Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership

by R. David Edmunds
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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 304

One theme of Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership is unity. Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (known as "the Prophet") sought to unify Native peoples torn apart by war to resist white incursions into their land. David Edmunds suggests from the beginning of the book that Tecumseh and his brother were ideally suited to this mission because of their mixed Creek/Shawnee ancestry. Tecumseh, indeed, did appeal to the Creeks, Choctaws, and other southern Native peoples to join together against the United States, but this effort faltered.

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Another important theme of the book is war. Tecumseh was born in the wake of the French and Indian War, and grew to manhood amidst the American Revolution and its aftermath. He knew nothing but conflict for much of his life, and he did not have to look far to see the devastating effects of constant war on the Shawnee people. The most urgent and obvious consequence of war was the constant threat of white incursions on lands in the Ohio Valley, and this was what drove Tecumseh to resist.

Another very sad theme of this book is change. As Edmunds observes, by "1800 it was obvious that the traditional Shawnee socio-economic system no longer could adjust to the many changes sweeping through the Ohio Valley." Americans tend to regard change as a fundamentally good, constructive thing, but for the Shawnee, beset with avaricious traders, greedy land speculators, and constantly onrushing settlers, the changes that encompassed Tecumseh's life were devastating ones. Edmunds observes that reaction to this change was one reason for Tecumseh and the Prophet's popularity: "Unwilling to admit that the old ways no longer were viable, many Shawnees turned inward, seeking the source of their troubles in themselves." By urging people to resist white culture, Tecumseh and his brother appealed to this reaction to change.

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