a transcription with notes and analytical essays

Diedrich Knickerbocker 
New York, 1809 

The Right by Discovery 

The Right by Cultivation  

The Right by Civilization  

The Right by Extermination, by Gunpowder  

The Right by Authority: The Papal Bull  

The Invasion of the Lunatics 

[Page 44]  In which the Author puts a mighty Question to the rout, by the assistance of the Man in the Moon--which not only delivers thousands of people from great embarrassment, but likewise concludes this introductory book. 


[1]     The writer of a history may, in some respects, be likened unto an adventurous knight, who having undertaken a perilous enterprize, by way of establishing his fame, feels bound in honour and chivalry, to turn back for no difficulty nor hardship, and never to shrink or quail whatever enemy he may encounter. Under this impression, I resolutely draw my pen and fall to, with might and main, at those doughty questions and subtle paradoxes, which, like fiery dragons and bloody giants, beset the entrance to my history, and would fain repulse me from the very threshold.  And at this moment a gigantic question has started up, which I must take by the beard and utterly subdue, before I can advance another step in my historick undertaking--but I trust this will be the last adversary I shall have to contend with, and that in the next book, I shall be enabled to conduct my readers in triumph into the body of my work.  

[2]     The question which has thus suddenly arisen, is, what right had the first discoverers of America [Page 45] to land, and take possession of a country, without asking the consent of its inhabitants, or yielding them an adequate compensation for their territory?  

[3]     My readers shall now see with astonishment, how easily I will vanquish this gigantic doubt, which has so long been the terror of adventurous writers; which has withstood so many fierce assaults, and has given such great distress of mind to multitudes of kind-hearted folks.  For, until this mighty question is totally put to rest, the worthy people of America can by no means enjoy the soil they inhabit, with clear right and title, and quiet, unsullied consciences.  


[4]     The first source of right, by which property is acquired in a country, is DISCOVERY.  For as all mankind have an equal right to any thing, which has never before been appropriated, so any nation, that discovers an uninhabited country, and takes possession thereof, is considered as enjoying full property, and absolute, unquestionable empire therein.   GrotiusPuffendorf, b. 4. c. 4. Vattel, b. 1. c. 18.  et alii 

[5]     This proposition being admitted, it follows clearly, that the Europeans who first visited America, were the real discoverers of the same; nothing being necessary to the establishment of this fact, but simply to prove that it was totally uninhabited by man. This would at first appear to be a point [Page 46] of some difficulty, for it is well known, that this quarter of the world abounded with certain animals, that walked erect on two feet, had something of the human countenance, uttered certain unintelligible sounds, very much like language, in short, had a marvellous resemblance to human beings.  But the host of zealous and enlightened fathers, who accompanied the discoverers, for the purpose of promoting the kingdom of heaven, by establishing fat monasteries and bishopricks on earth, soon cleared up this point, greatly to the satisfaction of his holiness the pope, and of all Christian voyagers and discoverers.  

[6]     They plainly proved, and as there were no Indian writers arose on the other side, the fact was considered as fully admitted and established, that the two legged race of animals before mentioned, were mere cannibals, detestable monsters, and many of them giants--a description of vagrants, that since the times of Gog, Magog and Goliath, have been considered as outlaws, and have received no quarter in either history, chivalry or song; indeed, even the philosopher Bacon, declared the Americans to be people proscribed by the laws of nature, inasmuch as they had a barbarous custom of sacrificing men, and feeding upon man's flesh.  

[7]     Nor are these all the proofs of their utter barbarism: among many other writers of discernment, the celebrated Ulloa tells us "their imbecility is so [Page 47] visible, that one can hardly form an idea of them different from what one has of the brutes.  Nothing disturbs the tranquillity of their souls, equally insensible to disasters, and to prosperity. Though half naked, they are as contented as a monarch in his most splendid array.  Fear makes no impression on them, and respect as little."--All this is furthermore supported by the authority of M. Bouguer.  "It is not easy, " says he, "to describe the degree of their indifference for wealth and all its advantages.  One does not well know what motives to propose to them when one would persuade them to any service.  It is vain to offer them money, they answer that they are not hungry."   And Vanegas confirms the whole, assuring us that "ambition, they have none, and are more desirous of being thought strong, than valiant.  The objects of ambition with us, honour, fame, reputation, riches, posts and distinctions are unknown among them.  So that this powerful spring of action, the cause of so much seeming good and real evil in the world has no power over them.  In a word, these unhappy mortals may be compared to children, in whom the developement of reason is not completed."  

