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Old May 12th, 2016, 05:10 AM   #1

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Why did early white Americans see Natives as "civilizable" & Africans not so?


Something that strikes me from examining the way that early white Americans (particularly the British colonists and later citizens of the United States of America) is that they seemed to view Native Americans and Africans/African-Americans as fundamentally different.

Are there any writings from that time period that expound upon why people seemed to treat these two ethnic groups in that way?

White Americans strove to Christianize and civilize the Natives and make them just like Europeans. They wanted Natives to build English-style villages and do English-style agriculture and speak, read, and write English. In the early days of the British North American colonies, they even treated the Native tribes as sovereign governments and dealt with them much the same way they would have dealt with the government of France or Spain or Prussia. Early white Americans were even comfortable marrying Native Americans and treating them as full and legitimate spouses, something that I don't think was ever remotely as socially acceptable for white Americans who wanted to marry black Americans (at least until after the Civil War, or more likely until the Civil Rights era).

With Africans, on the other hand, the Brits seemed to run roughshod over the African governments' sovereignty, just swooping in and snatching up Africans for the transatlantic slave trade. And when the Africans got to America, even if and when those Africans became free, there was a deep hostility to blacks. Even in the North, whites had little to no interest in educating blacks, teaching them to speak/read/write, not nearly as much interest in Christianizing them (as they had in Christianizing Natives), and many white Americans--far into the 19th century--seemed to think that there was no civilizing black people ever, that they were doomed to perpetual "savagery" and "ignorance". While the pro-slavery crowd envisioned third-class servitude as black people's eternal lot in life, even many of the abolitionist crowd thought the best case scenario was for blacks to all be deported back to Africa.

Why? What was the innate difference that white Americans saw between Natives and Africans?

Last edited by Hessian Historian; May 12th, 2016 at 05:17 AM.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 07:10 AM   #2
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I am curious where you received your information from? If books, I would love to read them or your internet research.


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Old May 12th, 2016, 09:01 AM   #3
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There was more of a color line between white and black than between white or black and Indian.

The slave traders usually did not violate African governments' sovereignty. The slaves were mostly purchased from African governments. The coastal kingdoms would buy weapons with some of the proceeds. The slaves were captured from other governments and tribes, many of them POWs.

There were also Indian slaves, who were obtained basically the same way. The Indians would sell the whites POWs or women and children taken in raids from other tribes. If you were a slave and you were part African, you were considered black. It wasn't possible to differentiate Indian descent from Indian slaves and Indian or white descent from slave owners or overseers. Many of the Indian slaves were traded to Bermuda, the Bahamas and elsewhere for African slaves.

The whites also attempted to civilize the Africans, teaching them Christianity so their souls could be saved and giving them work on farms and as domestic servants.

Last edited by betgo; May 12th, 2016 at 09:19 AM.
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Old May 12th, 2016, 03:16 PM   #4
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Quote:
Why did early white Americans see Natives as "civilizable" & Africans not so?
Was Gallup polling back then?
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Old May 12th, 2016, 05:52 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hessian Historian View Post
Something that strikes me from examining the way that early white Americans (particularly the British colonists and later citizens of the United States of America) is that they seemed to view Native Americans and Africans/African-Americans as fundamentally different.

Are there any writings from that time period that expound upon why people seemed to treat these two ethnic groups in that way?

White Americans strove to Christianize and civilize the Natives and make them just like Europeans. They wanted Natives to build English-style villages and do English-style agriculture and speak, read, and write English. In the early days of the British North American colonies, they even treated the Native tribes as sovereign governments and dealt with them much the same way they would have dealt with the government of France or Spain or Prussia. Early white Americans were even comfortable marrying Native Americans and treating them as full and legitimate spouses, something that I don't think was ever remotely as socially acceptable for white Americans who wanted to marry black Americans (at least until after the Civil War, or more likely until the Civil Rights era).

