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Tecumseh—Resistance Giving Meaning To Defeat And To Life

(This is the final part of the Texas Liberal series Four For The Fourth—Alternatives To Accommodation And Assimilation.) 

Few better dramatize the concept of resistance than the great Chief Tecumseh. (1768-1812)

Tecumseh refused accommodation or assimilation with encroaching whites. He thought he would be better off dead than accepting these things. In this he spoke for himself, for his Shawnee tribe and for other unified Native American tribes he led into battle against Americans before his death in the War of 1812.

Tecumseh is distinct from the first three figures in this series. Frances Perkins and Barry Goldwater saw politics as the path to change. They were looking for the reigning society to accept new ideas. Thomas Paine, though willing to fight, imagined a better future and was not inherently looking for war.

Tecumseh reached the point of wanting war. He wasn’t really looking for a better future. Tecumseh wanted war knowing he might lose. He understood that settlers would be hard to displace. He wasn’t looking for revolution. He was looking for a worthwhile way to die. He was seeking a way to lose that gave value to his life and to the life of his people.

What does the principled individual do in a valueless society?  What does the reformer do who sees that her cause won’t be won in her lifetime? What did an American slave do who saw he was going to live the rest of his life in bondage? What response could be offered by the Native American who saw his people victims of genocide?

Tecumseh’s first response was to want nothing to do with settler culture. He wore only native clothes and would not drink alcohol. Feelings about the prevailing culture ranging between unease and revulsion are understandable to many on both the left and the right. The pull of separatism is often there. Separatism can be a form of resistance.

Tecumseh’s second response was to fight. He chose to fight regardless of the prospect of victory. It wasn’t suicide. He would have liked to send the white man back to Europe. He simply understood the chances.

We all have ways to fight back. We can do so regardless of what we think our chances for success. Finding the right strategy of resistance after defeat is the one way something of hope can be salvaged. Sometimes you can’t help but lose. What is within your power is how you respond to defeat. 

All the subjects in this series have shown there are always honorable and meaningful options in responding to a world not of your own making. These options will require hard work. They may even be dangerous in extreme situations such as resisting genocide. But they are there.

July 6, 2007 Posted by | Four For The Fourth, Political History | 3 Comments

Thomas Paine—The Real Deal

(This is the fourth part of the Texas Liberal series Four For The Fourth—Alternatives To Accommodation And Assimilation.) 

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)was a genuine revolutionary. He was revolutionary in politics, in society and in religion. 

The difference between Paine and the first two subjects of this series is clear. Unlike the reforms and changes in direction fought for by FDR’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins or by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, Paine wanted a completely new order of affairs.  

In politics, Paine’s wrote his pamphlet Common Sense only two years after arriving in the United States from Britain. Common Sense circulated among large numbers of the literate population in America. It performed a task as important as military victory. It moved people’s minds towards accepting the concept of revolution. 

In society, Paine was ardently opposed to slavery. It’s often said men like Thomas Jefferson should be viewed in the context of their times on slavery. Yet through men like Paine the moral information that slavery was wrong was part of the public debate. On slavery, Jefferson and others choose to listen to different voices and competing arguments.

In religion, Paine was a skeptic. This skepticism argues Susan Jacoby in Freethinkers—A History of American Secularism caused Paine to be shunned in his own lifetime and ignored after his death as one the great American Founding Fathers.

While Paine helped make the American Revolution, he risked his life in France by speaking out against excesses of the French Revolution. He was not for revolution for its own sake. He managed well the fine line between strong convictions and losing one’s way to pure ideology or moral certainty.

That Paine understood this line can be seen in an observation he made about the French Revolution as qouted by Jacoby. Said Paine, the “intolerant spirit of church persecutions had transferred itself into politics.”

Thomas Paine was the real deal. His mix of revolution and restraint is an enduring model for those willing to imagine a different and better future.                 

July 6, 2007 Posted by | Books, Colonial America, Four For The Fourth, Political History | 4 Comments