Texas Liberal

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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


  1. Good article, especially as part of the series. Essentially “Thelma and Louise” stole a page out of Tecumseh’s resistance it sounds like…

    Comment by Charles | July 7, 2007

  2. A fine posting, particularly thought-provoking given the state of the nation on this Independence Day weekend.

    Comment by PDiddie | July 7, 2007

  3. Thank you both for these nice remarks.

    Comment by neilaquino | July 8, 2007

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