Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO WILLIAM TUDOR. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO WILLIAM TUDOR. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 23 September, 1818.
If, in our search of principles, we have not been able to investigate any moral, philosophical, or rational foundation for any claim of dominion or property in America, in the English nation, their Parliament, or even in their king; if the whole appears a mere usurpation of fiction, fancy, and superstition, what was the right to dominion or property in the native Indians?
Shall we say that a few handfuls of scattering tribes of savages have a right of dominion and property over a quarter of this globe capable of nourishing hundreds of millions of happy human beings? Why had not Europeans a right to come and hunt and fish with them?
The Indians had a right to life, liberty, and property in common with all men; but what right to dominion or property beyond these? Every Indian had a right to his wigwam, his armor, his utensils; when he had burned the woods about him, and planted his corn and beans, his squashes and pompions, all these were his undoubted right; but will you infer from this, that he had right of exclusive dominion and property over immense regions of uncultivated wilderness that he never saw, that he might have the exclusive privilege of hunting and fishing in them, which he himself never expected or hoped to enjoy?
These reflections appear to have occurred to our ancestors, and their general conduct was regulated by them. They do not seem to have had any confidence in their charter, as conveying any right, except against the king who signed it. They considered the right to be in the native Indians. And, in truth, all the right there was in the case lay there. They accordingly respected the Indian wigwams and poor plantations, their clam-banks and muscle-banks and oyster-banks, and all their property.
Property in land, antecedent to civil society, or the social compact, seems to have been confined to actual possession and power of commanding it. It is the creature of convention, of social laws and artificial order. Our ancestors, however, did not amuse, nor puzzle themselves with these refinements. They considered the Indians as having rights; and they entered into negotiations with them, purchased and paid for their rights and claims, whatever they were, and procured deeds, grants, and quitclaims of all their lands, leaving them their habitations, arms, utensils, fishings, huntings, and plantations. There is scarcely a litigation at law concerning a title to land that may not be traced to an Indian deed. I have in my possession, somewhere, a parchment copy of a deed of Massasoit,1 of the township of Braintree incorporated by the legislature in one thousand six hundred and thirty-nine. And this was the general practice through the country, and has been to this day through the continent. In short, I see not how the Indians could have been treated with more equity or humanity than they have been in general in North America. The histories of Indian wars have not been sufficiently regarded.
When Mr. Hutchinson’s History of Massachusetts Bay first appeared, one of the most common criticisms upon it was the slight, cold, and unfeeling manner in which he passed over the Indian wars. I have heard gentlemen the best informed in the history of the country say, “he had no sympathy for the sufferings of his ancestors. Otherwise he could not have winked out of sight one of the most important, most affecting, afflicting, and distressing branches of the history of his country.”
There is somewhere in existence, as I hope and believe, a manuscript history of Indian wars, written by the Reverend Samuel Niles, of Braintree. Almost sixty years ago, I was an humble acquaintance of this venerable clergyman, then, as I believe, more than fourscore years of age. He asked me many questions, and informed me, in his own house, that he was endeavoring to recollect and commit to writing a history of Indian wars, in his own time, and before it, as far as he could collect information. This history he completed and prepared for the press; but no printer would undertake it, or venture to propose a subscription for its publication. Since my return from Europe, I inquired of his oldest son, the Honorable Samuel Niles, of Braintree, on a visit he made me at my own house, what was become of that manuscript. He laughed, and said it was still safe in the till of a certain trunk; but no encouragement had ever appeared for its publication. Ye liberal Christians! Laugh not at me, nor frown upon me, for thus reviving the memory of your once formidable enemy. I was then no more of a disciple of his theological science than ye are now. But I then revered and still revere the honest, virtuous, and pious man. Fas est et ab hoste doceri. And his memorial of facts might be of great value to this country.1
What infinite pains have been taken and expenses incurred in treaties, presents, stipulated sums of money, instruments of agriculture, education, what dangerous and unwearied labors, to convert these poor, ignorant savages to Christianity! And, alas! with how little success! The Indians are as bigoted to their religion as the Mahometans are to their Koran, the Hindoos to their Shaster, the Chinese to Confucius, the Romans to their saints and angels, or the Jews to Moses and the Prophets. It is a principle of religion, at bottom, which inspires the Indians with such an invincible aversion both to civilization and Christianity. The same principle has excited their perpetual hostilities against the colonists and the independent Americans.
If the English nation, their Parliaments, and all their kings, have appeared to be totally ignorant of all these things, or at least to have vouchsafed no consideration upon them; if we, good, patriotic Americans, have forgotten them, Mr. Otis had not. He enlarged on the merits of our ancestors in undertaking so perilous, arduous, and almost desperate an enterprise, in disforesting bare creation, in conciliating and necessarily contending with Indian natives, in purchasing rather than conquering a quarter of the globe at their own expense, at the sweat of their own brows, at the hazard and sacrifice of their own lives, without the smallest aid, assistance, or comfort from the government of England, or from England itself as a nation; on the contrary, constant jealousy, envy, intrigue against their charter, their religion, and all their privileges. Laud, the pious tyrant, dreaded them, as if he foresaw they would overthrow his religion.
Mr. Otis reproached the nation, parliaments, and kings, with injustice, ungenerosity, ingratitude, cruelty, and perfidy in all their conduct towards this country, in a style of oratory that I never heard equalled in this or any other country.1
[1 ] Slight inaccuracies occur here. The deed is a deed of release, in 1665, from Wampatuck, the son of Chickatabut, deceased, of all lands in Braintree, with certain exceptions therein named, granted by his predecessors. The township was incorporated in 1640.
[1 ] A part of this history has been published by the Historical Society of Massachusetts, in their Transactions, vol. vi. of the third series.
[1 ] By comparison of this sketch of Mr. Otis’s speech with that taken at the time, vol. ii. pp. 521-525, as well as with Mr. Otis’s published writings, it is difficult to resist the belief that Mr. Adams insensibly infused into this work much of the learning and of the breadth of views belonging to himself. It looks a little as Raphael’s labor might be supposed to look, if he had undertaken to show how Perugino painted. It has a historical value independently of the generous endeavor to do justice to a man who had, at the moment, fallen into discredit and oblivion, most undeservedly. Later historians are giving him his fitting position.