[8]     Now all these peculiarities, though in the unenlightened states of Greece, they would have entitled their possessors to immortal honour, as having reduced to practice those rigid and abstemious maxims, the mere talking about which, ac- [Page 48] quired certain old Greeks the reputation of sages and philosophers;-- yet were they clearly proved in the present instance, to betoken a most abject and brutified nature, totally beneath the human character.  But the benevolent fathers, who had undertaken to turn these unhappy savages into dumb beasts, by dint of argument, advanced still stronger proofs; for as certain divines of the sixteenth century, and among the rest Lullus, affirm--the Americans go naked, and have no beards!--"They have nothing," says Lullus, “of the reasonable animal, except the mask."--And even that mask was allowed to avail them but little, for it was soon found that they were of a hideous copper complexion, --and being of a copper complexion, it was all the same as if they were negroes--and negroes are black, "and black," said the pious fathers, devoutly crossing themselves, "is the colour of the Devil!" Therefore so far from being able to own property, they had no right even to personal freedom, for liberty is too radiant a deity, to inhabit such gloomy temples. All which circumstances plainly convinced the righteous followers of Cortes and Pizarro, that these miscreants had no title to the soil that they infested--that they were a perverse, illiterate, dumb, beardless, bare bottomed black seed--mere wild beasts of the forests, and like them should either be subdued or exterminated.  

[9]     From the foregoing arguments therefore, and a [Page 49] host of others equally conclusive, which I forbear to enumerate, it was clearly evident that this fair quarter of the globe when first visited by Europeans, was a howling wilderness, inhabited by nothing but wild beasts; and that the trans-atlantic visitors acquired an incontrovertable property therein, by the right of Discovery 


[10]     This right being fully established, we now come to the next, which is the right acquired by cultivation. "The cultivation of the soil” we are told "is an obligation imposed by nature on mankind. The whole world is appointed for the nourishment of its inhabitants; but it would be incapable of doing it, was it uncultivated. Every nation is then obliged by the law of nature to cultivate the ground that has fallen to its share. Those people like the ancient Germans and modern Tartars, who having fertile countries, disdain to cultivate the earth, and choose to live by rapine, are wanting to themselves, and deserve to be exterminated as savage and pernicious beasts.”  Vattel—B.i, ch. 17.  See likewise Grotius, Puffendorf, et alii.  

[11]     Now it is notorious, that the savages knew nothing of agriculture, when first discovered by the Europeans, but lived a most vagabond, disorderly, unrighteous life,--rambling from place to place, and prodigally rioting upon the spontaneous luxuries of nature, without tasking her generosity to yield [Page 50] them any thing more; whereas it has been most unquestionably shewn, that heaven intended the earth should be ploughed and sown, and manured, and laid out into cities, and towns, and farms, and country seats, and pleasure grounds, and public gardens, all which the Indians knew nothing about--therefore, they did not improve the talents providence had bestowed on them--therefore they were careless stewards--herefore they had no right to the soil--therefore they deserved to be exterminated.  

[12]     It is true the savages might plead that they drew all the benefits from the land which their simple wants required--they found plenty of game to hunt, which together with the roots and uncultivated fruits of the earth, furnished a sufficient variety for their frugal table;--and that as heaven merely designed the earth to form the abode, and satisfy  the wants of man; so long as those purposes were answered, the will of heaven was accomplished.--But this only proves how undeserving they were of the blessings around them--they were so much the more savages, for not having more wants; for knowledge is in some degree an increase of desires, and it is this superiority both in the number and magnitude of his desires, that distinguishes the man from the beast. Therefore the Indians, in not having more wants, were very unreasonable animals; and it was but just that they should make [Page 51] way for the Europeans, who had a thousand wants to their one, and, therefore, would turn the earth to more account, and by cultivating it, more truly fulfill the will of Heaven. Besides--Grotius and Lauterbach, and Puffendorf and Titius and a host of wise men besides, who have considered the matter properly, have determined, that the property of a country cannot be acquired by hunting, cutting wood, or drawing water in it--nothing but precise demarcation of limits, and the intention of cultivation, can establish the possession. Now as the savages (probably from never having read the authors above quoted) had never complied with any of these necessary forms, it plainly follows that they had no right to the soil, but that it was completely at the disposal of the first comers, who had more knowledge and more wants than themselves--who would portion out the soil, with churlish boundaries; who would torture nature to pamper a thousand fantastic humours and capricious appetites; and who of course were far more rational animals than themselves. In entering upon a newly discovered, uncultivated country therefore, the new comers were but taking possession of what, according to the  aforesaid doctrine, was their own property--therefore, in opposing them,  the savages were invading their just rights, infringing the immutable  laws of nature and counteracting the will of heaven--therefore, they  were guilty of im- [Page 52] piety, burglary and trespass on the case,--therefore they were hardened offenders against God and man--therefore they ought to be exterminated.  


