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Essay: Exploring the Zero Opportunity of Colonial America: Native American Genocide, Trail of Tears and More

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Jarred Ligon

Mr. Grisham

U.S. History I

09 November 2018

Colonial America, The Land of Zero Opportunity

Between the first settlers of Jamestown in Virginia through the rebuilding of America after the Civil War, early Americans searched far and wide and fought tooth and nail at a chance to grab an opportunity to prosper by the horns and ride off into a successful lifestyle.  In the New World, there were arguably plenty of opportunities for the new colonists to make a name for themselves and establish the foundation for the new territory that they “founded,” but in reality, it was only the beginning of a forced downward spiral of the natives that inhabited this territory for many years, who were given no opportunity to progress through a land under the power of the unstoppable force controlled by the Crown.  From the New World to reconstruction after the Civil War, America was only a land of opportunity for rich, white colonists and aristocrats who only achieved their chances at opportunity by snatching the chance of growth within this society from the grasps of the Native Americans, slaves, and poor immigrants who could only dream of a chance to prosper.

Native American life before the colonization of America was that of humbleness, as they only desired the efforts of maintaining their normal lifestyle.  Their lives were “based on ecological or ecocentric thinking, [also known as] the need to live in harmony with the natural world” (Chang). They lived off of the materials and minerals from their own land with the help of their own spiritual guidance.  The Natives did not seek dispute with other nations; that was until the colonists of Great Britain forced their way into the Native Americans’ own land and took what was rightfully theirs to begin with. Colonists beat and killed many Native Americans in their path as they did not believe that the land they already lived on was the Natives’ land, but rather their land as they had superior weapons and colonial technology that made them far superior to the Natives. Before the slave trade with Africa, colonists even made these Native Americans as their slaves to forcefully harvest the crops and do the chores on land that was once theirs, but is now owned by the white man. This way of life for the Native Indians did not last for only a few years, but centuries thereafter, and it arguably still continues for them in modern society. These European colonists raided Native lands and villages as, according to Priyanka Kumar of The Washington Post, “native ways of life were all but obliterated by the end of the 19th century.”

The fact of the Native Americans having no opportunity was strongly reinforced when the 7th president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Andrew Jackson, who was the war hero of a general in the War of 1812, was the idiotic, uneducated, racist, poor excuse of a president who “ignored Supreme Court rulings supporting Indian lands and rights, and spearheaded removal of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes from their southeastern homelands”. This heartless act would force thousands of Native Americans, mainly Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole, to move Westward into what is now Oklahoma. Andrew Jackson wrote letters to these communities ordering them to stop what they were doing and surrender their land. This decimated the faith of the Native Americans, especially the Cherokee tribe. This act was so selfish and terrible to the that the Cherokee tribe “subsequently named [this act] Nunna daul Tsuny,” which translates into “Trail Where We Cried,” which was famously adopted into history as the Trail of Tears.

The Trail of Tears is regarded as one of the most tragic events in United States history, as over 50,000 Native Americans died due to circumstances such as extreme hunger, poor living conditions, exhaustion, diseases, and many instances of abuse by the same white settlers that were forcing them to move. In most cases, the Indians were forced to move in manacles, and the disease was more likely to kill them as they were affected by diseases such as dysentery, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. The people forcing them to relocate would also beat them into moving as if they were animals pulling a carriage. This could have been examined as an attempted extermination of the Natives by the white settlers, even though the Native Americans had been living in the modern-day United States long before these settlers set foot on the country’s soil. The Native Americans only wanted to farm the land they lived on and live in peace, but the colonists only wanted the land and rich resources that were under the control of the Native Americans, and the only way they were going to get it was to snatch it from the grasps of the Natives by force. The United States embarked on a journey of broken promises, false compromises, threats, and heartlessness to oust the Native Americans from the territory that was rightfully theirs into a territory in Oklahoma where they had no chance of prospering.

If the Native Americans had been given the chance of opportunity within the United States and been able to show off their technological ideas, the United States had a great chance of having beneficial technology and ideas that could have helped the country grow at a more rapid pace. Native Americans were very well known for their remedies for illnesses and injuries, and as the Oxford University Press explains, “Some pharmaceuticals were originally discovered in the course of investigations of botanicals that were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes” (Borchers). The more advanced Native American societies also formed their own form of self-government, as some of their ideas or practices can be related to the government of the United States today. The Natives also crafted their own weapons in order to hunt for food as their only source of food was game and gardening. Many Native American tribes would even create a system of currency where they would trade food, weapons, and utensils amongst each other. All of these ideas of the Native Americans could have been advanced further if not for the immoral actions of the United States government and the unfair treatment of these Native Americans.

In addition to the Native Americans, the United States was also a land of no opportunity for Africans during the slave trade. Slaves were treated as if they were pests while traveling to and actually working in the United States. The treatment of slaves from Africa varied from place and time, but in most cases the slaves were abused, degraded, dehumanized, and hated. African slaves were whipped and beaten by their owners and in some cases they were sexually abused or even raped. For women in the slave trade, Thomas A. Foster explains how “physical sexual abuse of women and girls under slavery ranged from acts of punishment to expressions of desire and from forms of forced reproduction to systems of concubinage” (Foster). This treatment of their female companions decimated the masculinity of African men, as they could not protect the women that they saw being abused for fear of being whipped or lashed. African men in the slave trade were punished by whipping, imprisonment, branding, or even mutilation. The punishment of these slaves was often a response to disobedience, but the owners or “masters” would also beat their slaves to assert their dominance over them. These slaves were dehumanized as they had to witness their spouses being sold at auction or beaten. The living conditions for these slaves was that of fear, as they had to endure strict discipline and submission while feeling inferior to their owners, as they were left helpless and dependent. Along with these living conditions, the working conditions for these slaves were also poor as in most cases the slaves were forced to work before sunrise to after sunset by their slave owners, and sometimes even more based upon the plantation owner’s need for supplies of their own. These slaves would even be simultaneously worked and beaten to near death, but the owners would not kill them, as they wished to preserve their slaves to repeat the work cycle all over again the following day, no matter how tattered or weak they may be from the beatings.

Excluding the few slave owners that gave their slaves the opportunity of some kind of education, African slaves were often denied any chance at an education of any kind. Slave owners constantly lived in fear of an uprising by the slaves or an attempted escape, so they planned ways they could reduce the risk of rebellions by slaves by eliminating any contact with the outside would. The owners wanted to destroy their slaves’ aspirations and hold any chance of prospering from them. This fear of rebellion and escape was why the education of slaves was discouraged by many, as there was a chance of them learning about the attempt of an abolitionist movement within the United States and the existence of free slaves in the North. Most Southern states prohibited the education of slaves. In most cases, slaves would teach other slaves in the form of storytelling and music to pass along information and cultural traditions.

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