Unit 3: Religious, Philosophic, Political, and Historical Views that the Colonists Brought to North America and to the Revolution, and Cherokee and Other Native American Views and Responses.


The lecture below is divided into three parts, an Introduction poses the question of whether readers can understand the dual life of American Cherokee Indians. The second part looks at the European Background that settlers brought to North America. The third part looks to the Native American and Cherokee background as they encountered the white settlers. This part concludes with a further attempt to understand the dual life and views of Native Americans and Europeans.

Guiding Questions:

How did the beliefs and philosophies of Europeans predetermine their reactions to Native peoples in the Western Hemisphere?

What beliefs and philosophies helped determine Native American responses to the Europeans?

What impacts did Western Hemisphere life ways have on European intellectuals?

How did the encounter between natives and Europeans shape the views of each other’s people?


Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Describe the kind of dual life that Native Americans lead
  • Describe some of the important beliefs, ideals, and stories that European settlers brought with them to North America.
  • Describe some of the ways in which Native Americans were likely to view their relationship to the earth, to nature, and to a landscape scene.

Introduction to The Encounter Between Native Americans and Europeans.

Since I am part Creek, I would like to begin in my own language, Creek, with its own name: Mvskoke opvnakv. Next, I’d like to introduce myself: Holatte hulwvke cehocefkvt (My name is Blue). When I identify myself as Creek, I say, Hvmken este cute Mvskoke (“I'm Creek Indian”). Language, of course, is passed down to us. No one is born speaking any particular language and, so, it is important that my parents, family, and my nation taught me how to speak in my own language. It is good to remember this at the beginning of any lecture, so I say, Mvto vcululke (“My thanks to all that has gone before me”).

When we begin to talk about Indian history, sooner or later we must confront the fact that Indians were here first. That means that the Creek, the Cherokee, the Seminole, Iroquois and many other Native American nations and tribes were here long before any explorations, intrusions or settlement by white settlers and later immigrants. For thousands of years, the Americas had been nearly untouched from outside influences. The Native populace lived unaffected from isolated African and Asian contacts. The Norse colony after AD 900 had no lasting impact. Any European migrations, such as the Solutrean from the Iberian peninsula in Europe, were many thousands of years in the dim past.

Similarly, Europeans developed without major contact with the Western Hemisphere. European countries grew in population and developed technologies that expanded their economies as well as their domains. They only gradually reached out for overseas empires, first slowly groping their way along the coast of Africa. Finally, in October of 1492 the Europeans made contact with the Americas and those initial contacts became long-term colonization. Eventually, Europeans either built vast empires or founded new nations, like the United States and Canada, not to mention all the nations of Central and South America.

In Russia (later the Soviet Union), China, Africa, India and Australia similar expansions occurred, with lesser and greater successes. But in Africa, India, and China, by the mid-20th Century the European empires had disappeared and many of the Europeans had returned home. By the late 20th Century, the Soviet Union began to break apart and nations expressing the names of area ethnic groups formed: for example, Kazakhstan, “the stand (or place) of the Kazakhs.” Only in the Western Hemisphere and Australia has this roll-back not occurred.

I say this because it means that Native Americans live a kind of dual life: like me, they are inheritors of or surrounded by Western Civilization and languages and, like me and so many of my friends, they are inheritors of what was passed down to them from their families and their Native American nation or tribe. It is best to remember this dual life when speaking about Native Americans and their encounter with European civilization and culture. Each side of this encounter brought their own cultural beliefs, customs, technology and philosophies. That encounter has had reverberations down to the present. Perhaps if we consider these, we can all receive a better understanding of a dual life and the often unhappy history of the encounter between these two continental peoples.

European Background. The Bible is the most widely published book in the world. Early Europeans, if they could afford to own a book, would have owned a Bible, first. The Europeans knew their Bible, though they had many different religious sects with many different interpretations of it. They brought the ideas and stories of the Bible with them to the Americas and to Native Americans.

