Imágenes de páginas


themselves oppressed by their inferior condition. Unable to perceive a single chance of regaining their equality, they give up to despair, and allow themselves to fall below the dignity of human nature.

This unfortunate effect of the disparity of conditions is not observa. ble in savage life; the Indians, although they are ignorant and poor, are equal and free.

At the period when Europeans first came among them, the natives of North America were ignorant of the value of riches, and indifferent to the enjoyments which civilized man procures to himself by their

Nevertheless, there was nothing coarse in their demeanor ; they practised a habitual reserve, and a kind of aristocratic politeness.

Mild and hospitable when at peace, though merciless in war beyond any known degree of human ferocity, the Indian would expose himself to die of hunger in order to succor the stranger who asked ad. mittance by night at the door of his hut-yet he could tear in pieces with his hands the still quivering limbs of his prisoner. The famous republics of antiquity never gave examples of more unshaken courage, more haughty spirits, or more intractable love of independence, than were hidden in former times among the wild forests of the New World.✽ The Europeans produced no great impression when they landed upon the shores of North America : their presence engendered neither envy nor fear.

What influence could they possess over such men as we have described ? The Indian could live without wants, suffer without cornplaint, and pour out his death-song at the stake.† Like all the other members of the great human family, these savages believed in the existence of a better world, and adored, under different names, God, the creator of the universe. Their notions on the great intellectual truths were in general simple and philosophical. I

Although we have here traced the character of a primitive people,

We learn from President Jefferson's 'Notes upon Virginia,' p. 148, that among the Iroquois, when attacked by a superior force, aged men refused to fly, or to sur, vive the destruction of their country; and they braved death like the ancient Romans when their capital was sacked by the Gauls. Farther on, p. 150, he tells us that there is no example of an Indian, who, having fallen into the hands of his enemies, begged for his life; on the contrary, the captive sought to obtain death at the hands of his conquerors by the use of insult and provocation.

† See 'Histoire de la Louisiana,' by Lepage Dupratz; Charlevoix, 'Histoire de la Nouvelle France ;''Lettres du Rev. G. Hecwelder ;''Transactions of the American Philosophical Society,' v. 1.; Jefferson's 'Notes on Virginia,' p. 135—190. What is said by Jefferson is of especial weight, on account of the personal merit of the writer, and of the matter-of-fact age in which he lived.

See Appendix, D.


yet it cannot be doubted that a nother people, more civilized and more advanced in all respects, had preceded it in the same regions.

An obscure tradition, which prevailed among the Indians to the north of the Atlantic, informs us that these very tribes formerly dwelt on the west side of the Mississippi. Along the banks of the Ohio, and throughout the central valley, there are frequently found, at this day, tumuli raised by the hands of men. On exploring these heaps of earth to their centre, it is usual to meet with human bones, strange instruments, arms and utensils of ail kinds, made of a metal, or des. tined for purposes, unknown to the present race.

The Indians of our time are unable to give any information relative to the history of this unknown people. Neither did those who lived three hundred years ago, when America was first discovered, leave any accounts from which even a hypothesis could be formed. Tra. dition,--that perishable, yet ever-renewed monument of the pristine world,--throws no light upon the subject. It is an undoubted fact, however, that in this part of the globe thousands of our fellow beings had lived. When they came hither, what was their origin, their destiny, their history, and how they perished, no one can tell.

How strange does it appear that nations have existed, and afterwards so completely disappeared from the earth, that the remembrance of their very names is effaced : their languages are lost; their glory is vanished like a sound without an echo; but perhaps there is not one which has not left behind it a tomb in memory of its passage. The most durable monument of human labor is that which recalls the wretched. ness and nothingness of man.

Although the vast country which we have been describing was in. habited by many indigenous tribes, it may justly be said, at the time of its discovery by Europeans, to have formed one great desert. The In. dians occupied, without possessing it. It is by argricultural labor that man appropriates the soil, and the early inhabitants of North America lived by the produce of the chase. Their implacable prejudices, their uncontrolled passions, their vices, and still more perhaps their savage virtues, consigned them to inevitable destruction. The ruin of these nations began from the day when Europeans landed on their shores : it has proceeded ever since, and we are now seeing the completion of it. They seemed to have been placed by Providence amidst the riches of the New World to enjoy them for a season, and then surrender them. Those coasts, so admirably adapted for commerce and industry ; those wide and deep rivers ; that inexhaustible valley of the Missis.

sippi ; the whole continent, in short, seemed prepared to be the abode of a great nation, yet unborn.

In that land the great experiment was to be made by civilized man, of the attempt to construct society upon a new basis ; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed im. practicable, were to exhibit a spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the history of the past.




