ultimately be reduced to less than a million. Huge numbers of Indians would the from diseases introduced by the whites. A Dutch traveler in New Netherland wrote in 1656 that « the Indians … affirm, that before the arrival of the Christians, and before the smallpox broke out amongst them, they were ten times as numerous as they now are, and that their population had been melted down by this disease, whereof nine-tenths of them have died. » When the English first settled Martha’s Vineyard in 1642, the Wampanoags there numbered perhaps three thousand. There were no wars on that island, but by 1764, only 313 Indians were left there. Similarly, Block Island Indians numbered perhaps 1,200 to 1,500 in 1662, and by 1774 were reduced to fifty-one.

Behind the English invasion of North America, behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilizations based on private property. It was a morally ambiguous drive; the need for space, for land, was a real human need. But in conditions of scarcity, in a barbarous epoch of history ruled by competition, this human need was transformed into the murder of whole peoples. Roger Williams said it was

a depraved appetite after the great vanities, dreams and shadows of this vanishing life, great portions of land, land in this wilderness, as if men were in as great necessity and danger for want of great portions of land, as poor, hungry, thirsty seamen have, after a sick and stormy, a long and starving passage. This is one of the gods of New England, which the living and most high Eternal will destroy and famish.

Was all this bloodshed and deceit-from Columbus to Cortes, Pizarro, the Puritans-a necessity for the human race to progress from savagery to civilization? Was Morison right in burying the story of genocide inside a more important story of human progress? Perhaps a persuasive argument can be made-as it was made by Stalin when he killed peasants for industrial progress in the Soviet Union, as it was made by Churchill explaining the bombings of Dresden and Hamburg, and Truman explaining Hiroshima. But how can the judgment be made if the benefits and losses cannot be balanced because the losses are either unmentioned or mentioned quickly?

That quick disposal might be acceptable (« Unfortunate, yes, but it had to be done ») to the middle and upper classes of the conquering and « advanced » countries. But is it acceptable to the poor of Asia, Africa, Latin America, or to the prisoners in Soviet labor camps, or the blacks in urban ghettos, or the Indians on reservations-to the victims of that progress which benefits a privileged minority in the world? Was it acceptable (or just inescapable?) to the miners and railroaders of America, the factory hands, the men and women who died by the hundreds of thousands from accidents or sickness, where they worked or where they lived-casualties of progress? And even the privileged minority-must it not reconsider, with that practicality which even privilege cannot abolish, the value of its privileges, when they become threatened by the anger of the sacrificed, whether in organized rebellion, unorganized riot, or simply those brutal individual acts of desperation labeled crimes by law and the state?

If there are necessary sacrifices to be made for human progress, is it not essential to hold to the principle that those to be sacrificed must make the decision themselves? We can all decide to give up something of ours, but do we have the right to throw into the pyre the children of others, or even our own children, for a progress which is not nearly as clear or present as sickness or health, life or death?

What did people in Spain get out of all that death and brutality visited on the Indians of the Americas? For a brief period in history, there was the glory of a Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere. As Hans Koning sums it up in his book Columbus: His Enterprise:

For all the gold and silver stolen and shipped to Spain did not make the Spanish people richer. It gave their kings an edge in the balance of power for a time, a chance to hire more mercenary soldiers for their wars. They ended up losing those wars anyway, and all that was left was a deadly inflation, a starving population, the rich richer, the poor poorer, and a ruined peasant class.

Beyond all that, how certain are we that what was destroyed was inferior? Who were these people who came out on the beach and swam to bring presents to Columbus and his crew, who watched Cortes and Pizarro ride through their countryside, who peered out of the forests at the first white settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts?

Columbus called them Indians, because he miscalculated the size of the earth. In this book we too call them Indians, with some reluctance, because it happens too often that people are saddled with names given them by their conquerors.