One idea was the Biblical migration of the Jews, out of the land of oppression in the Egypt of the Pharaohs to the “promised land” of Israel. These ideas can be seen if you read the Biblical selections in the webliography provided at the end of this lesson plan.

Another, later, Christian idea was the “city on the hill,” the idea that a new beginning for humans was possible in a new land. The idea was that people could form a new kind of community. You can get an idea of this by reading from John Winthrop’s “City upon a Hill” speech of 1640 ( These ideas remained very much a part of the American settlers’ experience and religious convictions as the nation grew. And they had both bad and good outcomes for Native Americans; e.g., Moravians brought that evangelical spirit early to the Southeast of the U. S. (1801), particularly in Georgia, where they had a lasting relationship and influence with the Cherokee.

Another book that does a very good job of describing the ideas that the Europeans brought with them is by Alexander de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. Tocqueville visited America in the early 19th Century when much of European settlement was well established, when a few of America’s Revolutionary leaders were still alive, and when the depredations that Native Americans had suffered were still very evident too. He could visit with Americans and learn of their hopes and democratic yearnings. He could observe Native Americans, see how they were expelled from lands that had been theirs, and understand their despair and beliefs.

Probably the most important idea in Tocqueville’s book is the idea of equality, the basis of democratic yearnings in Europeans. In your readings, you can see that Tocqueville seems to think that for Europeans, the idea of equality originated in the churches of the middle ages. Tocqueville also argued that there were two great influences on the settlers: “it is not the happy and the powerful who go into exile [from Europe to America;] poverty with misfortune is the best-known guarantee of equality among men.” And, “the soil of America [in its difficulty of cultivation] absolutely rejected a territorial aristocracy” (translated by George Lawrence, Harper & Row, 1969.) In short, Europeans soon came to adopt “a middle class and democratic freedom” even in their earliest colonies (see the webliography citation below.)

One other important development in Europe greatly facilitated the expansion of European peoples. This was the growth of technology. There appear to be three emphases: transportation, production in both agriculture and simple technologies that turned agricultural products into finished products (e.g., the spinning wheel), and military technology. (You might examine or; the latter is a detailed account of steel-making for tools used in very early colonial settlements.) Of particular importance was the development of ocean-going ships. (You may wish to get an overview, with a good bibliography at Many of these technological innovations were actually imports from other cultures but their combined effect in Western Europe led to heretofore unheard of technological advances making exploration, settling, and conquests a real possibility.

If we look to the Middle Ages/Renaissance background of Europeans, and if we do not count the first Viking settlements about 900 AD that had been withdrawn from the continent subsequently, we see that outward expansion begins after AD 1200, soon after the time Tocqueville ascribes to the rise of the idea of equality. We see increasing conflict among European nations and, with the plague, a population which had declined in the 14th Century by nearly 1/3. From the Iberian Peninsula, there was a gradual reaching out, first to islands off the Atlantic coast, and then down into Africa. Trade was a major motivation for outward expansion. By the 1490s Europeans had arrived in the Western Hemisphere. After 1502, Europeans arrived in India and South Asia, opening vast Asian markets. The Portuguese used force to secure trade with South Asia. Perhaps the greatest example of European expansionism and this search for markets is Magellan's circumnavigating voyage in 1519-1522. A sailor on that voyage who brought back a 17-pound sack of cinnamon from Asia could sell it in Europe for enough to buy himself a ship and become his own captain.

Early slave raiding and trading along the coast of Africa established preconceived notions about darker-skinned people as enemies and these ideas were brought to the new world. Shakespeare's final play "The Tempest" was performed in 1611. In the play, the script raises the image of a “Brave New World" with Trinculo speaking of kidnapped native exotic people being displayed in freak shows.
(; search on find function using ‘brave new world’ and ‘lame’.)

During this period there were a series of religious cataclysms that shook European societies. Martin Luther and John Calvin and the rise of Protestantism created internal turmoil within Christianity. And this turmoil was a very important reason that Europeans migrated. They sought a freedom from persecution for their group. Many settlers came, escaping religious persecution, while still enforcing orthodoxy within their own colonies, and, thus, the turmoil was brought to the new world.

