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Native America in European
natural-rights philosophy

Natural freedom is the only object of the polity of the
savages; with this freedom do nature and climate rule
alone amongst them. . . . [T]hey maintain their freedom
and find abundant nourishment . . . [and are] people who
live without laws, without polic, without religion.

               --Jean Jacques Rousseau[1]

European philosophy has been profoundly influenced since 1492 by the values of people found in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Montesquieu, in his Spirit of the Laws, made use of African, Arab, Persian, East Indian, and Chinese concepts in his discussions of forms of government.[2] During the "Age of Discovery," Europe was not only exploring a world new to its people; these people also were opening their eyes to new ways of thinking, as well as helping themselves to material riches. Because of these intellectual imports, the "old world" also changed. Created of European wish-fulfillment, the image of the "Noble Savage" was created from the cloth of this imagery, fashioned by European philosophers, and often returned to the lands of its birth. Native societies, especially in America, reminded Europeans of imagined golden worlds known to them only in folk history. Specifically, Jack Forbes had contended that

[w]ith the writings of Rousseau, [and] Voltaire . . . we might suggest that the traditional folk democracy of parts of Europe became viable again when merged with the actual knowledge that there were functioning democratic/communalistic societies in the world. [3]

This reawakening of the idea of freedom and modern democratic ideals was born in "Native American wigwams because it was only in America" that Europeans from 1500 to 1776 knew of societies that were "truly free." Forbes asserts this even though he recognizes that American Indian intellectual influences are always denied as a "cardinal act of faith in European superiority." In spite of the failure to give credit to Native American people, Forbes states that "many Europeans reject all or part of the dominant European heritage and have" adopted democratic and environmentalist tendencies."[4]

As the seventeenth century ended, about 200,000 European colonists lived in widely scattered settlements along the Eastern Seaboard of North America. Travel narratives from America were flooding Europe, each with its own mixture of fact and speculation, reality and desire, describing whole new continents that Europeans were seeing for the first time. Shakespeare's plays also were being staged for the first time in England. John Locke had just published his most influential work describing relations between the individual and the state under "natural law." From the street, to the stage, to the salon, America was the talk of the day.

In this new environment, the colonists of English North America were influenced by Native American ideas of confederation and democracy. But the story does not end there. The assumption that American democracy evolved from the English parliament or from a perusal of European political thinkers must be tempered with the realization that writers such as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau derived ideas about democracy in a workable form from travelers' accounts of American Indian governmental structures. American Indian societies were working democracies that drew the attention, and often the admiration, of Europeans from the time of the first contacts.

The way European thinking was shaped by its "discovery" of the New World (as well as Africa and parts of Asia) also outlines some of its confusing contradictions. From the beginning, the Noble Savage was idealized in philosophy as his real-life counterparts were slaughtered to make way for "progress." That people deemed expendable could so profoundly shape European (and colonial American) thinking might be beyond a mind that does not take European assumptions for granted.

The Noble Savage was an apparition of European imagination, of course, but like any racial stereotype, it said as much about the very real drives, perceptions, dreams and desires of its creators as about the newly "discovered" Americans, themselves. The Noble Savage may have been a creature of imagination, but the influence of the concept on European thought was likewise very real, especially during the Enlightenment years which culminated with the American and French revolutions.

Like most stereotypes, that of the Noble Savage simplified a complex reality. It also created an image that was, paradoxically, both more and less than reality. More, because it ascribed to the natives more life, liberty and happiness than many of them actually possessed, creating a myth which imagined an autonomous wild man of the woods, ignoring the very real social conventions and traditions by which native Americans ordered their lives; less, because the image of the Noble Savage combined many dozens of peoples and belief systems into one generic whole.

