John Winthrop and Alexis Tocqueville have one important thing in common, the belief that the colonies and America were exceptional. Winthrop is famous for referring to the Massachusetts bay colony as the “City upon a Hill”, aforementioned by Jesus in Mathew 5:14 forever connecting America to being the land of the chosen. Tocqueville as a Frenchman who had seen the French Revolution however wrote of the United States, not as better than other countries or people, but as an oddity in a world of failed revolutions.
While the two men came to their beliefs differently and were essentially talking about a disconnected nation of colonies and an actual country, respectively, they both believed that Americans were something different. It was these two men, who others would later use as a source to justify their exceptionality, that begin the spirit of American Exceptionalism. Tocqueville believed that the United States was exceptional in the sense that it had managed to achieve what no other country not even his own had up to that point. The colonists had created a Democracy from the ashes of a monarchy.
The definition of Democracy was directly related to Enlightenment ideals of the 18th century. Enlightenment thinkers, such as Locke and Rousseau advocated for a Social Contract between government and the governed, and it was beliefs such as this that led the colonist to fight for a more Democratic nation. During this period educated men became concerned with ideas of equality, freedom, and the right to a representative government. Monarchies were questioned for their unfair treatment of people, and the lack of any real rights, even for wealthy men.
However, as the colonists were being enticed with ideas of iberty, enlightenment thinkers were questioning the origins of different races. As ideas of equality between men became popular, so too did the idea that non-white races were inferior. This spirit led to the removal of countless Native American tribes, and paved the way for justifications of slavery because the colonists were superior. It was enlightenment ideas that surged the colonists to revolt against Great Britain, expand westward, and create a nation of states, but it was these same ideals that resulted in the removal of Native American tribes, like the Cherokee.
While they were mostly negatively affected by colonization the Cherokee Natives did at times find ways to manipulate the colonists, and later Americans, and created a modern Cherokee nation with many benefits. It was during the Enlightenment era that ideas of Freedom, and equality between men arose, but it was also during this time period that people begin asking themselves as well each other why the differences, such as skin tone, were there.
It was an inquisitive nature that led many to want to discover new reasons for why the world was the way it was, and to many it made sense that an inferior race existed. These kinds of sentiments were not new however. and when the English first arrived to the New World there was a lot of tension between the colonists and Native American tribes. After the 1840’s, and considerable attempts to assimilate Native Americans into the United States, many people felt that because they were an inferior race they could never be civilized; it was therefore appropriate that they scum to the will of Americans.
They, the colonists and later Americans were the more civilized, better educated people of the two, they were also Caucasian, which Enlightenment thinker David Hume and others characterized as being the purest race. They therefore were essentially doing the Native populations a favor by taking their land and putting them on reservations. Few, if any, of the interactions between Natives, and colonists, were done to achieve equality between the two. All attempts at communication were to assimilate or destroy Native American cultures.
Enlightenment thinker Eze Manuel, describes the ideas of race as follows “Reason’ and ‘Civilization’ are synonymous with white people and northern Europe, while unreason and savagery are conveniently located between… nonwhites” This belief, that arose after enlightenment ideas of race which stated that some humans were inherently inferior or sub-human, created a justification for the removal and murder of Native’s. The Carlisle Indian School, founded by Richard Henry Pratt who once stated that the “The only good Indian is a dead one… that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead.
Kill the Indian in him, and save the man”. It was this belief that Natives were uncivilized, and in need of saving that made it okay for colonists to not only take their land, but murder them, take children and adults alike away from their home to civilize them in schools and reservations. Native Americans were severely affected by new ideas of race, and democracy. It was the idea that subhuman races existed that made Natives the subject of cruel and unfair treatment and it was an overwhelming desire of the colonists to become their own democratic nation that led them to seek new territories, which again imposed on ancestral lands.
Americans became preoccupied with settling new frontiers; the famous Manifest Destiny painting portrays this westward expansion best. Manifest Destiny, was the belief that AngloSaxon Americans has a providential right and duty to expand. * Despite the colonists’ belief that men were created equal, they gave little thought to the millions of Natives they displaced with their expansion. The Manifest Destiny term and painting portray westward expansion as a God given right that Americans had; it was because they were deemed fit by God that they justified their removal of Native tribes.
Around this same time period President Andrew Jackson ordered the mass removal of Natives from their land, in what would be known as the Trail of Tears, many however never made it to their destination and those who did were put on reservations. Despite their best efforts to remain their own sovereign nation, before Jackson’s removal, the Cherokee, had already ceded countless tribal lands for money they never got “In the end, the whole nation had to make bitter sacrifices of land and kingship loyalties in order to sustain their claim to sovereignty.
The Cherokee Native Americans are a prime example of the negative impact American Exceptionalism had on the non-traditional Americans. Not only was this group used to wage war against another Native American tribe, the Creek, for the benefit of French and British colonists, but they were also removed, and forced to cede, countless tribal lands in what we now know as South Carolina and Georgia. Colonists’, and later United States citizens’, justification, for this was that God had chosen them. Uncivilized people had no need for so much land, but the colonists with their pure religion and ideas of freedom did.
