- European Colonist Arrogance & Native Americans: Culture Clash from the Get-go
Native American’s idea of freedom was mostly different from the white man’s idea of freedom.
They saw land as a gift from God. Their “ownership” of land often was under a different description than the one that white settlers or even a multicultural society such as the one we live in today would write up and use today.
Some natives did not see their territory as anything they owned at all. It was home. It is where they lived. But it was all done in terms of community. The norms varied from tribe to tribe, sometimes ownership of a plot of land might be own by a woman in the tribe and be handed down through her family line. Still another tribe might have a system like one that Europeans would call the “commons” where the whole community could use the land. In the culture(s) where a person did not own the land the Natives who lived there respected their neighbors enough one tribe could walk across another tribe’s space and it wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow.
Native American definition of freedom would then be the freedom of movement anywhere he/she saw fit so long as he respects all the life, they came across this would have included plants, animals, and the earth itself. For them freedom would have been partly defined as being allowed to worship, and live as they see fit within their own social norms, cultural rituals, and laws.
Pomo Indians of Northern California lived in a “tribelet” configuration, and the tribelet owned their land. Their ownership lines were marked by words such as these: the land they owned was the land in which each “member traveled over, lived on, collected food from, and were buried in.” (1)
The Blackfoot elders often refer to their homeland as “the backbone of the World.” (3) When white settlers moved into their territory, they witnessed their territorial lands became fractionalized. The People found themselves having to move or assimilate with the new people who move in. (3 ) To this day, this Tribe sees the land in such a way that they have had posters made that say, “This land is my body…” (3 ) This is a good definition of how Native American’s see their relationship with the land. This definition permeates their whole culture, their entire lives was rooted in their land.
The point being that Native Americans had a well-established culture which handled the “law” and things like the idea of trespass, etc. Yet, they found it hard to grasp the idea of land ownership as described by the white people who moved in on them and started demanding the land. For most Natives, the land was not something that was bought and sold.
When European people came over to America to set up it’s new societies surely some of the first things, they did was to begin to establish boundaries. Be it a fence, or a hedge row, Europeans seemed quite versed in sectioning up land for personal ownership for each person who could either afford it via monetarily or if they were given lands for various reasons. For example, more than one of my Pilgrim Ancestor great grandfathers was granted a 20-acre plot during the Plymouth Colony Division of Land of 1623.
Once the sectioning off of land was begun by the invading Europeans it never stopped. It was persistent and continuous and went on literally for a three to four hundred years! It was a simply a matter of time before the stress of those who were descended from the European ancestors started to stress the Natives on their own homeland.
To make matters worse, those same European ancestors came over to North America with an attitude that there was no one else on the land before them. Therefore, it was their land to conquer as they saw fit. What they saw perhaps as land management, the natives might view as abuse of their mother. These attitudes put the two cultures at diametrically opposed points of view, ways of life at nearly every basic ground point there might be.
One of the many attitudes that the European’s brought with them was an arrogance in terms of other people and their belief systems, along with their way so life (culture, social). They seemed to look down their nose at persons of color, all of them. That included Native Americans, people of African descent, and people of Asian descent. This attitude is still often reflected in society today by some people.
This arrogance makes it easy to look at another person and decide for them how they should go about their life, as if you were their God! It is a form of patriarchal oversite that is run by the European self-elected rulers of North America.
So, if you decide that another person is below the level that see yourself at in terms of perhaps the ability to understand language, writings, laws, and religion then, it makes since that you would not only not want those persons to own property, or be able to vote, nor would you want those persons to have citizenship in your country. To grant a citizenship to a person in America comes with implied rights and responsibilities. If you cannot practice the responsibilities, then perhaps you should not have the rights. Add into the mixture what we call today discrimination, racism, the idea of supremacy and whole social ills and there you have an explanation for why this country went to war of the freeing of black people. It also explains why giving the Blacks, the Natives, and Women, and certain other Immigrants the vote would not work for European descendant self – entitled dictators of morality that ran our country then (and now!)
You ask me to plow the ground. Shall I take a knife and tear my mother’s bosom? You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it and be rich like white men. But dare I cut off my mother’s hair?
–Anonymous Native America, circa 1880s
- FREDRICKSON, VERA-MAE, Mihilakawna and Makahmo Pomo, People of Lake Sonoma., Page 6-7, (1984)US Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District. Accessed February 15, 2020.
- GREER, ALLAN. “Commons and Enclosure in the Colonization of North America.” The American Historical Review117, no. 2 (2012): 365-86. Accessed February 16, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23310740.