And, as with most stereotypes, distance distorted the reality of the image. Thus, the image of the Indian created by Rousseau or Locke seems utterly more fantastical than that of Franklin, Jefferson, and other influential founders of the United States, who did diplomatic business with American native people in the course of their daily lives. These days, the Noble Savage is usually dismissed merely as a figment of imagination, ignoring the power the image held in the Enlightenment mind, and the impact of its appeal to influential thinkers of the time. What we, in the late twentieth century, take as reality mattered not one whit to John Locke or Benjamin Franklin. They saw with their own eyes, not ours.

Europeans came to America, in reality or only in imagination, seeking degrees of material well-being ranging from subsistence to extravagance -- and more intangible benefits, most having to do with some incantation of freedom. Conveniently, and perhaps not surprisingly, the immigrants found America, and its native peoples, rich in both. It also found opposition to its taking, of course, and so the image of the Noble Savage (like most stereotypes) also engendered its opposite, the "bad Indian," who stood in the way of the Europeans' destruction of the naturalness its philosophers so admired. They built churches in a place that was described to them as the Garden of Eden.

The image of the Noble Savage was abstracted from real human beings who became larger than life in European imagination, their mental photographs airbrushed of every pimple inflicted by a complex and sometimes contradictory reality. Many of the most prominent thinkers in Europe and America drank at this well in one way or another during the three centuries following Columbus' voyages -- each according to his own conceptions of the past, and designs for the future. Memory outlasted image, and image outlived changing American realities, which themselves had been reworked by desirous imagination, taking what had been real to its most logical (and often patently absurd) extreme. As a vehicle of dreams, the Noble Savage helped reawaken in Europeans a passionate desire for the liberty and happiness that so suffused Enlightenment thought, helping to ignite revolution on both sides of the Atlantic. Images can do such things to reality.

William Brandon finds Voltaire laughing at any talk of noble savages, "but his fake Huron in L'Ingenu (1767) sometimes echoed, and not always ironically, both Lahontan and Delisle, in spite of all Voltaire's efforts to keep him from doing so." To Brandon, "Voltaire mocked at himself for falling victim to such nonsense -- `My muse calls to you from America[, he complained]. . . . I needed a new world. . . . But I tremble that I'll be taken for a savage." At the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, the ultimate pragmatist Benjamin Franklin often found himself called by the same ironic muse.[5]

The French philosopher and essayist Montaigne has been most often credited with introducing the image of native America to the European world of letters, although a reading of literature produced by Spain's Golden Century can provide earlier precedents.[6] Montiagne, like Thomas More, penned his vision of utopia after hearing the stories of a traveler. Montaigne's essay, "Of the Cannibals" was written after the visitor had been in the New World roughly a decade, and had resided in Montaigne's home; More's informant was more of a chance meeting. More's work is fiction, with New World overtones; Montaigne's is philosophy, based on purported fact, but the results seem strangely similar. "Of Cannibals" sets a culturally relativistic tone as Benjamin Franklin would more than a century later in his "Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America": "There is nothing that is either barbarous or savage, unless men call barbarism which is not common to them."[7] To Montaigne, America's native people were civilized, in the purist way, in the original state of humankind, the state of nature, embodying "the most true and profitable virtues."[8]

Montaigne also helped set a standard for Enlightenment assumption when as he measured natural man in America against Europe's imagined Golden Age, wishing that Plato and Lycurgus could see it for themselves:

For me seemeth that what in those nations we see of experience, doth not only exceed all the pictures herewith licentious Poesie hath profoundly embellished the golden age . . . but also the conception and desire of Philosophy. They could not imagine a genuine so pure and simple, as we see by experience. [9]

Pure, simple, and free: three short but potent words sketched native America man to the the eye of the European Enlightenment. In our time recognized as a rather simplistic stereotype of humankind in America, these are the notions that framed the terms of debate that spawned revolutions. Whether founders of the United States learned such notions from European sages or from the living examples before them, it was American humankind that framed the terms of debate for Europeans just opening their eyes to the world.

