Tecumseh's Rebellion

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Summarize the speech "Sleep Not Longer" by Tecumseh from September 1811 and discuss its relevance for today. http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/voices-in-time/tecumseh-brings-the-choctaws-and-chickasaws-the-voice-of-rebellion.php?page=all

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There are several points that Tecumseh was trying to make in his “Sleep Not Longer” speech. Tecumseh was trying to form a confederation of Native American tribes. He believed that the United States was too strong for an individual tribe to be able to fight and to win against the Americans. He believed that the Native American tribes, such as the Choctaws and Chickasaws, needed to join Tecumseh’s confederation in order for the Native Americans to have a chance when fighting against the United States.

Another critical point that Tecumseh was making was that the Americans would continue to try to take away land from the Native Americans tribes. He stated that the Native Americans should look at history and see what tribes have already disappeared. Tecumseh argued that the American westward expansion would not stop unless all the Native American tribes united to fight and to defeat the advancing Americans. He believed that a war against the United States was necessary to save Native American lands and to save Native American tribes from becoming extinct.

The relevance of this speech in recent history could be viewed in fairly broad terms. If countries don’t unite against aggression or against terrorism, these actions could continue. The concept behind the domino theory could be attributed to the idea of what Tecumseh was saying. The United States believed that if one country in a region became communist, other countries would follow. Therefore, the United States worked to prevent communism from spreading. The fight against terrorism is another example. If nothing is done when terrorists strike, terrorist actions will likely continue. While uniting to stop the spread of terrorism doesn’t guarantee these attacks will stop, it might decrease the number that might occur.

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Tecumseh makes three main points in this speech.  All of them are designed to get Native Americans to rise up and fight the Americans.  This speech was given as Tecumseh was preparing for what we call Tecumseh’s Rebellion, which started in 1811.

Tecumseh’s first point is that the Americans have eradicated all of the Indians in the east and will do the same to the Indians in the Midwest, where Tecumseh lived.  Tecumseh asks rhetorically what has happened to the “once powerful tribes of our race.”  He says that they have been destroyed by the Americans. 

Tecumseh then goes on to make his second point.  He says that the only way to avert this fate is to unite.  He decries the idea that any group of Indians can escape destruction by choosing not to fight the Americans.  He argues that

The annihilation of our race is at hand unless we unite in one common cause against the common foe.

Finally, Tecumseh argues that war is necessary.  He argues that the only way to have peace is to be ready and willing to fight when one is wronged.  He says that the people who will have the most peace are those

…who timely prepare to vindicate themselves, and manifest a determined resolution to do themselves right whenever they are wronged.

In other words, he says that people can only have peace if they are always ready to fight resolutely when they are wronged.

As to relevance, that is a matter of personal opinion.  I would argue that this speech has little relevance to Native Americans today.  It is possible that greater Native American unity would gain them some political victories, but they are so few that they cannot hope to win significant concessions from the rest of America by opposing us.  To me, the main relevance of this speech is the idea that one must prepare for war if one wants peace.  Today, the US has just signed a pact with the Iranians in which Iran is supposed to take some steps away from their nuclear weapons program in exchange for easing of economic sanctions.  American “hawks” could use Tecumseh’s speech to argue that we should be more belligerent towards Iran.  They would argue that we are not manifesting “a determined resolution” and that we will not be able to enjoy peace unless we are willing to act more aggressively.

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