With Africans, on the other hand, the Brits seemed to run roughshod over the African governments' sovereignty, just swooping in and snatching up Africans for the transatlantic slave trade. And when the Africans got to America, even if and when those Africans became free, there was a deep hostility to blacks. Even in the North, whites had little to no interest in educating blacks, teaching them to speak/read/write, not nearly as much interest in Christianizing them (as they had in Christianizing Natives), and many white Americans--far into the 19th century--seemed to think that there was no civilizing black people ever, that they were doomed to perpetual "savagery" and "ignorance". While the pro-slavery crowd envisioned third-class servitude as black people's eternal lot in life, even many of the abolitionist crowd thought the best case scenario was for blacks to all be deported back to Africa.

Why? What was the innate difference that white Americans saw between Natives and Africans?
One of the answers is here:

https://www.quora.com/Why-were-Nativ...being-coloured
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Old May 13th, 2016, 04:50 AM   #6
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European attempted to enslave native Americans O am not sure they saw them as civilized or able to become European
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Old May 13th, 2016, 05:14 AM   #7
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European attempted to enslave native Americans O am not sure they saw them as civilized or able to become European
Yes, they attempted. There were also the "five civilized nations" in the southeast.
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Old May 13th, 2016, 06:36 AM   #8
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European attempted to enslave native Americans O am not sure they saw them as civilized or able to become European
In general, there was not an attempt to enslave either race. Individual Europeans bought or traded for slaves with individual African or American persons, tribes, or nations.

As I implied, a significant portion of the slaves were originally Indian. However, persons with any African descent were considered black.
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Old May 15th, 2016, 03:17 PM   #9

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Well I have no evidence to back this up, but I'll take a stab at theorizing.

The biggest difference in the two relationships to begin with is that the Natives were already here when the Europeans arrived and they needed their cooperation - and their help - in getting established in the New World. It was in the best interests of the European settlers to "civilize" these people (or rather, teach them European ways) in order to negotiate and trade with them - and yes, to exploit them. And if they civilized them, per se, they might have less to fear from them. Also, the settlers were able to observe that native populations already had a ruling hierarchy that they could relate to, so they could work within that structure. Powhatan, for example, was understood to be a king by the Jamestown settlers, and they interacted with him as such. It may also be that evangelizing (or civilizing) the native people was seen as a justification for encroaching upon them. "We're doing this for their own good" kind of thing.

With the Africans, on the other hand, it was self-serving in a different way. They were aliens who were subjugated and brought to the North American continent for the sole purpose of slavery. There was no need to "civilize" them for the use for which they were intended. The Americans weren't trying to negotiate with them, or annex their territories, or trying to live a peaceable coexistence with them. They didn't see them as a potential threat. They didn't have to civilize them to win them over because they already held the upper hand. In fact, regarding them as not being "civilizable" was probably a justification for slavery. By considering them lower on the evolutionary scale ("non-civilizable") they could regard them as nothing but chattel and use them accordingly. And since the Africans were brought to America by slave traders, the Americans were unfamiliar with their social structures as opposed to the social systems of the native Americans that they could observe and relate to.

Anyway, that is my theory!

Last edited by Lisalu; May 15th, 2016 at 03:21 PM.
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Old May 16th, 2016, 10:21 AM   #10

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Take a look at Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, the last chapter of Vol 1, Ch. 10 ("The Present and Probably Future Condition of the Three Races that Inhabit America") which deals with this area in detail from the perspective of a European in America around 1830.

Few at that time thought that the Native Americans could be civilized, and there was no agreement on what should be done with them.

Or with African slaves in America: at the time Tocqueville was writing, many or most people viewed slavery as an evil and the only question was what to do with the former slaves: northern states abolished slavery and then forbade Blacks from living in them, with the result that the southern US ended up with most Blacks. Tocqueville, a cultured European was against abolition, and against educating Blacks. He thought either they would remain enslaved or would kill all the whites.

BTW--I just finished reading this part of Democracy in America and have just come to appreciate what an achievement the US Civil Rights Movement was: today we whites and Blacks live together more or less amicably, even in the South, where Tocqueville predicted would be a racial bloodbath.

Last edited by David Vagamundo; May 16th, 2016 at 10:33 AM.
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