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Voices from the past

Immerse yourself in the conversations of the early 1800s. The complex and emotionally-charged issues of the day are addressed "in their own words" from primary historical sources. Each audio posting reflects the perspective of a unique individual regarding the expulsion of America’s Native people groups from their ancestral lands. Keep in mind that each selection is a product of the culture and time period in which it was produced. The values, motives, and mindsets from which these statements arose may seem unusual, outmoded, or greatly disturbing to us today. But understanding how everyday people wrestled with this complex and emotionally-charged issue can provide insight into the world around us and encourage us to evaluate our own personal guiding principles today. While an attempt was made to provide a wide selection of viewpoints in this series, logistical constraints prevent us from including every voice from the past.​

January 2020
00:00 / 03:41

Henry Knox: High Hopes, Shadows of Doubt

Excerpt from Secretary of War Henry Knox's letter to President George Washington, 1789

Questions for Discussion:

  • What characteristics did the United States' inaugural administration hope to impart to its Indian Department?

  • What assumptions about human nature and the United States' relational position to Native tribes does Henry Knox make?

  • If Knox's policies had been carried through to the letter in the subsequent century, would the course of government-Native relations be similar to or much different than how history actually unfolded?

Read the complete letter here.

February 2020
00:00 / 05:03

John Quincy Adams: New Land, Natural Rights

Excerpt from John Quincy Adams' commemoration of the founding of the Plymouth Colony, 1802

Questions for Discussion:

  • When he claims that the Pilgrims had obtained "unequivocal" rights to their land, who does he imply to be the authority that provided these rights?

  • If this "natural rights" argument is to be taken as valid, how might this impact our assessment of the expansionist actions of nations in the late 19th and early 20th century?

  • What foundational implications are embedded in Adams' view when he implies that the Pilgrims' purchase of Native lands was simply a generous formalization of the Europeans' natural right to it?

Read the complete speech here.

March 2020
00:00 / 04:17

John Woods: The Opposition

Excerpt from Ohio Representative John Woods’ speech to Congress, February 19, 1828

Questions for Discussion:

  • On what basis does Woods oppose this new era in the history of Indian removal?

  • While Woods decries the proposed bill as being for whites’ benefit only, how might debating the issue on a national stage obscure what the diverse interests of America’s tribes actually are?

  • What option does Woods’ solution give to tribes that wish to escape removal? What would the tribes fundamentally lose by taking advantage of his plan?

Read the complete speech here.

May 2020
00:00 / 04:24

John Ross: Our Right of Inheritance

Excerpts from Cherokee Chief John Ross's memorial to Congress published in the Cherokee Phoenix in January 1830 on behalf of his people.​

Questions for Discussion:

  • How are these arguments similar to and different from those we have heard from Euro-Americans?

  • Why would Ross have considered these arguing points to be the most effective in Congress?

  • How does Ross justify his tribe's legal right to inhabit their land? How might this compare with John Quincy Adams' opinion which we have heard previously?​

Read the complete memorial here.

July 2020
00:00 / 03:43

Henry Storrs: A Threat to Our Honor

Excerpts from U.S. Representative Henry Storrs' speech to the House of Representatives on May 15, 1830.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Why might National honor be such a strong argument for Storrs' comrades in the House of Representatives?​

  • Why might this honor and responsibility be seen as important for a young country when considering the international scene?​

  • How does Storrs tie in sectional politics to make his point?​

Read the complete speech here.

April 2020
00:00 / 04:09

Ladies of Burlington, NJ: Voices from Silent Citizens

A petition of the ladies of Burlington, New Jersey, presented to Congress on February 23, 1830.​

Questions for Discussion:

  • On what basis do the ladies of Burlington, NJ, claim to have a voice in this issue?

  • How similar are their arguments to those presented in our previous Vintage Viewpoints selections?

  • Do you think that their arguments would have been acceptable to the Natives they were trying to protect?

Read the complete petition here.