And yet, there is some reason to call them Indians, because they did come, perhaps 25,000 years ago, from Asia, across the land bridge of the Bering Straits (later to disappear under water) to Alaska. Then they moved southward, seeking warmth and land, in a trek lasting thousands of years that took them into North America, then Central and South America. In Nicaragua, Brazil, and Ecuador their petrified footprints can still be seen, along with the print of bison, who disappeared about five thousand years ago, so they must have reached South America at least that far back

Widely dispersed over the great land mass of the Americas, they numbered approximately 75 million people by the rime Columbus came, perhaps 25 million in North America. Responding to the different environments of soil and climate, they developed hundreds of different tribal cultures, perhaps two thousand different languages. They perfected the art of agriculture, and figured out how to grow maize (corn), which cannot grow by itself and must be planted, cultivated, fertilized, harvested, husked, shelled. They ingeniously developed a variety of other vegetables and fruits, as well as peanuts and chocolate and tobacco and rubber.

On their own, the Indians were engaged in the great agricultural revolution that other peoples in Asia, Europe, Africa were going through about the same time.

While many of the tribes remained nomadic hunters and food gatherers in wandering, egalitarian communes, others began to live in more settled communities where there was more food, larger populations, more divisions of labor among men and women, more surplus to feed chiefs and priests, more leisure time for artistic and social work, for building houses. About a thousand years before Christ, while comparable constructions were going on in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Zuni and Hopi Indians of what is now New Mexico had begun to build villages consisting of large terraced buildings, nestled in among cliffs and mountains for protection from enemies, with hundreds of rooms in each village. Before the arrival of the European explorers, they were using irrigation canals, dams, were doing ceramics, weaving baskets, making cloth out of cotton.

By the time of Christ and Julius Caesar, there had developed in the Ohio River Valley a culture of so-called Moundbuilders, Indians who constructed thousands of enormous sculptures out of earth, sometimes in the shapes of huge humans, birds, or serpents, sometimes as burial sites, sometimes as fortifications. One of them was 3 1/2 miles long, enclosing 100 acres. These Moundbuilders seem to have been part of a complex trading system of ornaments and weapons from as far off as the Great Lakes, the Far West, and the Gulf of Mexico.

About A.D. 500, as this Moundbuilder culture of the Ohio Valley was beginning to decline, another culture was developing westward, in the valley of the Mississippi, centered on what is now St. Louis. It had an advanced agriculture, included thousands of villages, and also built huge earthen mounds as burial and ceremonial places near a vast Indian metropolis that may have had thirty thousand people. The largest mound was 100 feet high, with a rectangular base larger than that of the Great Pyramid of Egypt. In the city, known as Cahokia, were toolmakers, hide dressers, potters, jewelry makers, weavers, salt makers, copper engravers, and magnificent ceramists. One funeral blanket was made of twelve thousand shell beads.

From the Adirondacks to the Great Lakes, in what is now Pennsylvania and upper New York, lived the most powerful of the northeastern tribes, the League of the Iroquois, which included the Mohawks (People of the Flint), Oneidas (People of the Stone), Onondagas (People of the Mountain), Cayugas (People at the Landing), and Senecas (Great Hill People), thousands of people bound together by a common Iroquois language.

In the vision of the Mohawk chief Iliawatha, the legendary Dekaniwidah spoke to the Iroquois: « We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each other’s hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle in security, peace and happiness. »

In the villages of the Iroquois, land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunting was done together, and the catch was divided among the members of the village. Houses were considered common property and were shared by several families. The concept of private ownership of land and homes was foreign to the Iroquois. A French Jesuit priest who encountered them in the 1650s wrote: « No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers.. . . Their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common. »

Women were important and respected in Iroquois society. Families were matrilineal. That is, the family line went down through the female members, whose husbands joined the family, while sons who married then joined their wives’ families. Each extended family lived in a « long house. » When a woman wanted a divorce, she set her husband’s things outside the door.