Wrote Montaigne: "It is a nation, would I answer Plato, that hath no kind of traffick, no knowledge of magistrates, no knowledge of Letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politike superiorite; no use of service, of riches, or of poverty, no contracts, no successions."[10] And so forth. These words in numerous variations become very familiar -- they echo in time to Shakespeare's Gonzalo, who nearly steals Montaigne's lines thirty years later, thence to Roger Williams, Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, and Engels. Peter Martyr said much the same thing before Montaigne, as did Columbus. The portrait is overdrawn, of course, but some stereotypes grow out of a kernel of reality, and in this case, native societies in America provided the perfect vehicle by which to criticize contemporary European society -- and to help shape the images, desires and dreams of those rebelling against it.

If "traffick" can be taken to mean trade and commercial relations, Indian nations had it, although not through the likes of the East India Company. North America was criss-crossed by trails (many twentieth-century interstate highways follow similar routes), and indigenous peoples carried on small-scale trade across much of the continent. Many native peoples in the Americas also used written communication, although Europeans did not often recognize it as such. The wampum belts used to aid memory of the Iroquois Great Law of Peace utilized written symbols, although hardly in the manner that a European signs a check. The Mayas invented the concept of negative numbers even before the Great Law utilized written symbols, passing the mathematical concept to the Aztecs, so it may be fairly said that "no intelligence of numbers" misses something. Chieftainships were sometimes inherited, although not usually in the European fashion of a crown passing from head to pre-designated head. Native Americans did make contracts (in the sense that promises were kept), although not usually in writing, unless Europeans were involved.

For all his erroneous assumptions, Montaigne's stereotype illuminates the essence of a spirit that intrigued generation after generation of philosophers and revolutionaries as Europe opened is eyes to America: he acknowledges that native Americans live in "nations," which means they must have social and political relations. The character of these relations and the assumptions underlying them contrasted sharply with a Europe dominated by class and monarchy. While their social and political systems were not perfectly egalitarian, those of America which the English and French colonists knew were much more democratic than the societies from which they had come. The workings of such societies excited a tremendous curiosity among people searching for alternatives to monarchy.

Montaigne's Indians live in their own Eden, lacking the very words in their languages for "lying, falsehood, treason," and "envy." They live on a bountiful land in a temperate climate, with very little illness or deformity, "either shaking with palsie, toothlesse, with eies dropping, or crooked." Their language is musical, recalling "the Greek terminations."[11] Montaigne sounds a little like Gulliver, returning from the land of the Houyhnhnms. The French philosopher's witnesses are real, however, and his "other world" occupied by human beings rather than supremely rational horses.

What's more, Montaigne met and tried to converse with three American natives visiting the court of King Charles IX. Troubled by an uncomprehending interpreter, Montaigne surmised that France perplexed the three American natives. They asked the questions that fictional versions of Canassatego and Hendrick later directed at English audiences -- the same questions Benjamin Franklin later will characterize American Indians as asking about Europe: Why are some French "full-gorged with all sorts of commodities," while others are "hunger starved, and bare with need and povertie"?[12] Nearly as soon as Europeans opened their eyes to America, the Noble Savage began getting in his licks at every European-bred disease, deprivation and depravity. He dances through the literature of the Enlightenment, touching all that is imperfect and familiar with a magic wand of novelty that is perfect, if unfamiliar, turning civilization to nature, and the real to the ideal.

In fact, many European theorists compared the Iroquois to the Romans, the Greeks and the Celts in the areas of natural rights, statecraft, oratory, and public consensus. Hence, the process of colonial democratization that eventually changed the political systems of the world had important roots in Native American democracies. Furthermore, John Locke and others were inspired by the political examples of the peoples of the Americas, as well as England's revolution of 1688. Locke said, "the kings of the Indians in America" are not much more than "generals . . . and in time of peace they . . . have . . . moderate sovereignty." Locke added that decisions of peace and war were vested "ordinarily either in the people, or in a council."[13]

The English had been watching America unfold before their eyes for a century when John Locke published his Two Treatises on Government [1690], in which he emphasized that "natural peoples" lived in a state of liberty, but not license. Wrote Locke:

We must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of near perfect freedom, to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they see fit, within the bounds of the law of nature . . . a state also of equality, wherein all power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank . . . born to the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another.

