27 March 2020

The final grievance in the Declaration of Independence

This is the 27th grievance against King George III:
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
The backstory for this grievance is discussed at length by a professor of history at the University of Oregon:
The 27th grievance raises two issues. The first, the king’s incitement of “domestic insurrections,” refers to slave revolts and reveals a hard truth recently brought to the public’s attention by The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project: Some of those who sought independence aimed to protect the institution of slavery. This was particularly true for Virginia slave owners, who were deeply disturbed by a proclamation issued in November 1775 by Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore, which promised enslaved people held by revolutionaries freedom in exchange for joining the British army. Virginians and other southerners feared that it would provoke widespread slave revolts...
Although the reference to the “merciless Indian savages” appealed to the “inhabitants of our frontiers,” Jefferson and others who signed the Declaration had their own reasons for detesting British policies relating to Native Americans and their lands... More than a decade earlier, in order to end a costly war to suppress an indigenous resistance movement led by the Ottawa war leader Pontiac, the king issued the Proclamation of 1763, which recognized indigenous ownership of lands west of the Appalachian mountains’ crest and prevented colonists from settling there... Jefferson’s denigration of “merciless Indian savages” signaled that the war for independence from Great Britain would also be a brutal war to seize indigenous lands.
More at the interesting article in The Atlantic.


  1. This endeavor to depict every moment of the United States in worst possible light is getting tiresome.

    The history of the United States and Native Americans is unarguably drenched in blood and betrayal, but the idea that the Revolution itself was a war of Indian Conquest is easily challenged by the Confederation Congress Proclamation of 1783 and later the Indian Intercourse Acts beginning in 1790, establishing aboriginal title to the lands in question and forbidding the alienation of those land rights save for a purchase approved by the federal government. The act was commented on by President George Washington thusly:

    "I am not uninformed that the six Nations have been led into some difficulties with respect to the sale of their lands since the peace. But I must inform you that these evils arose before the present government of the United States was established, when the separate States and individuals under their authority, undertook to treat with the Indian tribes respecting the sale of their lands. But the case is now entirely altered. The general Government only has the power, to treat with the Indian Nations, and any treaty formed and held without its authority will not be binding. Here then is the security for the remainder of your lands. No State nor person can purchase your lands, unless at some public treaty held under the authority of the United States. The general government will never consent to your being defrauded. But it will protect you in all your just rights.

    This does nothing to absolve the United States of its later crimes against the indigenous tribes, nor the mistreatment that specific states and communities would conduct. However the claim that the 27th Grievance is some sort of code-word for a war of conquest against the Indian tribes is easily disproved. (I am also skeptical that the British Empire which would subjugate the Indian subcontinent for more than a hundred years and use force or arms to make China to buy Opium would be so magnanimous towards the indigenous peoples of North America for very long, but that is just conjecture).

    Pardon the rant, but if there is such a thing as the opposite of "whitewashing" history, this is it.

  2. I sure hate to see the 1619 Project getting any attention. Any honest student of American history can see the flaws and failures of our Founding Fathers. However, a little bit of research demonstrates the struggle that was evident from the earliest days of America to right the wrong of slavery. Much American blood has been shed to make the ideals of the American Revolution available to all. The 1619 Project is a error-filled effort to rewrite history.

  3. Even though I am quite conservative, I have to disagree with my above friends, as well as some of the original post. The Proclamation of 1763 was more about Britain not having to continue to fight the Indians (the French and Indian War ended that same year). To continue fighting was to make an expensive war (one that gave rise to some of the very taxes that our forefathers rebelled against) even more expensive. Britain did not want to have to continue fighting to protect her colonies when just drawing a line at the crest of the Appalachians might keep whites from entering into dominions that would create problems.

    I will gently remind readers that the United States would treat with whomever would sign the a treaty, it seems. Certainly after winning the French and Indian War it was understood that colonists might have been quite upset to not be allowed the spoils of war just over the Appalachians. But once Britain was out of the way, we did much, much more damage to the Native Americans.

    The Indian Removal Act of 1830 can be interpreted as Jackson's desire to protect Native Americans from the ravages of the white man. Or it can be seen as simply moving the "savages" out so that whites could take some of the richest land that side of the Mississippi.

    Consider that the Treaty of New Echota, which involved a group of prominent Cherokees signing away native lands and agreeing to move west, was NOT signed by John Ross, the principal chief of the Cherokee. I have no doubt that the prominent men who did sign the treaty did so because they felt John Ross was not seeing clearly, and that the best attack was to make the best deal they could and head west. But be that as it may, the USA had no right to treat with a group that were not the official heads of the Cherokee nation.

    Consider how we would feel if China claimed that they had purchased Alaska from America because some Congressmen agreed to sell it to them and signed on the dotted line. We would be outraged, since it was not done by the president, was not ratified, etc. But that is pretty much what happened with the Cherokee.

    Some similar things happened with the Prairie Indians. You find one chief, perhaps a minor one (among many in a tribe), get him to agree to sell land, and--viola!--the land is considered sold, even though the other chiefs did not agree.

    I don't like looking back on the dark events in American history, but I am encouraged to know--as I tell my history students--that I believe we are the best nations...even if we are still a deeply flawed nation. The one thing that is to our credit in these matters, I believe, is that America's moral understandings evolve over time. A big part of this nation once thought slavery was acceptable (and I don't hold that against them, since I imagine folks a hundred years from now may wonder why we didn't embrace gay marriage, abortion, or the like). They were simply a product of their times. But over time, our moral views have evolved. We went from slavery...to citizenship for blacks...to integration, etc. No, it's not nearly perfect, but we're better than we used to be. And that is the good thing about America: We make progress, I think.

    Oddly enough, it wasn't blacks or women who were the last given the right to vote. It was Native Americans.


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