John G Bell


Fall '03 – Gomez & Unsel

Response Paper

Territorial Expansion and the Colonial Project: Dispossession of Native Americans.

A. Synopsis

The dispossession of the Native Americans was a process of political, social and economic expansion. The vanguards of this forced enculturation process were often missionaries and other philanthropic firms, followed quickly by the purveyors of technology. These advanced fronts were a kind of surface tension that both acted as ambassadors for the colonies but also acted as a bulwark holding back the flood waters of dispossession and land speculation. Eventually, in each case, the frontier would burst its dam and drown much of the previous population, leaving a new topology of white settlers with a few bedraggled survivors from the previous civilization behind.

B. Response

The use of European farming tools and African American slaves for farming by the Cherokee was an example of economic acculturation. Farming was already part of their culture, but they were convinced of the necessity for technology and capital investment by the colonists. This new reliance on the technologies of plow, slave and cotton gin all mirror the way that the never ending technological race in current agriculture has marginalized the small farmer.

By forcing a reliance on technology, it is the economic, banking and industrial systems that gain control over the eventual success or failure of the farmer. The farmers are systematically indentured to a cycle of upgrades for which they must mortgage their future production. This mortgaging then results in eventual foreclosure during inevitable periods when production is low or ruined. This just another boom-bust cycle that bankrupts small firms to the advantage of the large firms that are able to buy out interests in land, labor and capital at cut rate prices.

This economic “arms race” is a functional method of control, not just in agriculture or in the economic conflict with Native Americans, but in the larger context of foreign policy. The civilizing programs detailed in The Cherokee Removal are an example of ideological misdirection because “the change in economic values remained at its core.” [p25]

The paternalistic attitude toward the Native Americans was in some ways clearly stated as a program of economic and social change, but it was also subtle. The subtle part is that the real change was not so much a surface survival strategy as the rules of the entire game were changed. The Native Americans were forced to play a social, economic and political game that was rigged from the start, and this is the subtle lie. The well-meaning missionaries and other ameliorative programs merely hid the fact that the game the Native Americans were encouraged to play was rigged from the start. The civilizing programs, and those that pushed them, were pointing to success all the while disingenuously waving attention away from the looming failure behind the curtain.

Even if the Cherokee had not been forced off their lands, they were already indentured to the same economic system and technology that was the downfall of the southern states during the Civil War. They were both forced to play a game in which the economic and political winners had already been determined.

This massive campaign of interlocking social, economic and political paternalism that dehumanizes and marginalizes anyone that rejects the benefits of “access and progress of the new race of men” [p107] is a divide and conquer strategy that is just as willing to turn and feed on those that tried to acculturate when the time comes. This strategy of promising success all the while stacking the economic and social deck, leading to a cultural level collapse, appears to have been the model for much of foreign policy for the next 100 years. For example, there's a voice of dissent in the Islamic world that cries out against the way that imported American “civilization” undermines their society and values, and this is a clue the conquest continues.

C. Questions

p119-120 “What great man [sic] would prefer a country covered with forests and roamed by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic ...”

Not only is this a false dilemma, but I think I could say I would. Ignoring the false dilemma, I can't help but wonder how spectacular it would have been to

maintain extensive lands within states that were Native American nations. Also, what if there had been a national green space the size of several whole states? How different would this country have been if it had matured enough to leave these border countries alone? There's a certain mythic character to any border, spaces between worlds, and I wonder if there'd be more wonder and fascination if such spaces of difference had been radically protected to this day.


In Jefferson in Paris, Thomas Jefferson's contrary nature was portrayed as a man that espoused complex rhetoric to provide himself benefit and willing to act in self-serving manner under this cover. How much of our history is this same self-interested slight of hand? For current examples, one need only look so far as the current administration's use of terms like “Healthy Forests” for a timber industry windfall, or the use of language to distract and coerce the country to war in Iraq. But what about the way that the Federalists called themselves Federalist, when they were really Nationalists? This all suggests that the text we read that explain motivations, such as Manifest Destiny or the documents justifying the removal of native populations in The Cherokee Removal, all insisting on righteous and pure motives, were just as duplicitous and willfully misleading. This is more sinister than just appearing wrong and irrational at first blush. It's a kind of sociopathic, megalomaniac intentionality. How much of our primary evidence for any age is simply expedient propaganda, empty of the visceral righteousness we read in them and, thus, simply misdirecting us from noticing what's being done under that cover?


The disenfranchisement of all people but landed, white, male Europeans was pretty clearly an effect if not the goal of the structure of government in this country. Attempts to marginalize and neutralize opposition and dissent were clear in our reading of The Other Founders for example, but how does this really differ from the diorama of Cherokee governance where consensus was a function not so much of total agreement but of arguing until people were disenfranchised by withdrawing from the debate or leaving the meetings?