But though this is a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license . . . the state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. [14]

Locke spoke the language of America, of Roger Williams before him and Thomas Jefferson afterwards, of missionaries, traders, and other travelers who had relayed back to Europe reports of the New World. All were part of the same trans-Atlantic river of ideas that helped reshape the political face of Europe, as well as that of the New World. Without the native peoples of the New World, the conceptions of "natural law" and "natural rights" that so empowered eighteenth century revolutionary movements might never have occurred. They would, at the very least, have worn a very different face. European images of America have been a major factor shaping political character on both sides of the Atlantic and, in so far as these models helped inspire others, around the world.

Locke wrote that all "natural men" forsake the natural state only by her own consent by forming a "community of government."[15] "In the beginning," wrote Locke, "All the world was America." When Locke wrote that American Indians illustrated living examples of the natural state, he was saying the same thing many of the United States' most influential founders would say almost a century later. Did Franklin, Jefferson, Paine, and others get their inspiration from Locke and other European philosophers, or from the societies with which they lived day by day? The question becomes impossibly academic after a time -- all influenced the others. The font of these ideas was native America, either way.

With such arguments, Locke pointed out the imperfections in his own native land (particularly the "divine right" arguments of James II), and he also sought a new vision of society in his reflections on humankind's natural state. While Locke believed that humankind's natural existence involved peace, goodwill and mutual assistance, he also stated that convenience and God made people inclined to gather into groups. Language and understanding facilitate the formation of groups. The missing component for human beings in nature is a settled, established common law, enforced by properly delegated authorities.

Humankind formulates a political or civil society whenever a number of people unite in one society (an individual's executive power is relinquished under the laws of nature) to form one people, one body politic under one supreme government. Through this theoretical assumption, Locke subscribes to a form of contract theory in describing the beginnings of society.[16] It is important to understand that the experiential process detailed in the formation of the social contract for the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy is the same as John Locke's ideas in this context, with at least one critical distinction. Locke's ideas were not accepted in an autocratic Europe of the late seventeenth century while the Iroquois had lived in such a democratic state for centuries.

Thus, the social contract theory of Locke critiques absolute monarchy as inconsistent with the basis for a civil society. If the prince holds legislative and executive powers, there is no appeals process. In such absolute monarchies of the "civilized" world, the subject is the slave of one person. But no one should be subjected to the political power of another without the subject's consent. When people form a society by consent of the individuals within it, they enter into an agreement to follow the dictates of the majority. After all, there is no real contract if one is left free and under no ties except those that bind him in nature. Although unanimity is nearly impossible, a measure of it can be obtained through debate and a balancing of opinions. Locke states that all governments of the world that had their beginnings in times of peace were instituted by the consent of the people.[17]

According to Locke, were it not for the corruption and viciousness of degenerate human beings there would be no need for any society but that derived from the state of nature. To Locke, the great and main end of people uniting into groups is the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates (property). Locke reasoned that property and the organized state were the means to effect coercion.[18] The concept of private property is one of the major differences between Locke and the Great Peace of the Iroquois since individual property rights are not a major concern among the Six Nations. It is worthy of note that in his Declaration of Independence, Jefferson substitutes "happiness", an idea he and Franklin found exemplified in indigenous American societies, for Lockean "property" in a trilogy of natural rights.

Locke's primary natural law, which rules the legislative authority itself, is the preservation of society for the public good of every person in it. The fundamental law of the commonwealth establishes legislative power. The English philosopher postulates that the power is not only supreme but also sacred and unalterable when placed in the hands of the people's legislative body. Because the legislature is limited to that which promotes the public good, it does not have absolute control and authority over the lives of the people.