They essentially, and ironically, needed more territory to create a Democratic land, and the Natives were simply collateral damage. The idea of progress as seen by Americans, and best portrayed in the painting by John Gast, titled “American Destiny”, or more commonly known as the Manifest destiny painting, was of defeating the wilderness, and in this case the Natives were wild. . Both the South Carolina and Georgia governments fought countless battles with the Cherokee natives, because they wanted them out of the area.
It was because of increasing pressure by the Georgia government that the United States, and Presidents such as Polk and Jackson felt justified in their strong expansionist and anti-Native American policies. When President Jackson was elected the Georgia government was quick to announce the intrusion of Cherokee natives, and asked the President to solve their infestation problem. Jackson’s public justification for what would later be known as the Trail of Tears, was the Cherokee in Georgia had attempted to create their own nation, and government, within the states territory and that was against the law.
This blatant attack on the Cherokee tribe was only the climax of a long history of unfair treatment, and the United States government failing to live up to the many promises they had made the Cherokee, and other Native American tribes. It resulted in thousands of deaths, many Cherokees never made it to their destination, others who protested the removal were murdered, and those who did make it only had the life a reservation provided to greet them. Expansionism, was from the start of New World colonization, a part of American exceptionality.
More importantly, it became a right that colonists and later Americans had, at any cost. Not all aspects of colonization affected the Cherokees, by the late 1800’s Cherokee Natives had their own newspaper the “Cherokee Phoenix” and had adopted various American customs, such as dress and language. This newspaper was in English and in an Iroquoian language. It was the Native, Sequoyah, who created a Cherokee alphabet and made the newspaper possible. This newspaper was used to bring about awareness of Cherokee issues, to members of the nation, especially those farther from the South Carolina and Georgia areas.
From Europeans, the Cherokee received manufactured goods, such as guns which they used against the Creek and other enemies, as well as mirrors and a variety of vegetables. These items affected their diets, because they now had new foodstuffs such as potatoes, and could rely less on their traditional gathering ways. Many of the goods they received, such as beads and mirrors became a sign of status and resulted in new hierarchical dynamics within the Cherokee Nation. Since the Cherokees were one of the five civilized tribes there was some mix of the races between European and themselves.
By the late 1800’s some of these mixed-race natives would later grow cash crops such as cotton and had plantations manned by Black slaves, they like previously stated had their own newspaper, and a federal government system like that of the United States. Regardless of the benefits it can’t be ignored that the Cherokees were severely affected by American colonization and expansion. While the Cherokees were not simply victims of colonization and did in fact make gains, related to European colonization and later the establishment of the United States, they were still mostly negatively affected by these events.
In acquiring guns, however, and with two opposing European countries at war with each other, the Cherokees were intertwined into a global conflict and their way of fighting wars was dramatically changed. “Before the arrival of the French, it is unlikely that there was an Indian market for scalps… One Cherokee said he had little knowledge of the French but heard that they raised a constant cry: go kill and destroy” Many Native American tribes, besides the Cherokee, became reliant on the supply of weapons by European traders leaving them at the mercy of the French and British colonists.
Women who had traditionally been equal to their male counterparts were later excluded from the Cherokee Republic; decisions to trade, assimilate and cede land with the British and the French. This was in part to the increase assimilation of Anglo-Saxon ways and their traditional gender roles. Native Americans, holistically are portrayed as having a drinking problem, and in fact have the highest rates of alcoholism in the United States. This problem begins with trade with the British, in the early days of colonization, and in fact Jefferson, per Jill E. Martin, even asked congress to pass a law in 1802 that would prevent the sale of liquor to Natives.
The trail of tears has to be one of the worst events to ever happen on American soil, and while the Cherokee weren’t simply bystanders and victims, it cannot be denied that with expansionism and American exceptionality came destruction. In the beginning, it was ideas brought out by the enlightenment that justified the horrendous treatment of Natives. These ideas were that some races were inherently inferior and the belief that democratic ideals of equality and freedom only applied to Europeans.
Ideas of exceptionalism arose from John Winthrop and Tocqueville’s beliefs. Winthrop because the colonists were rebellious and innovative in their creation of a colony that would tolerate their extremist reviews. Tocqueville, because the colonists managed to create a Democratic nation. It was the combination of enlightenment ideas regarding race and the colonists, and Americans strong convictions of their exceptionality, that led to the subjugation of Native Americans, in this case Cherokee Natives.
The Cherokees were forever changed by the arrival of Europeans, and later the establishment of the United States. They lost, and were forced to cede their tribal lands, millions died because of disease and others were murdered, and eventually they came close to extinction because of continuous oppression. The Federal government has repeatedly overlooked issues plaguing Native Americans and has often been the instigator of problems they face, it is because of this long history of subjugation that Native American tribes are scarce, poorly funded and racked with problems of alcoholism, suicide and crime.