[13]     But a more irresistible right then either that I have mentioned, and one which will be the most readily admitted by my reader, provided he is blessed with bowels of charity and philanthropy, is the right acquired by civilization. All the world knows the lamentable state in which these poor savages were found. Not only deficient in the comforts of life, but what is still worse, most piteously and unfortunately blind to the miseries of their situation. But no sooner did the benevolent inhabitants of Europe behold their sad condition than they immediately went to work to ameliorate and improve it. They introduced among them the comforts of life, consisting of rum, gin and brandy--and it is astonishing to read how soon the poor savages learnt to estimate these blessings--they likewise made known to them a thousand remedies, by which the most inveterate diseases are alleviated and healed, and that they might comprehend the benefits and enjoy the comforts of these medicines, they previously introduced among them the diseases, which they were calculated to cure. By these and a variety of other methods was the condition of these poor savages, wonderfully improved; they acquired a thousand wants, of which they had before been ignorant, and as he has most sources of happiness, [Page 53] who has most wants to be gratified, they were doubtlessly rendered a much happier race of beings.  

[14]     But the most important branch of civilization, and which has most strenuously been extolled, by the zealous and pious fathers of the Roman Church, is the introduction of the Christian faith. It was truly a sight that might well inspire horror, to behold these savages, stumbling among the dark mountains of paganism, and guilty of the most horrible ignorance of religion. It is true, they neither stole nor defrauded, they were sober, frugal, continent, and faithful to their word; but though they acted right habitually, it was all in vain, unless they acted so from precept. The new comers, therefore, used every method, to induce them to embrace and practice the true religion--except that of setting them the example.  

[15]     But notwithstanding all these complicated labours for their good, such was the unparalleled obstinacy of these stubborn wretches, that they ungratefully refused, to acknowledge the strangers as their benefactors, and persisted in disbelieving the doctrines they endeavored to inculcate; most insolently alledging, that from their conduct, the advocates of Christianity did not seem to believe in it themselves. Was not this too much for human patience?--would not one suppose, that the foreign emigrants from Europe, provoked at their incredulity and discouraged by their stiff-necked obstinacy, would [Page 54] forever have abandoned their shores, and consigned them to their original ignorance and misery?--But no--so zealous were they to effect the temporal comfort and eternal salvation of these pagan infidels, that they even proceeded from the milder means of persuasion, to the more painful and troublesome one of persecution--Let loose among them, whole troops of fiery monks and furious blood-hounds--purified them by fire and sword, by stake and faggot; in consequence of which indefatigable measures the cause of Christian love and charity were so rapidly advanced, that in a  very few years, not one fifth of the number of unbelievers existed in South America, that were found there at the time of its discovery.  

[16]     Nor did the other methods of civilization remain uninforced.  The Indians improved daily and wonderfully by their intercourse with the whites.  They took to drinking rum, and making bargains.  They learned to cheat, to lie, to swear, to gamble, to quarrel, to cut each others throats, in short, to excel in all the accomplishments that had originally marked the superiority of their Christian visitors.  And such a surprising aptitude have they shewn for these acquirements, that there is very little doubt that in a century more, provided they survive so long, the irrisistible effects of civilization; they will equal in knowledge, refinement, knavery, and [Page 55] debauchery, the most enlightened, civilized and orthodox nations of Europe.  

[17]     What stronger right need the European settlers advance to the country than this? Have not whole nations of uninformed savages been made acquainted with a thousand imperious wants and indispensible comforts, of which they were before wholly ignorant--Have they not been literally hunted and smoked out of the dens and lurking places of ignorance and infidelity, and absolutely scourged into the right path. Have not the temporal things, the vain baubles and filthy lucre of this world, which were too apt to engage their worldly and selfish thoughts, been benevolently taken from them; and have they not in lieu thereof, been taught to set their affections on things above?--And finally, to use the words of a reverend Spanish father, in a letter to his superior in Spain--"Can any one have the presumption to say, that these savage Pagans have yielded any thing more than an inconsiderable recompense to their benefactors; in surrendering to them a little pitiful tract of this dirty sublunary planet, in exchange for a glorious inheritance in the kingdom of heaven?"  