June 2020
00:00 / 03:51

Andrew Jackson: Laying the Groundwork

Excerpts from President Andrew Jackson's address to Congress on December 6, 1830.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Jackson promotes the Removal Bill as the only way to avoid subjecting tribes to the laws of state governments. How might this affect the bill’s technically voluntary nature?

  • How does Jackson use the concept of philanthropy to promote his argument? How might these concepts conflict with what we have heard from the Natives, themselves, in previous viewpoints?

  • Does Jackson’s fatalistic description of a passing civilization give an indication of his commitment to entire removal, regardless of Native interests?

Read the complete address here.

August 2020
00:00 / 04:34

David Crockett: Personal Observations, Independent Vote

Excerpts from the transcription of U.S. Representative David Crockett's address to Congress in 1830.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Crockett states that he is a proponent of removal.  What, then, is his reason to vote against the Removal bill?​

  • Representative Crockett fought and killed Indians during his service in the War of 1812.  Why didn’t his support of Native rights at this later point in his life constitute a contradiction in his mind?​

  • Davy Crockett was voted into the U.S. House of Representatives to promote the values, desires, and interests of his home state.  On a personal level, how might you view his decision to part with his constituents’ wishes in voting against a bill he personally believed was morally deficient?

Read the complete speech here.

September 2020
00:00 / 04:26

Cherokee Phoenix, 1830: Response to the Vote

Excerpts from the Cherokee Phoenix's June 19, 1830 edition regarding the Indian Removal Act.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Much space is given in this article to identifying the perceived hypocrisy of the United States’ lawmakers.  Which appears to have been more ominous in the eyes of the tribe: the law, or the mindset which enabled its passage?​

  • What aspect of the bill appears to have been considered a measure which would present the most immediate threat of swift removal?​

  • This statement was intended to reach not only a Cherokee audience, but a white audience, as well.  What message within this text was intended for these latter readers?




Read the complete article here.

October 2020
00:00 / 02:58

White Crow, Little Elk, and Little Priest: Morality, Authority, and Duty

Excerpts from speeches of the Ho-Chunk Nation, taken from negotiations during the treaty of 1828.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Based on these arguments, what key concepts of land ownership and rights were compelling to these orators?​

  • Frequently in Ho-Chunk oratory, belief in how the tribe was meant to be—in other words the way and place in which they were created to live—are often used to counter the changes proposed through removal.  How might this sense of God-given duty be different from moral duty as described in previous Vintage Viewpoints?​

  • The federal government looked at land transactions in terms of objective map-based ownership.   How does this map-driven approach seem to conflict with Ho-Chunk perception of such matters?

Read the complete article here.

November 2020
00:00 / 06:51

Juliette Kinzie: Expression in Fiction

Excerpts from a dialogue in Juliette Kinzie's fictional novel Mark Logan, the Bourgeois.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How would you reconcile these views with Juliette’s position as the wife of an Indian Agent? What loophole in her discussion would accommodate a conscientious Indian Agent, as she believed her husband to be?

  • What distinct arguments within this dialog can you pick out as being expounded by other viewpoints in our series?

  • Juliette wrote this at a time when the march of settlement and development had distinctly passed the Kinzie family by in favor of a new class of Chicago industrialists. Do the views which imply a preference to the days before settlement betray nostalgia on the part of the author whose prime of life was experienced during the early days before white settlement?

Read the complete book here.

December 2020
00:00 / 02:18

Isaac Bates: Looking Back

Excerpts from U.S. Representative Isaac Bates' speech on the Indian Bill in May 1830.

Considerations for Discussion:

An exposure to the spectrum of views on multiple sides of this 19th-century issue is an important way to learn from the lessons of history and understand the consequences of these arguments. We conclude 2020’s Vintage Viewpoints series with an 1830 speech by U.S. Representative Isaac Bates. His views bring no distinctly new perspective to the table, but the conclusion to his speech on the Indian Removal Bill provides a fitting end to a series dedicated to remembering the Vintage Views of two centuries past. As you listen, consider how it is the duty of all Americans to understand these realities of our history and carry the lessons learned into our civic responsibilities in the present.​

Read the full speech here.

Vintage Viewpoints 2020

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