Did the White Man Steal North America From the Indians?
by Charles Weisman
At this point the following questions might be asked: What about the Indians? Weren't they here first? Didn't we (the white race) take this land away from the Indian? Doesn't the Indian have the rightful title to America?
Since we are dealing with a conflict between two nations or races, the white race and the Indian race, we need to turn to the Law of Nations or International Law for the solution. The following are some basic maxims of the International Law:
FIRST: That every nation possesses an exclusive sovereignty and jurisdiction in its own territory.
SECOND: That no state or nation can by its law directly affect or bind property that lies outside of its own territory, or persons not resident therein.
THIRD: That whatever force the laws of one country have in another depends solely on the municipal laws of the latter.
The first principle listed here would seem to suggest that all of America was the possession of the Indians prior to the age of discovery by the white race. However, the Indians never laid claim to all of the "territory" of America because they had no understanding of its size and boundaries. The Indian only claimed the land he was inhabiting and that which he used for hunting, burial, etc. At the time of discovery (circa 1500 A.D.), the American Indian numbered about 700,000 inhabitants, sparsely scattered over what is now America. Thus the Indians never had a legal claim to much more than 3% of the land at any one time. So it can be said that the Indians did have a legal claim to America, 3% of it, which was considered their "own territory."
In light of this, it cannot be said that the white race violated the second principle of International Law either, since 97% of America was not legally the "property" of anyone. When America was claimed by the English, French, and Spanish, they claimed the entire breadth and width of the land, from sea to sea, from one boundary to the next. However, the lands that the Indians occupied within these European claims were still Indian land.
It must also be addressed as to whether the white man encroached upon and took possession of lands that were legally claimed by the Indian. The third maxim of International Law says we have to look at the Indian's law, and that whatever measures or acts the white man took in regards to Indian land must be pursuant to Indian law. The following are some of the laws that were generally held by the Indians:
1. It was a law common among Indians that the stronger of two tribes or people (nations) has the right to conquer and subdue the weaker.
2. Under Indian common law it was understood that land claims existed by inhabiting the land and by any use of the land.
3. When any land was unoccupied or not used for one year, the land was free for anyone to claim and settle.
This first law of the Indian could actually render all other arguments of land rights academic. This law was almost a way of life with the Indian, which is why they were always warring among themselves. The wars and conflicts between the white race and the Indian race throughout history were numerous, and the fact that the white race was the stronger cannot be doubted.
According to the third Indian law listed, the white man, or any man or nation, had the right to possess the vast lands that were uninhabited or unclaimed by the Indian in America. Since the Indians never claimed the American continent from Atlantic to Pacific, the lands claimed by right of discovery are valid. Thus, the only legal conflict that can exist lies with the 3% of land the Indian had a legal claim to in America, in accordance to the second Indian law listed.
In spite of the legal right the white race has to America, we often are confronted with the anti-American propaganda that the white race wronged the Indian by attacking and killing them and driving them out of their land. We thus need to look at the first conflicts that existed between the Indians and the colonial settlers. A summary of these first conflicts shows they were always initiated by Indians:6
History reveals that all the early hostilities and wars between the American Indians and the white settlers, were instigated or started by the Indians without just cause. Even though the white settlers had legal title to the land by way of purchase or claim of unoccupied lands, the Indian was always the one to disrupt peaceful relations with attacks, massacres, and wars. The retaliation by the white settlers were merely acts of self defense and self preservation in accordance with the law of nature. Thus it was the Indian who was the intruder and violator of land rights and of his own law. It was the Indian who, in the beginning, wronged the white man. The Indian's treachery, barbaric and warlike manner, and sneak attacks on the colonists was positive proof of the anti-social nature of the red man. This exhibit of the Indian's character caused much distrust of the Indian, and became the "code of conduct" which the Indian continued to live by and uphold in the future.
Thus, the white race has a rightful and legal claim and title to America pursuant to international law, the Indian's law, the law of nature, and by a combination thereof.
5 "Harper's Encyclopaedia of United States History," Harper & Brothers Publishers, Vol. V, 1901, (International Law).
6 The following history sources were used in these excerpts: Edward Eggleston, "A History Of The United States And Its People," 1888. Gertrude Southworth, "A First Book In American History," 1919. Hezekiah Butterworth, "The Story of America," 1898. John Bassett, Ph.D., "A Short History of The United States: 1492-1929," 1933.
From the Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, pp.7-9 by Thomas E. Woods Jr. Ph.D.