While Tocqueville argued that no aristocracy developed in America, still the settlers did bring ideas of rank, privilege, and duty, particularly to the lord of the manor, with them. These ideas included the notion that serfs and commoners serve those above them. Behind this ranking was a hierarchical order: the great chain of being, with God at the top of the chain. Yet, hierarchical patterning of human society was not simply a religious set of ideas. Aristotle pointed out that there are a few leaders and a great mass of followers. European settlers were, of course, very much aware of lords of the manor and the economic poverty which being a peasant on a lord’s land meant. Not strangely, while trying to escape those patterns of poverty, they did bring with them the sense of hierarchy which they had lived with so long. Later, paternalism became a persistent theme emphasized in Federal Indian law in the United States.

Two ideas helped to break old patterns of oppression, while bringing new ideas and problems with them, too. The idea of individualism was strongly linked to capitalism. The early trading of mercantilism, mentioned above, gave way to the development of capitalism by mid 19th Century in America. Behind this, lay the desire for the acquisition of private property and accumulation of wealth. Philosophers such as John Locke, who were influential among American Revolutionary founders, had seen this natural desire as both an opportunity and a problem for individuals congregating as a people living together. You may see this problem and Locke’s solution in reading his chapter, “Of Property” (Chapter V, Second Treatise; see the webliography, below.)

The desires and some of the problems were evident from the first settlements. Jamestown was founded 1607 as a venture of a joint-stock company for profit. (The East Indian Co. followed with tea and other cargo; its red-and-white-striped corporate flag is one model for the Stars and Stripes later.) And, while Jamestown was generally a failure, the seizure of Indian lands was not. This seizure was accomplished through force, technology, and rationalizations, which will be discussed below, under Encounter.

Native American Background. Many of the documents that support this background, particularly those about the views of the natural world, can be found in Unit 2, particularly Lesson 2. I encourage you to use those materials. In addition, one view of the coming of the white man from a Cherokee perspective can be found in the Elohi (see the webliography below).

Natural World. Native Americans tended to center on oneness with the universe. Humans are just another contending species. Native Americans tended to stress unity with the natural world rather than separation from it. This leads to seeing a need for harmony in the universe. The Tonkawas' Gray Wolf, the culture hero of that central Texas tribe, cautioned them that if they ever took up agriculture, they would cease to exist, because they were hunters. The implication is that hunting was more of a oneness than agriculture. On the other hand, some Cherokee stories do stress the relation of their people to agriculture. For both views, you might look at Unit 2 materials on origin stories. You might also wish to compare this to Locke’s discussion in “Of Property.”

Native Americans tended to stress living for the community or the group. Individuality was frowned upon. One served the larger community; if not, the community would eventually cease to exist. Here, you might investigate evidence and different expressions of this emphasis on the group in Unit 1, Lesson 2 materials about the organization of Cherokee communities. The community depended on everyone’s help to survive and the focus of attention was on the group; conversely, there usually was not individual, but rather, group training.

Liberty and freedom. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, was enthralled with his understanding of the utter freedom that native people possessed in their beliefs and actions. He incorporated his view of their situation and his conception of their equality into his ideas regarding political freedom and liberty. He saw their social organization as having no kings, no hereditary privileges, no royalty – no onerous king, queen, vassals or serfs. If we examine the historical records of Cherokee which, though after contact, nevertheless reflect their traditions of social organizations, you find a complex historical situation. There is not one chief, but many, and there is not one Cherokee nation, but many Cherokee towns. Chiefs are important leaders, but they do not have powers of a king. (For further inquiry, see Unit 1, Lesson 2.) Throughout these towns there were traditional ways of deciding important issues such as war and peace. You might wish to look at Woodward or Mooney (in the webliography below) on Cherokee council and deliberation practices and weigh for yourself what made the Cherokee democratic.


Encounter Between Native Americans and Europeans
1492 changes everything. It is one of the most important events on the globe. For one thing, it opens up the Western Hemisphere for European settlement and exploitation.

