On Balance, the British Conquest of Native American Lands was Justified
Thett3 has been wanting to debate me on this, so am happy to say I am challenging her on this topic.
This debate encompasses the time period of 1620 and onward of British/American conquest of what is now the mainland United States.
On Balance - All things into consideration; overall.
Conquest - Acquirement by force of arms.
Lands - Occupied area of ground.
Justified - Warranted or well-grounded.
1. BOP is on me.
2. First round is acceptance only.
3. My opponent agrees to all definitions.
4. No new arguments in final round.
5. No trolling/semantics/kritiks.
6. Maintain a civil atmosphere.
Looking forward to a great debate.
Thanks for accepting thett3.
Note by the resolution that I am arguing that the conquest of America is *on balance* okay. I'm not trying to justify individual actions such as the Trail of Tears, but rather look at the big picture of the historical outcome of American colonization and consider all aspects of what happened. I urge readers to cast away any preconceptions or biases in order to better understand the arguments brought forth.
C1) Theft and Property Rights
One of the many common statements that are made when one brings up the history of Native Americans and their situation with the European colonists is that "America wrongfully stole their land", and that alone implies that the injustice of the British pilgrims. In reality, there actually was no stealing of land. "Theft" requires that someone legitimately own something, so that it can illegitimately taken by someone. The issue is that the natives didn't own land, they occupied it. They had no perception of property rights - property rights was a concept that was brought to America by Western civilization, and has been what constitutes the legitimate ownership of land ever since. The natives held that property was the common land of all, and that it can be occupied by means of conquest.
Consider the scenario of the auditorium. When I "buy" a ticket for a seat for a theatrical play, I occupy that seat for the amount of time that the play goes on, but I don't own it. It's possession comes with certain duties and obligations, but only for the span of time that I occupy it. This example can be applied to the lands of the natives: each tribe occupied a bit of land for a certain amount of time until a stronger came through and took their land through means of conquest. Wars for land happened all the time between tribes, and the outcome was most often the dominant tribes winning over the weaker ones. The constant clashes among tries occurred since no one wanted to lose their land, but everyone understand that there was no root for complaint since it wasn't "their" land to begin with. If we examine the situation of the Sioux Indians, we find that the Black Hills they occupied were taken from the Cheyenne Indians, who took it from another tribe, who took it from another tribe and on and on. There is no legitimate accusation against the U.S. colonists because the land they took didn't actually belong to the natives that lived there last, or to the ones before. The Sioux obtained land in the same manner that all Indian tribes did: by defeating and displacing the previous inhabitants. As the natives used this form of conquest to obtain land, the U.S. used conquest to obtain land from them. Thus, we see that is no base for charging America with an "wrongful conquest ethic", since they did what all countries in the world have ever done to earn the land they are currently on.
We must also understand that the Indians lived on more land that they could possibly use or cultivate. What is unjust about Europe, an overcrowded area with explorers aching for exploration, colonizing America, which had much more land which wasn't being used? In order to better conceive of property rights we should turn to philosopher John Locke, the first to formulate such a doctrine of property ownership. He argued that labor adds value to land, and that nature by itself is essentially worthless. Human effort is what makes land worth more, and that as long as we can cultivate and develop an amount of land, we have a right to acquire as much as we can use to work on. For example, the island of Manhattan in 1626 was bought by the Dutch from the Indians for $24, or about $700 in our time. Today, Manhattan would be worth so much more, because the Europeans came and built a glorious and prosperous city. Since the natives didn't know about numerous resources such as gold in California, uranium in the Black Hills, or other minerals, but were just hunters gatherers who moved around the country, the land they occupied had little to no value according to Locke. The Europeans came and extracted the gold and uranium, making the land worth much more and pumping money into the economy and providing more valuables for the people living there.
Locke's interpretation of property rights is reliable because it makes the most logical sense. If we were to dictate who owns what based on a first-come, first serve system, that would unfairly award property to those who happened to reach it first. If I was the first person to America and claimed the land for myself, that would not be fair to others who could use my land better than I and could cultivate it for the benefit of all people.
