Dialogue and Public Discourse in William Apess's Indian Nullification

By Gaul, Theresa Strouth | ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly), December 2001 | Go to article overview

Dialogue and Public Discourse in William Apess's Indian Nullification


Gaul, Theresa Strouth, ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly)


Though Pequot author William Apess has recently begun to receive heightened critical attention, critics have been slow to examine his longest work, Indian Nullification of the Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts Relative to the Marshpee Tribe; or the Pretended Riot Explained (1835). As an analysis of the events of the Mashpee Revolt of 1833-34, Indian Nullification eludes easy classification, bringing together first-person narration, essays, letters, legislative petitions and transcripts, editorials, newspaper articles, and legal briefs. Called an "odd book" by Apess's most recent editor (O'Connell 165), Indian Nullification shows little reliance on the genres--autobiography and the sermon--which shaped Apess's other published works. It thus poses difficulties for critics seeking entree into this impassioned argument for peaceful and equitable coexistence between Euroamericans and Native Americans in nineteenth-century Massachusetts. (1)

The inventiveness and significance of Indian Nullification reside in the way the text itself enacts Apess's strategy for transforming political life in the United States. Just as he calls for a public sphere marked by a process of open dialogue, he allows debate to emerge within his text by placing pieces of varying viewpoints side by side. Apess includes hostile letters from opponents of Mashpee rights along with his own first-person defense of his motives. He places the legislative record of the Mashpee petition alongside legal briefs filed by the Mashpee's lawyer. He describes oral speeches by elderly Mashpee and inserts harsh, accusatory letters from the threatened white minister to the Mashpee. By placing all these materials together in one text, Apess emphasizes the existence of multiple and contradictory viewpoints. Simultaneously, he suggests that if these varied viewpoints can coexist within the pages of his book, they might also be resolved through the process of open dialogue in American society. Certainly if his book is expansive enough to bring the disagreeing parties into conversation, he implies, so should the expansive nation of the United States. His strategic use of intertextuality thus enacts the very model of toleration and open dialogue he seeks in the country's public life.

William Apess (1798-1839?), who was of Pequot, white, and possibly African-American ancestry, was separated early from his parents and raised largely by the white families whom he served as an indentured servant. During much of his childhood, Apess apparently knew little of the American Indians from whom he descended. After having received only six winters of primary school education, he served in the infantry during the War of 1812 and afterward roamed the countryside performing odd jobs and lapsing into bouts of alcoholism. First experiencing a religious conversion at the age of fourteen, Apess rediscovered Christianity around age twenty, married, and eventually became an ordained Methodist preacher in 1829. It is somewhere in the period after his military service that he appears to have reconnected with his American Indian heritage and developed his concern for those whom he called his "brethren" (O'Connell xxxv). His publications followed upon his commitment to his life as a preacher. His autobiography, A Son of the Forest, was first published in 1829 and revised in 1831. The Increase of the Kingdom of Christ: A Sermon and The Indians: The Ten Lost Tribes (1831), The Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe (1833), and The Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man (1833) were all published before Indian Nullification. His last publication, Eulogy on King Philip, appeared in 1836.

Most critical considerations of Apess's other writings have used his racial identity as the point of access into his writing. For some critics, Apess has failed to meet a standard of authentic Indian identity. Randall Moon attributes this tendency to discount Apess and to a "political unease" because Apess "writes too much like a white person, with no trace of a Native `voice,' and too Christianized to be recognized as an `authentic' representative of Native America" (52). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dialogue and Public Discourse in William Apess's Indian Nullification
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.