Week 8: Democracy in America and American Notes

Week 8: Chapter 10: “Some Considerations Concerning The Present State And Probable Future Of The Three Races That Inhabit The Territory Of The United States” and “The Present And Probable Future Condition Of The Indian Tribes That Inhabit The Territory Possessed By The Union” in Democracy in America and “Slavery” in American Notes by Charles Dickens (Chapter 17)

Response / Thought Quotes

Democracy In America: “Some Considerations Concerning The Present State And Probable Future Of The Three Races That Inhabit The Territory Of The United States”

  • “America exemplifies something more than an immense and consummate democracy. There is more than one way to look at the peoples that inhabit the New World.”
  • “These two unfortunate races have in common neither birth, appearance, language, nor mores; they are alike only in their misfortunes, equal in their inferiority in the land they inhabit. Both suffer the effects of tyranny, and while their miseries are different, both can blame those miseries on the same tyrant.”
  • “Plunged into this abyss of woe, the Negro scarcely feels his affliction. Violence made him a slave, but habituation to servitude has given him the thoughts and ambitions of one. He admires his tyrants even more than he hates them and finds his joy and his pride in servile imitation of his oppressors.”
  • “European tyranny attenuated the North American Indians’ feeling for their native land, dispersed their families, obscured their traditions, severed the chain of memory, changed their habits, and increased their needs immeasurably, making them less disciplined and civilized than they were before. Meanwhile, the tribes’ moral and physical condition grew steadily worse, and their barbarity kept pace with their wretchedness. Yet Europeans were not able to change the character of the Indians entirely, and though they had the power to destroy them, they were never able to reduce them to order and obedience.”
  • “The Negro exists at the ultimate extreme of servitude, the Indian at the outer limits of freedom. The effects of slavery on the former are scarcely more disastrous than those of independence on the latter.”
  • “But there was something particularly touching in the scene just described: here a bond of affection united the oppressed to the oppressors, and nature, in striving to bring them together, made the vast distance that prejudices and laws had placed between them even more striking.” 

Democracy in America “The Present And Probable Future Condition Of The Indian Tribes That Inhabit The Territory Possessed By The Union”

  • These savages did not simply retreat; they were destroyed.2 As the Indians withdrew and died, a vast and steadily growing people came to take their place. Never has such a prodigious development been seen among the nations of the world, nor such a rapid destruction.
  • “Europeans introduced the natives of North America to firearms, iron, and whiskey.”
  • “In the hope of escaping their many enemies, they split up. Each new arrival went off by himself to search stealthily for the means to stay alive, living in the immensity of the wilderness as an outlaw lives in civilized society. The social bond, long since weakened, now broke. Already these migrants had no homeland, and soon they ceased to constitute a people.”
  • “Toward the end of 1831, I found myself on the east bank of the Mississippi, at the place the Europeans call Memphis. During the time I was there, a large band of Choctaws arrived (the French of Louisiana call them Choctas). These savages had left their native land and were trying to make their way across to the west bank of the Mississippi, where they hoped to find the refuge promised them by the American government. It was then the heart of winter, and the cold that year was unusually bitter. The snow on the ground had frozen, and enormous chunks of ice floated on the river. The Indians traveled in families. Among them were the wounded and the sick, newborn infants, and dying elders. They had neither tents nor wagons, only scant provisions and some weapons. I watched them embark for the voyage across the great river, and the memory of that solemn spectacle will stay with me forever.”
  • “The evils enumerated above are great, and to me they seem irreparable. I believe that the Indian race in North America is doomed, and I cannot help thinking that by the time Europeans have settled the Pacific coast, it will have ceased to exist.”
  • “The Indian, in the depths of his sylvan misery, thus nurses the same ideas and the same opinions as the medieval nobleman in his fortified castle, and all he needs to end up resembling him is to become a conqueror. Indeed, it is remarkable that the old prejudices of Europe are found today in the forests of the New World rather than among the Europeans who inhabit its shores.”
  • “When I note the resemblance between the political institutions of our ancestors, the Germanic tribes, and those of the roving tribes of North America, between the customs described by Tacitus and those that I was able to witness from time to time, I cannot help thinking that the same cause produced the same effects in both hemispheres and that in the midst of the apparent diversity of human things it is not impossible to find a small number of basic facts from which all others derive. In what we call Germanic institutions, therefore, I am tempted to see nothing other than barbarian habits, just as I am tempted to see the opinions of savages in what we call feudal ideas.”
  • “Washington, in one of his messages to Congress, said: “We are more enlightened and more powerful than the Indian nations. It is for us a matter of honor to treat them with kindness and even generosity.” This noble and virtuous policy has not been adhered to.”
  • “The Spaniards, despite acts of unparalleled monstrousness that left them indelibly covered with shame, were unable to exterminate the Indian race or even prevent the Indians from sharing their rights. The Americans of the United States achieved both results with marvelous ease, quietly, legally, philanthropically, without bloodshed, without violating a single one of the great principles of morality29 in the eyes of the world. To destroy human beings with greater respect for the laws of humanity would be impossible.” 

