This paper examines the civility and savagery of the American settlers and the Native peoples prior to and following the conflict. This is highly controversial due to the potential designation of the treatment of the Native population by settlers as an act of genocide. Stannard’s book, American Holocaust, addresses this issue directly and acts as the primary source for this paper. After examining the savagery and civility of both groups under study, a conclusion will be presented which offers a final statement on the contrast between the Natives and settlers.
A popular narrative amongst white settlers during the time of the initial conflict with Native Americans was the idea that small native populations tend to be savage in nature (Stannard, 1993). This view is partly due to differences in religion. Early white settlers were predominantly Christian. Christianity at the time was very hostile to those populations which were seen as paganistic or satanic (Stannard, 1993). The mark of civilization for the settlers was based upon religious culture and certain standards of social interaction. The Native American population at the time of the initial contact with the settlers was not in line with the social standards of the white Christians. For example, the nomadic lifestyle and primitive garb of the Native American population would have been quite shocking and unacceptable to the settlers.
In reality, the Native population was not as savage as the settlers believed them to be (Stannard, 1993). Many of the Native tribes had developed sophisticated social systems which included various marks of civility. This included tribal systems of government, divisions of labor, and trade practices. Therefore, the Native population could be considered quite civil by contemporary standards, however, the standards applied to the Native population by the settlers was intentionally skewed against non-Christian populations.
Though the settlers considered themselves to be quite civil, Stannard (1993) notes that the treatment of the Native population by the settlers was representative of the most extreme levels of savagery and hostility. The settlers instituted a policy of direct conflict with the Native population which included acts of genocide. In fact, Stannard (1993) argues that the settlers perpetrated the largest example of genocide in modern history against the Natives. This included both germ warfare and extreme acts of violence against Native Americans (Stannard, 1993). The settlers prior to their initial contact with the Native population were accustomed to this type of violence. Europe was entrenched in violence and conflict (Stannard, 1993). The disease has also spread throughout many European nations and had led to much death and pain throughout the European population.
When the settlers came to the new world, they brought their hostile environment with them. They used the excuse of religion in order to justify their reign of terror against the Native population (Stannard, 1993). The settlers instituted torture, rape, and slavery as weapons against the native (Stannard, 1993). The ultimate goal of these actions was the displacement of the Native population for the benefit of the settlers.
In conclusion, the Native population carried the label of savagery that was bestowed upon them by the settlers, however, it was the settlers who truly displayed savagery in their actions. The genocide carried out by the settlers against the Native population was exceptionally savage in its execution. It is simply a mistake to assume that the settlers were civil. History reveals that in fact, the Native population was quite civil whereas the settlers engaged in acts so hostile and brutal that they remain one of the most shocking examples of genocide ever recorded.
Stannard, D. E. (1993). American Holocaust: The conquest of the new world. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.