Unfortunately, until well after Europeans were established in the Western Hemisphere, there are few Native American accounts of first contacts, cooperation, and conflict. Still, some of our better records of the encounter come from the Spanish conquests of Central and South America. The Spanish had a debate over the nature of these new exotic peoples, who were not mentioned in the Bible. During the conquest of Caribbean islands and Central America, reports of rapine by Spanish troops had upset the Queen. She appealed to the King who, in turn, asked Gonzalo Fernandez Oviedo y Valdes to argue a defense of the conquest. He wrote "A General and Natural History of the Things of New Spain." In it, he noted that when the harquebus (early rifle) shot a bullet out of the barrel, the smoke rising upward was incense offered to please God because another sinner (native enemy) had been killed and that soul sent to Hell. Gonzalo wrote that sincere Christians were pleased.

The debate prompted by the Spanish conquest was complex. Bartolome de Las Casas defended the Indian peoples as innocents, rather than as sinners. Francisco de Vitoria at the University of Salamanca in Spain formulated in the 1530s a series of statements that formed the basis for modern international law. He held that Spain had the right to be in the New World (called the right to sojourn -- the basis for later free trade doctrine), to re-supply, and while doing so to preach the gospel. If parents attacked Spaniards for trying to convert native children, then the Spanish had the right to defend themselves. (This position became the basis for just war theory). But, Vitoria also added that native peoples were human beings who had basic rights. He also added that neither Spanish royalty nor the Roman Catholic Pope had any right to claim native lands for Spain or any other European country since the natives owned the land they occupied. (For further background on Vittoria’s position and this European debate, see the bibliography below.)

One factor at the time played a crucial role in the success of conquest. Because of imported diseases brought by Europeans, the Western Hemisphere Native Americans were ravaged during the time which they were actively fighting off the invaders. In the end, disease and technological advantages combined with a determination to use force to conquer so that, at the time, Native Americans could not expel European occupiers, as Asia and Africa attempted to do later.

A story to be picked up in Unit 4 is the adjustment of Native American nations and tribes to the government of Europeans and the steady pressure upon the lands that they had occupied since time immemorial. One outcome of European settlement was the expression of Indian anger at the taking of lands – put into terms of argument that Europeans themselves used. It is useful, thus, to see the dual life of Indians, after the Encounter and while they were being evicted from their land. You might wish to look at Tecumseh’s speech on the “red men unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land” in Meredith’s A Short History of Native Americans in the United States. (For this and other versions of Tecumseh’s speech, see the webliography, below.) Another illustration of the dual life, which you might like to compare to Tecumseh’s view, is found in Cherokee Chief Old Tassel’s reply to colonial demands for more lands. (See the webliography, below.)

One odd way to see both the differing points of view about nature, technology, and even parts and wholes of one’s surroundings is to “role play” in an effort to think like a Native American and think like a European. The following example is from the 19th Century. Draw a steam engine pulling cars. Put in the smoke coming out of the stack, and in the background draw a few hills and a few trees. Now, when a European looks at your picture, what does the European tend to see? Or, put differently, if you show your picture – the whole drawing – to a European and ask, “what is this?” what answer will you get? How will a Native American look at and try to make sense of your same picture?

Two such thought experiments were actually done in the 19th Century as part of a casual meeting of Cheyenne and some white educators. The Cheyenne did not see “a train.” Rather, they saw all the surroundings and tried to make sense of the relationship between the train and the surroundings. In these encounters, after thinking about it, Native Americans tended to see technology as mysterious and magical. On the other hand, at a military prison in the mid-1870s where some Indians had been detained, several happened to witness a woman teacher who was pulling out her dentures (her set of false teeth). The Indians were horrified and complained that the woman was not a “good” person because she was not whole, she was missing parts of herself. As it turns out, the teacher had a companion, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famous author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, who was gagging with laughter over both her companion’s teeth and the Indian’s reaction to their removal. If the Indian saw technology as magic, the Western European saw a complaint about the false teeth as laughable.