“Slavery” American Notes by Charles Dickens (Chapter 17)

  • “The third, and not the least numerous or influential, is composed of all that delicate gentility which cannot bear a superior, and cannot brook an equal; of that class whose Republicanism means, ‘I will not tolerate a man above me: and of those below, none must approach too near;’ whose pride, in a land where voluntary servitude is shunned as a disgrace, must be ministered to by slaves; and whose inalienable rights can only have their growth in negro wrongs.”
  • “Slavery is not a whit the more endurable because some hearts are to be found which can partially resist its hardening influences; nor can the indignant tide of honest wrath stand still, because in its onward course it overwhelms a few who are comparatively innocent, among a host of guilty.”
  • “But again: this class, together with that last one I have named, the miserable aristocracy spawned of a false republic, lift up their voices and exclaim ‘Public opinion is all-sufficient to prevent such cruelty as you denounce.’ Public opinion! Why, public opinion in the slave States is slavery, is it not? Public opinion, in the slave States, has delivered the slaves over, to the gentle mercies of their masters. Public opinion has made the laws, and denied the slaves legislative protection. Public opinion has knotted the lash, heated the branding-iron, loaded the rifle, and shielded the murderer. Public opinion threatens the abolitionist with death, if he venture to the South; and drags him with a rope about his middle, in broad unblushing noon, through the first city in the East. Public opinion has, within a few years, burned a slave alive at a slow fire in the city of St. Louis; and public opinion has to this day maintained upon the bench that estimable judge who charged the jury, impanelled there to try his murderers, that their most horrid deed was an act of public opinion, and being so, must not be punished by the laws the public sentiment had made. Public opinion hailed this doctrine with a howl of wild applause, and set the prisoners free, to walk the city, men of mark, and influence, and station, as they had been before.”
  • “‘Cash for negroes,’‘cash for negroes,’‘cash for negroes,’ is the heading of advertisements in great capitals down the long columns of the crowded journals. Woodcuts of a runaway negro with manacled hands, crouching beneath a bluff pursuer in top boots, who, having caught him, grasps him by the throat, agreeably diversify the pleasant text. The leading article protests against ‘that abominable and hellish doctrine of abolition, which is repugnant alike to every law of God and nature.’ The delicate mamma, who smiles her acquiescence in this sprightly writing as she reads the paper in her cool piazza, quiets her youngest child who clings about her skirts, by promising the boy ‘a whip to beat the little niggers with.’—But the negroes, little and big, are protected by public opinion.”
  • “What! shall we declaim against the ignorant peasantry of Ireland, and mince the matter when these American taskmasters are in question? Shall we cry shame on the brutality of those who hamstring cattle: and spare the lights of Freedom upon earth who notch the ears of men and women, cut pleasant posies in the shrinking flesh, learn to write with pens of red-hot iron on the human face, rack their poetic fancies for liveries of mutilation which their slaves shall wear for life and carry to the grave, breaking living limbs as did the soldiery who mocked and slew the Saviour of the world, and set defenceless creatures up for targets! Shall we whimper over legends of the tortures practised on each other by the Pagan Indians, and smile upon the cruelties of Christian men! Shall we, so long as these things last, exult above the scattered remnants of that race, and triumph in the white enjoyment of their possessions? Rather, for me, restore the forest and the Indian village; in lieu of stars and stripes, let some poor feather flutter in the breeze; replace the streets and squares by wigwams; and though the death-song of a hundred haughty warriors fill the air, it will be music to the shriek of one unhappy slave.” 

Next week we will continue reading “What God Hath Wrought” Chapter 5 

Week 4 :: Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville Chapter 3 and 4

Thought Questions

  • Our main book “What Hath God Wrought” is centered around the theme of transformation. How does Alexis de Tocqueville reflect this theme in Chapter 3-4?

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “Many important remarks could be made about the social state of the Anglo-Americans, but one stands out above all the rest. The social state of the Americans is eminently democratic. It has had this character since the birth of the colonies; it has it even more today.”
  • “In America, however, it is not only fortunes that are equal; equality extends to some degree to intelligence itself. I do not think that there is any other country in the world where, as a proportion of the population, the ignorant are so few and the learned still fewer. Primary education is within the reach of everyone; higher education is within the reach of virtually no one.”
  • “The principle of the sovereignty of the people, which to some extent always underlies nearly all human institutions, is ordinarily wrapped in obscurity. People obey it without recognizing it; if light should chance briefly to fall on it, they are quick to relegate it to the darkness of the sanctuary.”
  • “Then came the American Revolution. The dogma of popular sovereignty emerged from the towns and took possession of the government. All classes enlisted in its cause. People fought and triumphed in its name. It became the law of laws”
  • “There are other countries in which force is divided, being placed at once inside society and outside it. Nothing of the kind exists in the United States. There, society acts by itself and on itself. No power exists but within its bosom. Virtually no one is to be found who dares to conceive, much less to express, the idea of seeking power from another source.” 

Next week we will continue reading “What Hath God Wrought” in Chapter 2