American Exceptionalism and the Myth of the Frontiers – 13: Notes and Bibliography

Author: Rajiv Malhotra.


1. John Winthrop made his famous sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” while on a ship to America in which he said the famous line, “wee must consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill . . .”

2. This trend started much earlier. Colony officials and opinion makers portrayed the Indians as barbarous, and adopted a policy of genocide and deceit. In 1624, for example, more than 200 Indians who had signed a peace treaty with the Colony were served poisoned wine and killed.

3. “In his earliest notebooks, Whitman was already piecing together a vision of the United States as a live organism, stretching from one coast to another . . . He was particularly interested in learning about the parts of the country he had never seen, and compiled notes on the flora, fauna, and natural features of each state. See “The Global Imaginary in Whitman’s Writing” at http://, accessed April 8, 2006.

4. There were at least three precursors to this notion from earlier Christian history: (1) The Book of Revelations, written in the first century after Jesus had mapped the Jewish apocalypse onto Christian history, good/evil becoming Christ/Antichrist, etc. (2) St. Augustine (fourth century) replaced this with a more sophisticated philosophy of the fight between City of God (i.e., the Christian Church) and City of Man (i.e., all non-Christians who were declared to be ruled by Satan), and this ruled mainstream Christianity until the seventeenth century. (3) By 1600 European science had become very confident of explaining nature through empiricism and hence undermined Augustine’s notion of nature as the evil domain of the Devil which had to be avoided with the new notion that nature could be captured by man. The seventeenth- century Anglican theologian, Joseph Mead, reinterpreted the Book of Revelation and developed what spread as a revived and reinterpreted apocalyptic millenarianism. This was also exported to America.

5. For instance, Samuel H. Cox, a leading Presbyterian minister of the 1840s, told an audience in England that, “in America, the state of society is without parallel in universal history . . . I really believe that God has got America within anchorage, and that upon that arena, He intends to display his prodigies for the millennium.” [Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition (1993), vol- ume 17, p. 408.] 6. However, Voltaire and major intellectual works of the enlightenment doubted this, and thought that Africans were a new species. See Eze (1997, p. 91). 7. Secularism’s link to Christianity has been widely described. See: “Eschatology,” in “The New Encyclopedia Britannica,” Vol. 17. pp. 401–408. Eliade’s deconstruction of modern Marxism as a Judeo-Christian myth is also very interesting. (Eliade 1957, pp. 196–207) 

8. Even going so far as to edit and truncate the Bible to among other things, remove references to the Divinity of Jesus and his miracles.

9. Based on the stories found in works of famous American writers like James Paulding author of “Westward Ho” which became a rallying cry for frontier America in the 1800s. Other writers using this device include Timothy Flint.

10. See Drinnon (1997, pp. 126–127 and 156–157) for examples of such changes of heart in White conscience keepers confronted with atrocity data.

11. Indeed to this day all over America there are many memorials and annual commemorations for Whites killed in “battle” with the Indians, but few indeed for countless the Native American patriots who were killed fighting for their lands and way of life.

12. “In 1816 Governor McMinn of Tennessee indicated . . . [that] the federal government should eliminate all general Indian claims within his State by ending tribal ownership. Individual Indians should be able to retain land and pass it on to their heirs” (Horsman 1981, p. 193).

13. “Our conduct toward these people is deeply interesting to our national character. Their present condition, contrasted with what they once were, makes a most powerful appeal to our sympa- thies. Our ancestors found them the uncontrolled possessors of these vast regions. By persuasion and force they have been made to retire from river to river and from mountain to mountain, until some of the tribes have become extinct and others have left but remnants to preserve for awhile their once terrible names. Surrounded by the whites with their arts of civilization, which by destroying the resources of the savage doom him to weakness and decay, the fate of the Mohegan, the Narragansett, and the Delaware [tribes on the east coast who were already ‘assimilated’ and destroyed] is fast overtaking the Choctaw, the Cherokee, and the Creek. That this fate surely awaits them if they remain within the limits of the states does not admit of a doubt. Humanity and national honor demand that every effort should be made to avert so great a calamity” (Horsman 1981).

14. “What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embel- lished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?” (Horsman 1981).

15. “Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country, and philanthropy has been long busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth . . . . But true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another” (Horsman 1981).

16. “In the monuments and fortifications of an unknown people, spread over the extensive regions of the West, we behold the memorials of a once powerful race, which was exterminated and has dis- appeared to make room for the existing savage tribes. . . . Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers” (Horsman 1981).

17. “After a harassing warfare, prolonged by the nature of the country and by the difficulty of procuring subsistence, the Indians were entirely defeated, and the disaffected band dispersed or destroyed. The result has been creditable to the troops engaged in the service. Severe as is the lesson to the Indians, it was rendered necessary by their unprovoked aggressions, and it is to be hoped that its impression will be permanent and salutary” (Horsman 1981).

18. “That those tribes cannot exist surrounded by our settlements and in continual contact with our citizens is certain. They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circum- stances and ere long disappear” (Horsman 1981).

19. See Drinnon (1997, pp. 95–98) on Jefferson’s often hypocritical stance on this issue.

20. Loewen is referring to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson, Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1945.

21. Gatlung (1990, pp. 291–305) defines cultural violence as “any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural forms.” Atrocity literature has been used by Americans to justify violence in a “guilt-free” manner.

22. In the ethics of Mahabharata, by contrast, war is to be conducted in accordance with its own dharma. Often the warring parties feasted together at night when war was ceased temporarily. This was a different ethos than American “savage war” where the end justifies the means once the other party has been demonized as a “savage.” U.S. arguments in the Iraq/Afghanistan War that the prisoners captured are not entitled to treatment under the Geneva Convention is a logic based on “savage war,” i.e., these combatants are “savages” and hence conventions of war are not applicable. 


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Rajiv Malhotra is an Indian American researcher, author, speaker, thinker and public intellectual on contemporary issues as they relate to civilization, cross-cultural encounters, spirituality, and science.  He studied Physics at St. Stephens College in Delhi and did his post-graduate education in Physics, View More

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