We can sum up simply: Native Americans had no concept of industrial strength; technological developments like steam engines and false teeth were magic and mystery. Europeans were used to producing such technological wonders; they constantly developed new ones and were comfortable with them. On the other hand, Native Americans had a nearly sacred sense of both the wholeness of each person, as well as a well-developed sense of the relationship of each item in a visual field to the whole of the field. Europeans were, on the other hand, building railroads that cut straight across the land and cities that not only rose into the sky but later spread outward to gobble up large tracts of land, with little regard to the environment’s contours or its natural development. They developed medical processes and procedures which helped people, but were hardly natural. These dual views have not died away since the 19th Century. We are, now, very much concerned with the environment, what our part should be in it, how we are to live within it. Not only have natural medicines come to complement Western medicines, but we work on ways of exercise and therapy to restore natural functioning as completely as possible. Such may be part of the dual life that all of us are leading, now.

Carter Blue Clark
Oklahoma City University


Questions for Analysis:

Students are invited to use not only the lecture but the many textual sources provided by this lesson to form their views.

Form an opinion: Is the lecturer saying having a dual vision is an advantage or that people should have only one view? Are there problems in either position?

Compare the stories of origin and wandering (e.g., in the Elohi and the Bible) that the Cherokee and the settlers knew from their own traditions. Can you understand why each group might act in certain ways from the stories they know? You should feel free to use Unit 2 materials as well as the materials in the webliography, below.

Did Native Americans and European Settlers have similar or different ideas about either property or freedom? Begin with the lecture and, then, read and interpret sources provided by this lesson in the webliography below to answer this question.

How did Europeans regard Indian rights to land and to protection of person? Was there one view or many and can you outline and explain one or more views?

What do you think the point of the stories about the teeth and the picture is? Does this just have to do with two different points of view that happened long ago, or is there something deeper about ways of life, how two people can relate, or how two views can inhabit one person?

Optional Question for Discussion or a Paper: Tying the Units together:

There seems to be a suggestion in Unit 1 and 2 that the Cherokee both changed over time to adapt European customs and to adopt European practices, while still retaining their identity as Cherokee. Looking over all three lessons, it would seem clear that Cherokees came to have their “dual view” as both a people who are part of Western Civilization, yet separate and distinct within it. What resources have the last three units presented that make you think the Cherokee could have adapted, adopted, and yet kept a dual view?


The texts are arranged in terms of the approximate time-period of history that they are treating:

Cherokee Vision of Elohi. [Origin and Settlement] Ed. Howard Meredith and Virginia Milam Sobral. Noksi Press, Oklahoma City, pp. 33-34, which is one Cherokee of the settlement and defense by the Cherokee of their lands. Link to Cherokee Vision of Elohi document. Permission by Noksi Press granted. For this and further titles, see:

for Biblical readings, Select the King James version, most frequently used by European settlers during the period discussed.
  Exodus and the story of a transition to a promised land that the colonists brought with them: 1-4, God promises the land; 13:17 – 14:31, the Israelites leave Egypt, Israelite despair, God’s protection; 19:1-20:21, the Israelites receive God’s protection in exchange for obeying His covenant, including the Ten Commandments; Numbers 13:1-28, the Israelites arrive a the promised land; 33:50-56 the Lord instructs Moses to drive out the inhabitants of the promised land.