The Puritans were not racists
The colonists also had to devise some kind of policy toward the American Indians they encountered, and some were more successful, and more just, than others. Few would deny that the American Indians have been the victims of injustice and maltreatment over the course of American history. But those injustices have led many Americans to believe that the colonists had nothing but contempt for the American Indian, and sought merely to expel him or "steal" his land. But by its second decade Harvard College welcomed Indian students. Colonists could and did receive the death penalty for murdering Indians. Indian converts to Christianity living in the "praying towns" of New England enjoyed considerable autonomy.
Today the Puritans' desire to win the natives to Christianity is often met with impatience and smirks. But consider the greatest of the Puritan missionaries, John Eliot, who lived from 1604 to 1690. What Eliot did in order to spread the Christian faith among the Indians almost defies belief. The Algonquians had no written language. So Eliot learned the spoken language of the Massachusetts Algonquians, developed a written version of their language for them, and then translated the Bible into that language. If Eliot and the Puritans had simply wanted to oppress the natives, they could have come up with an easier way.
It is not true that the Puritans possessed a sense of racial superiority over the Indians. They certainly did consider themselves culturally superior, though it is not clear what else they were supposed to think when they met peoples who did not use the wheel, possessed no written language, and were, in effect, living in the Stone Age. But race did not enter into the question. Roger Williams, who founded Providence, Rhode Island, believed that the Indians were born white, a view that was generally shared by the Puritans; the effects of stains and the sun were said to have darkened their skins.
Scholars in recent decades have softened their earlier judgments about the harshness of Puritan treatment of the natives. But the research of specialists typically takes a long time to make it to the texts written by generalists. For instance, some overviews of European history still portray the middle Ages as backward and barbaric, when medieval scholars know full well the contributions of the Middle Ages to European civilization, particularly in the origins of modern science, the development of the university system, and the fruitfulness of medieval intellectual life. The same is true of scholarship on the Puritans and the Indians: the generalists continue to speak badly of the Puritans, while specialists often conclude that the Puritans' record is considerably better than people have been led to believe. This is true also in studies of the Puritan Indian wars. "In generalists' "eyes," explains historian Alden Vaughan, "the Puritans provoked every clash and intended-indeed sometimes accomplished-genocide. Specialists, whether of military history or of related topics, viewed the causes of the English-Indian wars as less simple, less unilateral, and the outcomes, though appallingly lethal, never genocidal."
Inset: It is not true, as most people believe, that the Indians had no conception of land ownership and did not understand what they were doing when they sold their land to the Puritans. No evidence has ever been found of any New England Tribe that thought of all land as common property.
No, the Puritans didn't steal Indian lands
The Puritans are widely reputed to have stolen Indian land, defrauded the Indians, or committed genocide against them in the Pequot Wars.
This myth, believed to this day by the vast majority of Americans, is evidently impossible to overturn despite all the scholarship that refutes it. The Pequot’s, who were never a large tribe to begin with, continued to be listed as a distinct group living in Connecticut through the 1960s. Moreover, while the king had issued colonial land grants, the Puritan consensus, evident in their words and their actions, was that the king's charter conferred political and not property rights to the land, which Puritan settlers sought by means of voluntary cession from the Indians.
The colonial governments actually punished individuals who made unauthorized acquisitions of Indian lands. As for initial settlement, Roger Williams obtained title from the Indians before settling in Providence; Plymouth obtained title after settlement. Even this distinction is minor enough, since Indian consent to the Plymouth settlement was immediate. Connecticut and New Haven followed the pattern established by Williams in Providence. English settlement in the Connecticut Valley was positively encouraged by some tribes in the 1630s, who hoped the English might prove a useful obstacle to the ambitions of the Pequot's, a hated tribe that had begun to force its way into the area. Once settled, these New England colonies went on to purchase whatever additional land they desired.
Each colony negotiated with the Indians, who were all too happy to sell land-a commodity that they enjoyed in great abundance, particularly considering the sparseness of the North American population at the time. "In return," writes legal scholar James Warren Springer, "the white man offered metal knives, hoes, and other implements of rare value to a Neolithic society; in lieu of these the Indian might ask for cloth, clothing, jewelry, and other luxuries to brighten his life. The native often took the initiative in such transactions, for the coveted the white man's goods as keenly as the settler yearned for more land."
The Puritans recognized Indian hunting and fishing rights on lands that the Indians had sold to them. In fact it would have been foolish for the Puritans not to allow hunting rights to the Indians, since they themselves were not hunters, and recognition of Indian hunting rights on Puritan lands meant that the Indians could acquire the beaver skins that the Puritans were so anxious to have. And although disputes occasionally arose, New England courts frequently ruled in favor of Indian litigants who alleged that agreed-upon boundaries were not being observed. The colonists did believe that deserted or desolate land could be occupied by whoever discovered it, but this idea was never used to dispossess Indians of their lands; such land was even returned to Indian owners who later presented themselves.