One of the objections made against conquest is the battles and wars that occurred from it. This wasn't new, however, since the native tribes fought each other all the time. There were also many attacks made by the Indians on the European settlers that were unjust, such as the 1622 Jamestown Massacre in which 347 men, women, and children were slain. White pilgrims who traveled on the Oregon Trail in the 1800's sometimes dealt with the attacks of natives on themselves, leading to many battles and deaths. The Clark massacre and Whitman massacre were instigated by Indians and took the lives of many. By doing the research, we cannot conclude that the Indians were "savage victims" because they did many things that were wrong, and equally bad to some of the actions of the settlers.
Some people may point out that millions of Native Americans died out after contact with the Europeans, but this was a result of infectious diseases that wiped out most of them, and we cannot say that these were intentional or "genocide". Estimates say that during the smallpox epidemics, 80-90% fatality rates were responsible for the lives of the natives. The U.S. Bureau of the Census provided an estimate of the total deaths of the wars between natives and settlers: 19,000 white men, women, and children were slain. 30,000 Indians were also killed, but we must remember that the West had technology that was far superior to the Indian weapons, such as firearms and protective shielding. Had the Europeans not had this advantage, the deaths would have probably been the same. There is no reason to classify the natives as "victims" when bad things happened on both sides, but we can say that it is just for the natives or whites to fight back when being attacked.
As a result of British conquest of the United States, the Indians can take advantage of the modern civilization, technology, and opportunities that was brought by the West. Had conquest never happened, the natives would have mostly likely continued to live in teepees, chasing animals for their dinners. They could choose between being a chieftain, a hunter, or a medicine man. Now, they can be a CEO of a major company, they can make a profit being a butcher or some other hunting-related job, or a doctor or nurse and take college courses in order to become educated in the field of medicine. They can be businessmen, analysts, mathematicians, surgeons, or scientists. If there was no America as there was today, the Native Americans would continue living with high infant mortality, low life expectancy, and a low quality life, in which they would fight other tribes and live wildly. There no Western clothes, no Western technology, no Western medicine. Now, there are no more wars or battles, but all American citizens are protected by the government from such things. Everyone has an opportunity to achieve big and make the world better, instead of living in the uncivilized stone age that the natives would have lived in forever. Indians have the options to either live on the huge reservations the government has provided them or assimilate to the new civilization that the Europeans brought to America. This too demonstrates the justification of conquest as it shows how much better off the natives were as an outcome.
The resolution is affirmed.
We should look to the ethics of the actions taken to conquer British North America to determine if the conquest was just. Pro wants us to look at the results of the conquest so that we can invoke our status quo bias.
It's flatly impossible to determine what an unmolested Native American society would've looked like. Period. We can, at best, make speculations. I'll show why Pro's speculations are unlikely, but the more important thing to look at is that it's impossible to determine if actions undertaken four centuries ago are beneficial simply by looking at cherry picked "results". History doesn't work like that, the world as we know it would be so radically different without the British conquest that speculation on which world is better does nothing except to expose the biases of the debaters and readers. We can only look at whether an action is just or unjust on its own merits.
Most of my offense will come from turns off the Pro case--it's his BOP after all, but I'll make a small case of my own.
I. Cultural superiority
Almost all evidence we have suggests that life in Native societies was vastly superior to European life. The Omohundro Institute explains that: "By the close of the colonial period, very few if any Indians had been transformed into civilized Englishmen. Most of the Indians who were educated by the English - some contemporaries thought all of them - returned to Indian society at the first opportunity to resume their Indian identities. On the other hand, large numbers of Englishmen had chosen to become Indians - by running away from colonial society to join Indian society, by not trying to escape after being captured, or by electing to remain with their Indian captors when treaties of peace periodically afforded them the opportunity to return home."
Whites taken into Indian society loved it and never wanted to return, Indians taken into white society hated it and wanted to go back. Pro talks about maximizing "benefit", but there's nothing more beneficial than a life well lived. Who exactly was superior to whom?
a) Even if it was justified to conquer the Natives, the way the British conquered them was unjust. They used the Scots-Irish, a population they had oppressed and forced into poverty by evicting them from their home on the borderlands and onto poorly planned Northern-Irish "plantations" where they suffered grinding poverty, as human shields. So desperate were these people to get out of Ireland that they were willing to move to the back country and fight the Indians while the colonial elites sat safely in their coastal cities.