Having once established a legislature, the British philosopher believed that the laws of nature do not cease to operate in society, but stand as eternal rules for all men, legislators and others. Consequently, the legislative power had no right to enslave, destroy, or impoverish its subjects. Government cannot rule by arbitrary decree and edict. Enduring laws are needed. Locke also enjoins the legislature against taking property without a subject's consent. Taxes may only be levied by the consent of the majority. Finally, the legislative or supreme governmental body cannot delegate the powers of lawmaking to other hands. The legislative body, not the prince, is the heart of the commonwealth. The legislative power embodies the will of the people, and the citizenry is the only judge of the capability of a government to act in a society's interests.[19]

Locke's political philosophy was not without practical implementation. In 1669 he incorporated some of his egalitarian ideals in the first constitution for the Carolinas. King Charles II had granted the Carolinas to a number of English nobles. Locke's patron, the Earl of Shaftesbury, was one of the grantees.[20] Surprisingly, the document does not have as democratic a spirit as some of Locke's other works.

Locke's intellectual critique shows that the old world was struggling politically and philosophically to throw off the trappings of absolute monarchy and its consequent abuses. Tribesmen in North America seemed to be free of such abuses. To the European observer, the Iroquois people, for example, not only had freedom but also a kinship state that insured the consent of the governed. There were many colonists who came to North America who were libertarian in their viewpoint and probably realized that the government of England was at best only an imperfect reflection of the promise of freedom.

By the end of the seventeenth century European philosophy, literature and popular culture displayed a great deal of fascination with Indian ways. Baron Lahontan in New Voyages to North America . . . wrote "A Conference or Dialogue between the Author and Adario, A Noted Man Among the Savages." Although written in French in l694, Lahontan's work was translated into English rapidly because of its popularity. The alleged purpose of the dialogue was to reveal Christian truths to Adario, a Huron. However, the real intent, like some of the passages from the Jesuit Relations, was to critique European society (and especially that of France) and its coercive laws.

Indeed, the key to the popularity of both the Jesuit Relations among the French people and of Lahontan in all of Europe was their revelations about the hypocrisy of European ways. On several occasions, Adario, the cosmopolitan Indian, advised Lahontan to "take my advice and turn Huron."[21] Adario pointed out (inaccurately)that in French society "The Great Lords . . . are slaves to their." King and he is the only Frenchman that is happy with respect "to that adorable Liberty which he alone enjoys."[22] In a similar manner, the Jesuits related to French people stories of Noble Savages, who were non-materialistic and possessed dignity and rights, distinct from the powers of the state. In an era of divine-right monarchies, this was a radical concept for Europeans. The Jesuits reported the strong family life of the American Indians and said the Iroquois "constituted but one family."[23]

Fascination with American Indian freedom did not end with Locke and Lahontan in the seventeenth century. Although the eighteenth century Enlightenment deified knowledge, the sciences and the arts, progress and civilization, it also boasted of the achievements of man. This intellectual smugness was destined to be shaken by Jean Jacques Rousseau. The French philosopher believed that the sciences and the arts were the fruits of indolence and luxury and a source of moral decay. Rousseau boldly asserted that man was, by nature, good and innocent. Therefore, morality was not the product of reasoned thinking but of natural feeling. He reasoned that a person's worth depends not on intellect, but on one's moral nature. The core of this nature is feeling.

According to Rousseau, goodwill alone has absolute value. Sentiments are important in mental life, and he denies that the development of reason brings about the perfection of man. If men are equal by nature, then society through private property has subverted that equality. Society in the eighteenth century had masters and slaves, cultured and uncultured, rich and poor, all as a byproduct of reasoned thought. Hence, western civilization had corrupted humankind's natural inclinations. Rousseau took pride that although he was well "known throughout all of Europe" he still preserved his "primitive simplicity."[24] With a penetrating logic Rousseau said that the products of corruption were the slavish and lordly vices; envy and hatred on the one hand and contempt, cruelty and arrogance on the other.