Utility of knowing the origin of nations in order to understand their social condi

tion and their laws.—America the only country in which the starting-point of a great people has been clearly observable.--In what respects all who emigrated to British America were similar.—In what they differed.--Remark applicable to all the Europeans who established themselves on the shores of the New World.—Colonization of Virginia.—Colonization of New England. Original character of the first inhabitants of New-England.—Their arrival.—Their first laws. Their social contract.—Penal code borrowed from the Hebrew legislation.—Religious fervor.—Republican spirit. Intimate union of the spirit of religion with the spirit of liberty

After the birth of a human being his early years are obscurely spent in the toils or pleasures of childhood. As he grows up the world re. ceives him, when his manhood begins, and he enters into contact with his fellows. He is then studied for the first time, and it is imagined that the germ of the vices and the virtues of his maturer years is then formed.

This, if I am not mistaken, is a great error. We must begin higher up; we must watch the infant in his mother's arms; we must see the first images which the external world casts upon the dark mirror of his mind; the first occurrences which he beholds ; we must hear the first words which awaken the sleeping powers of thought, and stand by his earliest efforts, if we would understand the prejudices, the ha..

bits, and the passions which will rule his life. The entire man is, so to speak, to be seen in the cradle of the child.

The growth of nations presents something analogous to this ; they all bear some marks of their origin ; and the circumstances which ac. companied their birth and contributed to their rise, affect the whole term of their being.

If we were able to go back to the elements of states, and to examine the oldest monuments of their history, I doubt not that we should dis. cover the primary cause of the prejudices, the habits, the ruling pas. sions, and in short of all that constitutes what is called the national cha. racter: we should then find the exį lanation of certain customs which now seem at variance with prevailing manners, of such laws as con. flict with established principles, and of such incoherent opinions as are here and there to be met with in society, like those fragments of bro. ken chains which we sometimes see hanging from the vault of an edi. fice, and supporting nothing. This might explain the destinies of certain nations which seem borne along by an unknown force to ends of which they themselves are ignorant. But hitherto facts have been wanting to researches of this kind : the spirit of inquiry has only come upon communities in their latter days; and when they at length turn. ed their attention to contemplate their origin, time had already ob. scured it, or ignorance and pride adorned it with truth-concealing fables.

America is the only country in which it has been possible to study the natural and tranquil growth of society, and where the influence exercised on the future condition of states by their origin is clearly distinguishable.

At the period when the peoples of Europe landed in the New World, their national characteristics were already completely formed ; each of them had a physiognomy of its own; and as they had already attain. ed that stage of civilization at which men are led to study themselves, they have transmitted to us a faithful picture of their opinions, their manners, and their laws. The men of the sixteenth century are al. most as well known to us as our contemporaries.

America consequently exhibits in the broad light of day the phenomena which the ignorance or rudeness of earlier ages conceals from our researches. Near enough to the time when the states of America were founded to be accurately acquainted with their elements, and sufficiently removed from that period to judge of some of their results, the men of our own day seem destined to see farther than their predecessors into the se. ries of human events. Providence has given us a torch which our

forefathers did not possess, and has allowed us to discern fundamental causes in the history of the world which the obscurity of the past concealed from them.

If we carefully examine the social and political state of America after having studied its history, we shall remain perfectly convinced that not an opinion, not a custom, not a law, I may even say not an event, is upon record which the origin of that people will not explain. The readers of this book will find the germ of all that is to follow in the present chapter, and the key to almost the whole work.

The emigrants who came at different periods to occupy the territory now covered by the American Union, differed from each other in many respects; their aim was not the same, and they governed them. selves on different principles.

These men had, however, certain features in common, and they were all placed in an analogous situation. The tie of language is per. haps the strongest and the most durable that can unite mankind. All the emigrants spoke the same tongue; they were all offsets from the same people. Born in a country which had been agitated for centuries by the struggles of faction, and in which all parties had been obliged in their turn to place themselves under the protection of the laws, their political education had been perfected in this rude school, and they were more conversant with the notions of right, and the principles of true freedom, than the greater part of their European contemporaries. At the period of the first emigrations, the parish system, that fruitful germ of free institutions, was deeply rooted in the habits of the English ; and with it the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people had been in. troduced even into the bosom of the monarchy of the House of Tudor.

The religious quarrels which have agitated the Christian world were then rife. England had plunged into the new order of things with headlong vehemence. The character of its inhabitants, which had always been sedate and reflecting, became argumentative and austere. General information had been increased by intellectual debate, and the mind had received a deeper cultivation. While religion was the topic of discussion, the morals of the people were reformed. All these national features are more or less discoverable in the physiognomy of those adventurers who came to seek a new home on the op. posite shores of the Atlantic.

Another remark, to which we shall hereafter have occasion to recur, is applicable not only to the English, but to the French, the Spaniards, and all the Europeans who successively established themselves in the

« AnteriorContinuar »