b) The British not only conquered the Natives, they enslaved a great number of them and, when these slaves perished, eventually indentured servants and African and Irish slaves.
c) The British utilized biological warfare.
d) The Americans, in an act of extreme spite and in an effort to starve innocent Indian civilians, slaughtered the Buffalo herds and almost drove the animal to extinction.
e) The "five civilized tribes" who had adapted well to modern society were evicted from their traditional lands when the Americans decided they wanted more. They were forced onto the trail of tears to Oklahoma where thousands died. Their ownership of this land was legitimate even under Pro's extreme Lockeanism.
f) The United States flagrantly violated almost every treaty it made with the Indian nations.
g) There is absolutely no evidence that conquest was necessary to gain Pro's benefits. Trade and limited settlement would've been a more just alternative.
h) The Indians committed no sin worthy of cultural genocide. At best for Pro, the conquest was amoral.
Hands down, the biggest issue with Pro's case is the painting of the Indians with far too broad a brush. In reality, the Natives constituted hundreds of tribes with a variety of cultures and hundreds of languages.
a) Pro's contention that Native Americans had no concept of property rights is flat out wrong and contradicted by his own example of Natives agreeing to sell their land to the Dutch. The Foundation for Economic Education explains how farming Indians utilized the concept of property.
b) Even if you buy Pro's argument that the Natives didn't privately own land, they certainly collectively owned tribal territory. There's no reason for communal ownership to have been considered any less valid, common land was an integral part of English husbandry until the enclosure acts in the late 18th century.
c) One can *own* property without having any concept of property. An infant who's parents died is not denied inheritance just because they cannot understand property. This right was well understood--when an infant or child would succeed the throne, their house would not be overthrown, instead a regency would be appointed until they came of age.
d) Pro argues that the Natives didn't actually own their land because they conquered parts of it too. This is another example of painting an entire race with too broad a brush. The Hopi Indians are estimated to have lived in approximately the same territory since 500 BC. Of course war-like tribes such as the Sioux were more likely to conquer territories, but until Pro proves that the majority of Indian territory was swapped back and forth constantly with no sense of ownership, the conquest was not, on balance, justified. Moreover, turn this argument: The Sioux invaded the Black Hills because they were "...pushed west out of Minnesota and Wisconsin by European settlers...".
e) Even if you buy Pro's argument that the Native Americans constantly invaded and took over each others land, which some of them certainly did, that still doesn't justify the outside party of England or the US taking it over, because the territory was still legitimately owned by the aggrieved party. Pro's logic would mean that Saudi Arabia has an equally valid claim to Berwick-upon-Tweed as England does because the town swapped hands between England and Scotland constantly.
f) Pro's argument that the Native Americans were constantly fighting and scrabbling for territory is contradicted by his argument that "...the Indians lived on more land that they could possibly use or cultivate." Which is it?
g) Pro argues that we should defer to Locke. First, Pro doesn't justify why we should care about what Locke has to say. Locke thought rights come from God. Is Pro prepared to defend the necessary theology to support this claim? The claim that land is inherently worthless is obliterated by the existence of entire societies that lived through hunting the boundless buffalo herds, and even if we buy this argument we still vote Con because the Natives did farm and utilize their land. The pilgrims survived because an Indian farmer taught them how to work the land.
h) Pro justifies Locke by arguing that we should give land to people who could create the most benefit. This justifies the conquest of the United States by a vegetarian foreign nation because we could feed 800 million more people by refraining from raising livestock. Pro also gives no metric to measure benefit. This is untenable and not what Locke actually argued.
a) This is a purely defensive argument. I don't contend that Natives were all peaceful "children of the Earth", many were warlike. Atrocities were committed on both sides.
b) Cross-apply my argument that the British used a historically oppressed population to do the dirty work of fighting for them, which was unjust.
c) Pro's argument that smallpox killed most of the Native population makes the conquest even more unjust. Already not a match between equals, with disease raging conquering the Indians was a matter of kicking a people while they were down and had little opportunity to fight back. There is also at least one documented instance of European settlers utilizing biological warfare against their Native enemies.
a) Pro has yet to prove why we should prefer to look at these issues using consequentalism. Prefer my framework where I argued that since assessing the effects are impossible, we should look to the ethical underpinnings of the actions themselves. If I murder a man, the action is unjust. Maybe his grandson would've been a new Hitler, but we'll never know. History already happened, and we have no way of telling which world would be better.