3. WEGNER, WENDY A. Gathering Tule: Cultural and Ecological Significance of Tule to the Nez Perce in Their Homelands University of Idaho, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017. (Page 13, 16, 17)
2. Civil War Soldiers Beliefs about why they were Fighting
According to the website historynet.com, “Men on both sides were inspired to fight by patriotism, state pride, the chance for adventure, steady pay. Union soldiers fought to preserve the Union; the common Confederate fought to defend his home. Later in the war, increasing numbers of Federal soldiers fought to abolish slavery, if for no other reason than to end the war quickly. Confederate soldiers sometimes fought because they feared Union victory would result in a society where black people were placed on an even footing with whites.”
Most soldiers knew that the integrity of the state of the nation was at stake. Some felt as if they were expected to serve. Author, and Historian, James McPherson came to the conclusion that Union soldiers were quite aware of the issues at hand. There was a commitment to emancipation within the rank and file. He wrote that, “…ideals like liberty, equality, and self-government” were not empty abstractions.” McPherson has pointed out that some soldiers went because they believed they were honestly defending their home and nation from invasion. Others he said, then went because they were afraid of the “shame of cowardice in the eyes of one’s peers.” They did not want to give in to fear or be seen as one who did. This historian also points out that were a great many conversations in letters and diaries, there were, “Heartfelt avowals of patriotism to well-informed and often quite sophisticated discussions of the Constitution, states’ rights, nationalism, majority rule, self-government, democracy, liberty and slavery.”
According to a textbook, The National Experience, in the North immigration into the nation had been going gangbusters for a couple of years prior to the breakout of the war. The North gave “strong inducements” as motivation for them to join the fighting forces. In the early stages of (Page 331) war many soldiers felt the call of Patriotism and joined up voluntarily. However, most of the Union Troops volunteered because there were generous bounties given. These bounties especially attracted those who were poor and/or unemployed. In March of 1863, the North instituted a draft and around 46,000 troops were gathered up in this way.
In looking over the American Yawp textbook, I found that most Union Soldiers believed they were helping to preserve the union. (Chapter 14, first paragraph)
In terms of the Confederate soldiers’ beliefs, David Blight points out in his book, Race and Reunion, on page 141-42 that most soldiers on both sides said they were fighting for “liberty.” On page 191, Blight quotes a couple of confederate soldiers who gave speeches after the war was over. Specifically, Colonel Richard Lee claimed that he did not fight for slavery, he never considered himself a rebel. He insisted that basically he and many others were fighting for personal and states’ rights.
According to historian James Ford Rhodes in his 1917, History of the Civil War, the people of South Carolina “…saw the election of Lincoln an attack on their cherished institution of slavery and cared no longer for political union with a people who held them to be living in the daily practice of evil. They regarded the slaves as property…” Some Confederate Soldiers were fighting for the right to keep the business and ownership of slavery alive.
According to an old textbook (that I have had since high school!), The National Experience, up to three hundred thousand men were brought in to be soldiers by the Confederacy. The conclusion about that is clearly up to nearly 1/3 of their fighting force was brought in as a compulsory action by the Confederate Government. They called this law The Conscription Act of 1862. I should note that many soldiers volunteered in order to avoid the stigma of being drafted.
And last, but surely not least, there were the black people who fought. William Henry Singleton, a former slave, ran away from where he had served a master and went to the Union side immediately and joined the military. Among all the reasons soldiers fought at least some like William Singleton joined to fight for freedom of his people and abolish slavery. [YAWP READER]
In conclusion, amongst folks who study the Civil War there seems to be an agreed-on idea that most of the soldiers who fought in the Civil war believed they were fighting for patriotic reasons.
Reasons beyond that run in the multitude. So far as I could tell, all the reasons were valid and reasonable. As a side note, I asked my husband an eight-year Gulf War Era veteran of the U.S. Army what the men in the Civil War believed in while they fought. His answer was Patriotism. Fighting for one’s country. He said he’d do it again if necessary.
THE AMERICAN YAWP READER, A Documentary Companion to the American Yawp
Stanford University Press, 2020
For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. By James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Race and Reunion, The Civil War in American Memory., By David W. Blight, Harvard University, 2001.
https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/17/what-union-soldiers-thought-about-the-civil-war Daniel W. Crofts, 17 October 2014, The New York Times
The National Experience, History of the United States, 4th Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. Blum, John M., Morgan, Edmund S., Rose, Willie Lee., etc. Page 329
The Civil War: Why They Fought., Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. James M. McPherson., 22 September 2011 Accessed: February 15, 2020 https://www.britannica.com/topic/Civil-War-Why-They-Fought-The-1793303