Such vices make life and society artificial and mechanical. Rousseau boldly states that since the origin of virtues and vices are to be found in social and political institutions, the only path for the improvement of society lies in bettering it.[25]

And to Rousseau, American Indian societies provided an object lesson:

Natural freedom is the only object of the polity of the savages; with this freedom do nature and climate rule alone amongst them . . . they maintain their freedom and find abundant nourishment . . . people who live without laws, without police, without religion. [26]

Riding such words, the Noble Savage slipped from the salons to become a mass preoccupation in the eighteenth century, a necessary evolution for ideas destined to end up helping to incite revolution on both sides of the Atlantic. Like Locke, Rousseau, following Montaigne, believed that the state of political and social life in America represented "the real youth of the world."[27] Thus, the interchange of ideas and examples between Europe and America provided "a laboratory for testing and elaborating theories of the Enlightenment."[28]

The concept of the Noble Savage was more of a hypothesis than a reality for Rousseau. His portrayals of people in the original state of nature stemmed from Rousseau's having read accounts of aboriginal tribes around the world. The French philosopher's Noble Savage is a social and political fiction that enables readers to understand an aspect of human nature that is operative at all times. Rousseau sought to isolate the essence and instinctive nature of man by departing from human nature as it is constituted in civilized societies and eliminating the influence of education and social intercourse. The essential nature of human beings is embodied in immediate feeling and the role it plays in binding everyone together. Rousseau holds that beneath the intellectual activity, science, art and other artificialities of civilization, it is feeling that binds people to a common purpose.[29]

This realization came long ago to the founders of the Iroquois Confederacy, Deganawidah and Hiawatha, when they talked of the need to share this concept in the kinship state and the Condolence ceremony. In the Iroquois Requickening Address of the Condolence Ceremony, Deganawidah salves the grief of Hiawatha for his dead relatives by saying, "I wipe away the tears from thy face . . . now shalt thou do thy thinking in peace." After restoring good feelings, Deganawidah says to Hiawatha that "Reason has returned; thy judgment is firm again."[30]

Rousseau's "return to nature" was not a naive plea to go back to nature and the simple life, but an attempt to reawaken, within the framework of a society, the necessary sentiments and feelings that nurture social justice and equality. The French philosopher wants to humanize governments and institutions in order to form a just and democratic society.[31] Rousseau believed that "nothing is more gentle than man in his primitive state" at equal distance from the brutes and the "fatal ingenuity of civilized man." In analyzing the primitive state, Rousseau recalled an axiom of the "wise Locke" that there "can be no injury, where there is no property."[32]

Through his philosophical inquiries aimed at critiquing French society and government, Rousseau had abstracted a philosophy in some ways similar to that which the Iroquois had developed through strife and grief and finally through the Great Tree of Peace (the Iroquois symbol government). Through experience, the Iroquois had recognized the importance of feelings in the Condolence ceremony and in diplomacy.

Rousseau differs from Locke in that he substituted direct for representative government. The Frenchman demanded political rights and free thought for all people. He took the Lockean ideal of democracy seriously. If all men are created free and equal, he reasoned, with the same natural rights and capacities, then there is no rationale for rule or inheritance by the privileged classes. This assertion was true to Rousseau for the aristocracy as well as the masses.

To Rousseau, education was the key to the creation of a more natural society. If the Noble Savage surrendered his freedom, he did so through a social contract in which he surrendered freedom for the liberty of citizenship. Freedom was defined as complying with a self-imposed law. Education was also a largely negative process, according to Rousseau, consisting primarily of removing unfavorable conditions so that the child could learn to distinguish between good and evil.[33] In the final analysis, the tools for improving people are the social environment and education.