   The Journal of Christopher Columbus and widely available online. The journal of Christopher Columbus from his first voyage in 1492 commends the islands of the New World as inviting: “… these lands are most fertile, temperate, level and beautiful countries in the world…”
  Fransico de Vitoria available at his entry at Wikipedia: Students: be aware that Wikipedia articles can change their information very freely. Therefore, it would be wise to cross-check what you use and cite from this source with others, e.g.: For those who read Spanish,
  John Locke. Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 5, “Of Property,” NY: Macmillan Publishing Co, 1952, pp25-39. The Second Treatise is widely available on the internet.
  Cherokee Vision of Elohi. [Coming of the White Beings and Broken Unity of the Cherokee] Ed. Howard Meredith and Virginia Milam Sobral. Noksi Press, Oklahoma City, pp. 36-38, which is one Cherokee vision of the coming of the white race, involving first contacts, trading, and later demands for lands. Link to Cherokee Vision of Elohi document. Permission by Noksi Press granted. For this and further titles, see:
  James Mooney. Myths, pp. 250-252, “The Origin of Disease and Medicine,” a Cherokee parable illustrating the part rhetoric played in decision-making in Cherokee councils. Link to Rhetoric Origin of Disease file.
  Grace Steele Woodward, The Cherokees, pp. 40-45, on Cherokee war council deliberations and the practices inside the Council or Town House and the role of oratory. Also, on the role of women in decision-making in the councils, at the time of contact with European settlers. Link to Woodward file.
  “Speech of Onitositah” in “William Tatham Wataugun” by Samuel Cole Williams, Tennessee Historical Magazine, volume 7, issue 3, 1921, pp 176-178 Chief Old Tassel’s reply to colonial demands for more lands. Link to file of Old Tassel’s speech.
  The Declaration of Independence. Widely available.
  The Constitution of the United States, particularly in its form around 1830. Most versions will indicate when amendments were adopted, so determining the 1830 form is not too difficult. Widely available.
  Tecumseh’s 1810 speech on the “red men unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land” without rights to sell, in Howard Meredith, A Short History of the Native Americans in the United States. Krieger Publishing, 2001. Materials used by permission of Krieger (127-128). For a copy of the book, see . Meredith’s prefatory materials comment that “Tecumseh, of Shawnee and Muscogee/Creek heritage, spoke to the assembled authorities of the United States and tribal leaders at Vincennes, Indiana, concerning the place of the American Indian tribal communities in North America. In his speech, he challenged the concept of private property as advanced by the Anglo-Americans in their movement into Indian country. The encroachment of the Anglo-Americans into the Ohio River valley region caused consternation among the tribes. Tecumseh sought to unite all of the Indian tribes into a great force to curtail the intrusion and better define the tribal right to their homelands.” After reading either of the website versions of the speech, below, consider the following: Is Tecumseh opposed to the idea of property? Does Tecumseh think the idea of property is a settler’s idea? Does he think Indians do have or should have a concept of property rights?
For two textual versions, see: or
  Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, available at Author’s Preface and pp. 9-12, the growth of the idea of equality and its democratic and economic tendencies; Chapter 2, pp. 31-36, the elements and origins of American democracy; pp. 38-47, the influence of religion and law (that is, freedom) upon the early formation of American civilization. Are equality, religion, and laws ideas that are important? If you think so, which of these – if any – seemed most important, according to de Tocqueville, to the European settlers? Which, if any, seemed most important to the Native Americans inhabitants?
  John Marshall’s decision in Worcester v. Georgia. Several sources are of use, here:
  Howard Meredith, A Short History of the Native Americans in the United States. Krieger Publishing, 2001. Materials used by permission of Krieger. For a copy of the book, see
Meredith notes in prefatory materials to excerpts from the decision that “The Cherokee Nation and its allies, after being rebuffed by the President, attempted to use the United States court system to rectify the wrongs they perceived that were done to them. In the case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) it was decided that the United States Supreme Court could not bring an injunction to prevent the State of Georgia from asserting its laws over that of the Cherokee Nation. However, in the case of Worcester v. Georgia (1832) the Supreme Court decided that the Cherokee Nation was free from jurisdiction of Georgia law.” As a way to begin to think about the decision, students are encouraged to use the ‘thorpe’ website immediately below to find both the paragraph where that freedom from jurisdiction seems indicated and what the grounds were for any such freedom. Are there connections to philosophy or constitutional principles in this Unit that might help to understand the decision? It is suggested that the student readers read the first four paragraphs of the decision and, then, using the find function, search the character string ‘Indian nations had always’ to resume reading until the end of the decision. The second question at the end of this document is useful for student assignments or exercises.
An extract-summary of the decision appears on p. 10. An interesting classroom debate exercise is provided by the entire document.