Magazine article Monthly Review

Settler Colonialism and the Second Amendment

Magazine article Monthly Review

Settler Colonialism and the Second Amendment

Article excerpt

The Anglo-American settlers' violent break from Britain in the late eighteenth century paralleled their search-and-destroy annihilation of Delaware, Cherokee, Muskogee, Seneca, Mohawk, Shawnee, and Miami, during which they slaughtered families without distinction of age or gender, and expanded the boundaries of the thirteen colonies into unceded Native territories.

The Declaration of Independence of 1776 symbolizes the beginning of the "Indian Wars" and "westward movement" that continued across the continent for another century of unrelenting U.S. wars of conquest. That was the goal of independence, with both the seasoned Indian killers of the Revolutionary Army and white settler-rangers/militias using extreme violence against Indigenous noncombatants with the goal of total domination. These forces were met with resistance movements and confederations identified with leaders such as Buckongeahelas of the Delaware; Alexander McGillivray of the Muskogee-Creek; Little Turtle and Blue Jacket of the Miami-Shawnee alliance; Joseph Brant of the Mohawk; and Cornplanter of the Seneca; as well as the great Tecumseh and the Shawnee-led confederation in the Ohio Valley. Without their sustained resistance, the intended genocide would have been complete; the eastern half of the continent was "ethnically cleansed" of Native nations by 1850, through forced relocation to "Indian Territory" west of the Mississippi.

The program of expansion and the wars against Native American civilization and the agricultural societies of the vast valley of the Ohio River and the Great Lakes region began before the Declaration with the French and Indian War of 1754-63, which was the North American extension of the Seven Years' War between France and Britain in Europe. 1 Britain's victory over France in 1763 led to its domination of world trade, sea power, and colonial holdings for nearly two centuries. In the Treaty of Paris, France ceded Canada and all claims east of the Mississippi to Britain. In the course of that war, Anglo-American settlers intensified their use of counterinsurgent violence, which the Anglo settler elite dubbed "savage wars," against Indigenous peoples' resistance to their incursions into the territories of the Ottawa, Miami, Kickapoo, and the confederations identified with Pontiac's leadership of the Great Lakes region, spreading to the Illinois and Ohio countries. By the end of the war, significant numbers of Anglo settlers had taken Indigenous lands beyond the colonies' boundaries, and land speculation was a road to riches for a fortunate few.

To the settlers' dismay, soon after the 1763 Treaty of Paris was signed, King George III issued a proclamation prohibiting British settlement west of the Allegheny-Appalachian mountain chain, ordering those who had settled there to relinquish their claims and return to the kingdom's thirteen colonies. Soon it became clear that the British authorities needed far more soldiers to enforce the edict, as thousands of settlers ignored it and continued to pour over the mountains, squatting on Indigenous lands, forming armed militias, and provoking Indigenous resistance. In 1765, in order to enforce the Proclamation line, the British Parliament imposed the Stamp Act on the colonists, a tax on all printed materials that had to be paid in British pounds, not local paper money. The iconic colonial protest slogan "taxation without representation is tyranny" marked the surge of rebellion against British control, but it did not tell the whole story, considering what the tax was for: to pay the cost of housing, feeding, and transporting soldiers to contain and suppress the colonies from expanding further into Indian territory. The complaints iterated in the Declaration largely focus on the measures used by King George to prevent his rebellious subjects from grabbing more land: "[King George] has excited domestic Insurrections [slave revolts] amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages [Indigenous nations resisting genocidal wars], whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions. …

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