To the French philosopher Voltaire, North American Indians typified freedom. Borrowing from Gabriel Sagard's work, Voltaire wrote a critique of French autocracy and hypocrisy through the eyes of a Huron. Indeed, the Huron told his French companions in Voltaire's "The Huron, or Pupil of Nature" that "I was born free as the air."[34] On the eve of the American Revolution, Voltaire felt free to use the American Indian as a symbol of freedom. He was, in fact, drawing upon extensive travel accounts over one hundred years old.

Essentially, like their nations' early industries, European philosophers took raw material from native America (and other tribal societies around the world), packaged it, and exported it around the world as natural-rights philosophy. The industries dealt with commodities, while Europe's philosophers packaged ideas. The Iroquois Constitution was a functioning political instrument in an established society rather than an abstract theory in a philosophical inquiry. However, the obsession with private property and land, especially on the part of Locke, proved to be a major point of disagreement and friction between the two societies. Often, the conflict between the two cultures centered around land and title to it. The controversy as to whether real freedom can be secured through other means than the communal ownership of property continues today. At the time of European contact the Iroquois Confederacy was a free tribal society practicing economic and political democracy. Thus, it served as a beacon of freedom while European nations were grappling with the concepts of peace and freedom in theory rather than practice.

It was easy for a political analyst such as Baron Lahontan to use the American Indian as a vessel to criticize the European system of autocracy and divine-right monarchies. From such accounts, Montesquieu observed that "all countries have a law of nations" including the "Iroquois . . . for they send and receive ambassadors" and they "understand the rights of war and peace."[35] Wilderness diplomats such as Franklin witnessed the Condolence ceremony and were exposed to the Great Law of the Iroquois as they read Rousseau's Social Contract other works by European philosophers. In England, a political thinker such as John Locke could declare that "for no such thing as money was . . . known," among American natives. Locke based such assertions about the New World on his reading of Gabriel Sagard's travel account entitled The Long Journey to the Country of the Hurons.[36]

The ideas of the Iroquois and other native peoples of Eastern North America conveyed an influence stretched from the western frontiers of the English colonies to the centers of European learning. Americans such as Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were at the center of this intellectual ferment. Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Locke influenced the American and French Revolutions, and they were a vital intellectual link between Europe and North America that paralleled in political thought, the economic nexus that bound the Indian and European together in the eighteenth century.

The transatlantic flow of ideas that reformulated conceptions of how societies should be ordered raises some fascinating questions that may be forever matters of debate: how accurate of native reality were travel accounts such as Sagard's -- what proportion of wish-fulfillment to actual knowledge of how native societies actually operated? Did the mixture even matter, if the Europeans who made a metaphor for liberty of a world so new to them believed what they thought they saw? A political idea does not have to be entirely accurate -- nor knowledge of it absolutely complete -- to have a profound influence on the course of intellectual history. Our next stop on this journey of ideas takes us back across the Atlantic, where Roger Williams combined concepts of religious and political liberty that he brought from England with what he found among the native peoples of New England, engendering debates that would echo a century after his death as America exploded in revolution.


  1. Jean Jacques Rousseau, cited in J.H. Kennedy, Jesuit and Savage in New France, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1950), p. 187.

  2. Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, The Complete Works of Montesquieu (London: Printed for T. Evans & W. Davis, 1777), I, pp. 27, 142.

  3. The Complete Works of Montesquieu (London: printed for T. Evans & W. Davis, 1777), 1:27, 142.

  4. For a fuller discussion of these concepts see Jack D. Forbes, "Americanism is the Answer," Akwesasne Notes, VI, 1, p. 37.

  5. William Brandon, New Worlds for Old: Reports from the New world and Their Effect on social Thought in Europe, 1500-1800 (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1986), p. 104. Brandon's treatment of French philosophy is more extensive than the brief sketch we present here, since Europe is his main focus.