Families were grouped in clans, and a dozen or more clans might make up a village. The senior women in the village named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils. They also named the forty-nine chiefs who were the ruling council for the Five Nation confederacy of the Iroquois. The women attended clan meetings, stood behind the circle of men who spoke and voted, and removed the men from office if they strayed too far from the wishes of the women.

The women tended the crops and took general charge of village affairs while the men were always hunting or fishing. And since they supplied the moccasins and food for warring expeditions, they had some control over military matters. As Gary B. Nash notes in his fascinating study of early America, Red, White, and Black: « Thus power was shared between the sexes and the European idea of male dominancy and female subordination in all things was conspicuously absent in Iroquois society. »

Children in Iroquois society, while taught the cultural heritage of their people and solidarity with the tribe, were also taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh punishment on children; they did not insist on early weaning or early toilet training, hut gradually allowed the child to learn self-care.

All of this was in sharp contrast to European values as brought over by the first colonists, a society of rich and poor, controlled by priests, by governors, by male heads of families. For example, the pastor of the Pilgrim colony, John Robinson, thus advised his parishioners how to deal with their children: « And surely there is in all children … a stubbornness, and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride, which must, in the first place, be broken and beaten down; that so the foundation of their education being laid in humility and tractableness, other virtues may, in their time, be built thereon. »

Gary Nash describes Iroquois culture:

No laws and ordinances, sheriffs and constables, judges and juries, or courts or jails-the apparatus of authority in European societies-were to be found in the northeast woodlands prior to European arrival. Yet boundaries of acceptable behavior were firmly set. Though priding themselves on the autonomous individual, the Iroquois maintained a strict sense of right and wrong…. He who stole another’s food or acted invalourously in war was « shamed » by his people and ostracized from their company until he had atoned for his actions and demonstrated to their satisfaction that he had morally purified himself.

Not only the Iroquois but other Indian tribes behaved the same way. In 1635, Maryland Indians responded to the governor’s demand that if any of them lolled an Englishman, the guilty one should be delivered up for punishment according to English law. The Indians said:

It is the manner amongst us Indians, that if any such accident happen, wee doe redeeme the life of a man that is so slaine, with a 100 armes length of Beades and since that you are heere strangers, and come into our Countrey, you should rather conform yourselves to the Customes of our Countrey, than impose yours upon us….

So, Columbus and his successors were not coming into an empty wilderness, but into a world which in some places was as densely populated as Europe itself, where the culture was complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.

They were people without a written language, but with their own laws, their poetry, their history kept in memory and passed on, in an oral vocabulary more complex than Europe’s, accompanied by song, dance, and ceremonial drama. They paid careful attention to the development of personality, intensity of will, independence and flexibility, passion and potency, to their partnership with one another and with nature.

John Collier, an American scholar who lived among Indians in the 1920s and 1930s in the American Southwest, said of their spirit: « Could we make it our own, there would be an eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace. »

Perhaps there is some romantic mythology in that. But the evidence from European travelers in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, put together recently by an American specialist on Indian life, William Brandon, is overwhelmingly supportive of much of that « myth. » Even allowing for the imperfection of myths, it is enough to make us question, for that time and ours, the excuse of progress in the annihilation of races, and the telling of history from the standpoint of the conquerors and leaders of Western civilization.

3 commentaires pour Columbus Day/521e: Au commencement le Monde entier était Amérique (There was no « Europe » before 1492: How Columbus discovered Europe)

  1. M. S. Simpson dit :

    Vous écrivez avec une touche d’imagination, d’élégance et d’esprit. J’ai appris à aimer votre blog!

    J'aime

  2. jcdurbant dit :

    C’est gentil à vous, mais mon impression à moi en fait, c’est que j’ai de moins en moins de temps (y compris hélas le temps de voir ce que font les autres) et que ça devrait logiquement commencer à se voir mais merci quand même …

    Et d’ailleurs, j’ai commencé à me replier sur Facebook qui exige moins de temps …

    J'aime

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