b) There is absolutely no reason to assume that Native American cultures would've been unable to develop into modern societies without European "help". The five civilized tribes were well on their way to doing so before their lands were taken and they were forced into poverty. The Aztecs created a powerhouse civilization who's cities even had running water, a commodity unknown in Europe. Pro gives no evidence of white superiority in creating societies. I challenge Pro to name a single civilization that has undergone no changes since 1492, then explain why the Natives would've experienced a similar non
c) Pro is again painting all Natives with too broad a brush. I promised myself I wouldn't pull the race card, but honestly the portrayal of all the Indians as savage, stupid brutes is offensive.
d) Virtually all evidence we have suggests that life in Indian society was vastly preferable to life in European society, so there's no reason to buy Pro's simplistic rhetoric.
2. Webb, James. "Born Fighting."
This point is pretty much conceded. I knew Con would likely bring it up, so I was ready.
Before I do my line by line rebuttal, let's see how this debate is going to go.
Throw out the entirety of Pro's C3 and any other utilitarian impacts. Pro responded to my framework just as I hoped he would--that is, he makes no response to the *logic* behind the argument. Pro doesn't dispute that it's flatly impossible to determine what the results of a conquest free America would've been and therefore *impossible* to look at the consequentialist impacts. Pro doesn't just get to say "Look! Technology and living standards have advanced in the 400 years since the conquest, God save the queen!" We have to assess the balance of actions on their own merits. What impacts does Pro have on this standard? Precious few. Remember, even if you buy his argument that the Indians had no right to their land, that doesn't make the conquest *justified*, it makes it *amoral*, and given the multitude of incidences of absolutely ghastly behavior from the conquering party, it seems now very difficult for Pro to come back and say that on balance the process was justified.
The trap has swung shut. The only way for Pro to win without having access to the consequentialist impacts is if you buy that a) The Indians had no right to their land because they weren't utilizing it properly--a frankly bizarre and dangerous view of property rights--and b) conquest and oppression were the *most just* way to access whatever benefits Pro gets on justice. I already explained how trade and limited settlement would've been a superior and more just alternative, and Pro provides us an example of land purchasing. If America was really so vast and under populated, surely this would've been a preferable and easier solution than open warfare.
Pro totally misunderstands the argument and makes the baffling assertion that Indian culture could've somehow survived when they were stripped of their traditional lands and sources of livelihood. It really is difficult to determine which cultures are "superior" from an outside perspective since these matters are so subjective and we're so biased. So let's look at inside perspectives. Unfortunately for Pro, the evidence shows that we have tons of examples of people who were totally and completely biased against Indian culture since they were at war and brought up to view them as savages--many of whom were literally brought in as prisoners--loving it and not wanting to go back and so few Indians brought into English culture who didn't run off at the first opportunity that many contemporaries literally didn't think any "civilized" Indians existed. This is really powerful evidence--this is not some middle class 21st century kid waxing poetics about how great the Indians were, it's the sum of the actions of people who actually experienced both cultures, and every decision went one way. Again, who was superior to whom?
Pro talks about technology but there's absolutely no warrant to the argument that the comforts of technology outweigh the sum of all other cultural factors. Given the decisions made by people when given a choice, evidently it wasn't and the technological differences back then really weren't that vast. This is a short argument, but it's absolutely devastating for the Pro case. Stripped of his consequentialist impacts, one of the only ways Pro can win is to prove the fundamental justness of spreading civilization. If it's even slightly debatable that Indian civilizations were better, that assumption rests on very shaky ground.
If any conquest was warranted, the Indians should've conquered us.
Pro says that he shouldn't have to defend every action by the British. The problem is, while he doesn't have to defend every atrocity, if he wants to win the debate he has to outweigh them somehow to meet his burden.
Pro *totally* misses the point of the Scots-Irish argument, so extend it. His argument that the Scots-Irish settlements often got massacred is more evidence on my side, because they should've never had to endure the brunt of the Indian assault. They could've lived happily in the borderlands had the English left them alone. The Scots-Irish were lowland Scots who were evicted from the borderlands when the English decided they wanted to conquer Ireland and used as human shields in Irish "plantations". Conditions there were so bad that they were willing to move en masse to America and face down the Indian tribes while the English landowners sat safely on the coast. This is taking an oppressed minority, ruining their lives, and giving them chance at a better life at the cost of fighting Indians. The conquest cannot possibly be justified when the soldiers used to do the actual conquest were unjustly derived.
