How do you feel that Native Americans were portrayed in the works of Benjamin Franklin?Does the author treat them in a favorable or negative light?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Benjamin Franklin was one of America's leading thinkers and writers during its early days of independence. He wrote about many things,  and one of his essays seems to be an accurate encapsulation of his views regarding Native Americans. In “Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America” (1784), Franklin argues that the white man tends to think of anyone who does not act as he does is a savage, when in fact it is simply a difference in customs.

Franklin cites several incidents to prove his point. In the Native American culture, the best orator makes the best leader, and obedience is the result of effective persuasion. In the white culture, obedience is ensured through prisons and punishment, something which seems crude and base to the Native Americans.

A college in Virginia tells some Native Americans that they are willing to take several of their young men and educate them. The Native Americans do not answer right away, as a sign of respect for the request, giving it proper consideration. Of course the white men see this delay as being rude. When they finally do answer, the tribe respectfully declines the offer. They once had some young men who received a proper white man's education and came home worthless to their tribe:

"they were bad runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods, unable to bear either cold or hunger, knew neither how to build a cabin, take a deer, or kill an enemy, spoke our language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for hunters, warriors, nor counselors; they were totally good for nothing."

In gratitude for the offer, the tribe made their own offer: send us a dozen of your young white men and

"we will take great care of their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them."

His point of view is clear: Native Americans are not savages; they are just not the same as white men, and different does not mean worse. He shows them as thoughtful, civil, and even refined people; it is the white man who is often crude and unrefined.

 

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