The savages of America, like other men, have their predominant passions. They esteem war and hunting as almost the only pursuits worthy of a man … these constitute their highest point of honor, while every other labor of life is imposed on the women, who are no better than slaves. Hence they derive an excessive ferocity of manners, their resentment is keen, and revenge their most darling gratification.
This arises from their state of society, in which everyone is left to judge in his own cause, and to avenge his own wrongs. As they never forget a favor, so they never forgive an injury. Among the different tribes, the injuries of an individual are resented as national; the possession of a hunting ground is to them the possession of an empire, and these are the sources of frequent wars waged with the most savage ferocity.
The butchering and scalping of old men, women, and children, the torturing and burning of prisoners in cold blood with the most shocking circumstances of cruelty are among their pastimes. These are not secret acts of violence, are by none considered as wrong; they are public transactions, performed under what is to them, the law of nations.
—Nathaniel Chipman. Principles of Government; A Treatise on Free Institutions, 1833.
There never was a noble savage. Those who claim that the noble savage had no understanding of the European’s greedy concept of land ownership are quite wrong. The Indians who burned and scalped each other in disputes over hunting grounds knew very well the concept of ‘mine.’ What they lacked was the concept of ‘yours.’ That concept is not innate, it is a discovery of our reason. It arises from the Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. To develop it requires education, training, and reflection. It is what distinguishes a savage culture from a civilized society.
Chipman’s description of American Indians closely resembles Roman descriptions of the native Germans and Gauls. From our perspective, the Romans, with their conquests, slavery and gladiator fights, were only marginally less savage. It took Christianity, followed by the Reformation and the Enlightenment, to create the core of what today we call civilized society. A culture becomes civilized when its individual members become civilized. A civilization collapses when its individual members begin to ignore the Golden Rule and behave like savages. This can be seen today in Mexico, where drug gangs machine-gun policemen and their families while officials are bribed to look the other way.
There is nothing demeaning about being descended from a savage culture because everyone is. What is demeaning and patronizing is to behold an uncivilized people and suggest they can never be anything but uncivilized. It is to suggest they are incapable of respecting the Golden Rule and of embracing the rule of law. To do so, despite professions of respect, is to treat such people as inferior.