  6. For a survey of Spanish precedents to the Noble Savage, see Benjamin Keen, The Aztec Image in Western Thought, (Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1971) See, for example, a forgery of Vespucci's letters published in Latin: "These people have neither King, nor Lord, nor do they yield obedience to any one, for they live in their own liberty. . . . They have no judicial system . . . live close to nature without religion; and do not work to obtain worldly possessions." Cited in Bruce Burton, "First Contact: Paradigm and Plunder in the New World 1492-1610 -- Vespucci, Columbus, Sir Thomas More, Montaigne, and Shakespeare," mss. draft supplied by author.

  7. John Florio, Trans., Montaigne's Essays [1910], (New York: Dutton, 1965), p. 218.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Ibid., p. 220.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Ibid., p. 228.

  13. John Locke, "Second Treatise on Government," in The Works of John Locke (London: Printed for C. & J. Rivington, 1824), IV, p. 402. John Locke, Works [London, 1824], pp. 339-341, cited in R.W. Frantz, The English Traveler and the Movement of Ideas: 1660-1732, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1934), p. 123. See also: John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, 1690, Chapter I-V. Reprinted in Charles Sherover, ed., The Development of the Democratic Idea (New York: New American Library, 1979).

  14. See John Mohawk, "Native People and the Right to Survive," Akwesasne Notes, IX, 2, p. 5.

  15. Cited in Frantz, English Traveler, p. 124.

  16. Locke, Second Treatise [Sherover, ed.], Chapter VI, paragraph 57.

  17. Ibid., Chapter VII, paragraphs 87-90.

  18. Ibid., Chapter XV, paragraph 173.

  19. Benjamin F. Wright, American Interpretation of Natural Law, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 1931, pp. 64-71.

  20. Benjamin P. Poore, comp., The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the United States (Washington: GPO, 1877), II, p. 1389.

  21. Adario is probably a fictionalized character, a literary foil employed by Lahontan to effectively present controversial ideas to Europeans. See Baron Lahontan, New Voyages to North America . . . (London: Printed for H. Bonwicke, T. Goodwin, M. Wooten, B. Tooke, and S. Manship, 1703), II, p.124, and see also Percy G. Adams, "Benjamin Franklin and the Travel-Writing Tradition," in J. A. Leo Lemay, ed., The Oldest Revolutionary: Essays on Benjamin Franklin (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976).

  22. Lahontan, Voyages, II, p. 146.

  23. Rueben G. Thwaites, ed., The Jesuit Relations [1896], (New York: Albert & Charles Boni, 1925 ), Vol. 41, p. 87.

  24. Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau (London: W. Glaisher, 1883), p. 422.

  25. Charles M. Sherover, ed., Of the Social Contract, (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), Book One, Chapters I and II.

  26. Cited in J.H. Kennedy, Jesuit and Savage in New France, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1950), p. 187.

  27. Cited in Benjamin Bissell, The American Indian in English Literature of the Eighteenth Century, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1935), p. 44.

  28. Lawrence H. Leder, Historians of Nature and Man's Nature, Vol. 4: The Colonial Legacy, (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 1.

  29. Ibid., passim, and see Bernard Sheehan, Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973), for an examination of these themes in a more distinctly American context.

  30. Paul A. W. Wallace, White Roots of Peace, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1946), p. 25.

  31. Sherover, ed., Social Contract, Book Three, Chapter VII.

  32. Jean Jacques Rousseau, "A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality," The Social Contract (New York: Dutton, 1950), p. 242.

  33. Sherover, ed., Social Contract, Book One, Chapters III and IV, Book Three, Chapters IV and V.

  34. See "The Huron, or Pupil of Nature," in The Best Known Works of Voltaire (New York: Literary Classics, 1940), p. 212.

  35. The Complete Works of Montesquieu (1777), I, Book I, Chapter III, "Of Positive Laws," p. 7.

  36. Works of Locke , "Second Treatise", IV, p. 366 and II, p. 410.

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