Pro tries to explain away the incidence of biological warfare, but seriously, the evidence is very damning: "I will try to inocculate the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands, taking care however not to get the disease myself."
Pro argues that the Indians were no angels in warfare themselves, and they weren't. But this argument works against him...all those European deaths could've been avoided had the English just left well enough alone. Pro is looking at this issue incorrectly. It's not a debate of "who was worse?" in war, it's a debate of "was it just for the English to start the war?" Every death, every atrocity on both sides falls squarely into my corner because the English were clearly the aggressors and started a war where none would've existed.
Pro totally misses the point that even if he wins that there was nothing unjust about taking the Indians lands, he has to prove is was still *just* not *amoral*. The British could've stayed home. Pro also suggests that we shouldn't consider the Trail of Tears, because it isn't conquest but rather a "consequence" of conquest. First, turn: If we want to use this standard and only look at the *conquest*, Pro loses the debate handily. Second, relocating a population at gunpoint so you can take their land is literally conquest. Pro thinks he can gain benefit from 21st century technology but I don't get this impact? Nonsense.
Pro doesn't really argue against the Five Civilized Tribes adapting well to modern before the Trail of Tears, so extend that. This was clearly unjust and so unnecessary.
He drops the example of the Americans slaughtering the Buffalo herds so that the Indian women and children would starve to death.
Pro ignores all of the violated treaties.
Pro never responds that there were other courses of action rather than conquest. What makes war so great?
Pro will accuse me of cherry picking bad things, but it's impossible to sum up Native-White relations over hundreds of years in 10,000 characters. What I'm doing here is establishing a narrative based on the evidence we have. Where are Pros counter examples of kindness?
Pro has basically dropped his other contentions, this will be the major flash point of his case.
Pro's conception of property rights is not logical. Pro argues that you shouldn't be allowed to just find random land, claim it's yours, leave forever, and then prevent anyone else from using it (so basically what every explorer did). This is why the home part of homesteading is important. Even under Locke, ownership is gained through cultivating virgin land, which the Indians did.
This argument that we should award land ownership to whoever adds the most value is totally antithetical to private property rights. If Pro believes this, he should welcome with open arms our new vegetarian overlords who will convert our pastureland to farms which will feed more people. It's also untenable--who decides who adds the most value to land? The "value" added by Western society vis-a-vis sustainable cultures is destroying the environment. Some "benefit". Pro acts like Westerners immediately brought over factories to the New World, in reality they brought over trading posts and farms. Not much different from the Indians they replaced.
Pro destroys this argument himself by arguing that such a vegetarian conquest of the US would be unjust because we already have a "concept" of property rights. If conception of property is all that's needed for conquest to become unjust, he's just lost the debate because the Indians *did* conceive of property. Let's take a few quotes from the Foundation for Economic Education on Indian land ownership: "crop land was often privately owned", "Prior to European contact, other Indian tribes recognized...ownership of these lands by not trespassing.", "In the Southeast...private ownership of land was common.", "Hunting groups...recognized family and clan hunting areas". Overkill, but this wins me the debate. Pro concedes that conquest in unjust if the population understands property. The Indians understood property. Thus the conquest was unjust. Period. Vote Con.
Pro says Indians who farmed were "rare". No statistics exist, but let's take a sample to see how many tribes farmed. How about the tribes Pro mentions? Lenape? Farmed. Shawnee? Farmed. Other Pennsylvania tribes? "They borrowed from each other, improving their technologies for farming, fishing, hunting, and pottery making and developing the means of long distance travel and communication with each other. They traded and warred with each other long before Europeans entered the scene.". The idea that a tribe can live and farm a territory for millennia and not own it is just laughable.
Pro makes no response to the validity of common land under English custom. If communal land was valid in England, the English weren't even following their own ethics when they stole Indian land.
Pro made no attempt to weigh conquest against any other option like trade. Why was conquest the answer?
Varrack forfeited this round.