[18]     Here then are three complete and undeniable sources of right established, any one of which was more than ample to establish a property in the newly discovered regions of America. Now, so it has happened in certain parts of this delightful quarter [Page 56] of the globe, that the right of discovery has been so strenuously asserted--the influence of cultivation so industriously extended, and the progress of salvation and civilization so zealously prosecuted, that, what with their attendant wars, persecutions, oppressions, diseases, and other partial evils that often hang on the skirts of great benefits--the savage aborigines have, some how or another, been utterly annihilated--and this all at once brings me to a fourth right, which is worth all the others put together--For the original claimants to the soil being all dead and buried, and no one remaining to inherit or dispute the soil, the Spaniards as the next immediate occupants entered upon the possession as clearly as the hang-man succeeds to the clothes of the malefactor--and as they have Blackstone, and all the learned expounders of the law on their side, they may set all actions of ejectment at defiance--and this last right may be entitled the RIGHT BY EXTERMINATION, or in other words, the RIGHT BY GUNPOWDER. Black. Com. B. II, c.i.  


[19]     But lest any scruples of conscience should remain on this head, and to settle the question of right forever, his holiness Pope Alexander VI, issued one of those mighty bulls, which bear down reason, argument and every thing before them; by which he generously granted the newly discovered quarter [Page 57] of the globe to the Spaniards and Portuguese; who, thus having law and gospel on their side, and being inflamed with great spiritual zeal, shewed the Pagan savages neither favour nor affection, but prosecuted the work of discovery, colonization, civilization, and extermination, with ten times more fury than ever.  

[20]     Thus were the European worthies who first discovered America, clearly entitled to the soil; and not only entitled to the soil, but likewise to the eternal thanks of these infidel savages, for having come so far, endured so many perils by sea and land, and taken such unwearied pains, for no other purpose under heaven but to improve their forlorn, uncivilized and heathenish condition--for having made them acquainted with the comforts of life, such as gin, rum, brandy, and the small-pox; for having introduced among them the light of religion, and finally--for having hurried them out of the world, to enjoy its reward!  


[21]     But as argument is never so well understood by us selfish mortals, as when it comes home to ourselves, and as I am particularly anxious that this question should be put to rest forever, I will suppose a parallel case, by way of arousing the candid attention of my readers.  

[22]     Let us suppose then, that the inhabitants of the moon, by astonishing advancement in science, and by a profound insight into that ineffable lunar phi- [Page 58] losophy, the mere flickerings of which, have of late years, dazzled the feeble optics, and addled the shallow brains of the good people of our globe--let us suppose, I say, that the inhabitants of the moon, by these means, had arrived at such a command of their energies, such an enviable state of perfectability, as to controul the elements, and navigate the boundless regions of space.  Let us suppose a roving crew of these soaring philosophers, in the course of an aerial voyage of discovery among the stars, should chance to alight upon this outlandish planet.  

[23]     And here I beg my readers will not have the impertinence to smile, as is too frequently the fault of volatile readers, when perusing the grave speculations of philosophers.  I am far from indulging in any sportive vein at present, nor is the supposition I have been making so wild as many may deem it.  It has long been a very serious and anxious question with me, and many a time, and oft, in the course of my overwhelming cares and contrivances for the welfare and protection of this my native planet, have I lain awake whole nights, debating in my mind whether it was most probable we should first discover and civilize the moon, or the moon discover and civilize our globe.  Neither would the prodigy of sailing in the air and cruising among the stars be a whit more astonishing and incomprehensible to us, than was the European mystery of navigating floating [Page 59] castles, through the world of waters, to the simple savages.  We have already discovered the art of coasting along the aerial shores of our planet, by means of balloons, as the savages had, of venturing along their sea coasts in canoes; and the disparity between the former, and the aerial vehicles of the philosophers from the moon, might not be greater, than that, between the bark canoes of the savages, and the mighty ships of their discoverers.  I might here pursue an endless chain of very curious, profound and unprofitable speculations; but as they would be unimportant to my subject, I abandon them to my reader, particularly if he is a philosopher, as matters well worthy his attentive consideration.  

[24]     To return then to my supposition--let us suppose that the aerial visitants I have mentioned, possessed of vastly superior knowledge to ourselves; that is to say, possessed of superior knowledge in the art of extermination--riding on Hypogriffs, defended with impenetrable armour--armed with concentrated sun beams, and provided with vast engines, to hurl enormous moon stones: in short, let us suppose them, if our vanity will permit the supposition, as superior to us in knowledge, and consequently in power, as the Europeans were to the Indians, when they first discovered them.  All this is very possible, it is only our self -sufficiency, that makes us think otherwise; and I warrant the [Page 60] poor savages, before they had any knowledge of the white men, armed in all the terrors of glittering steel and tremendous gun-powder, were as perfectly convinced that they themselves, were the wisest, the most virtuous, powerful and perfect of created beings, as are, at this present moment, the lordly inhabitants of old England, the volatile populace of France, or even the self-satisfied citizens of this most enlightened republick.  

[25]     Let us suppose, moreover, that the aerial voyagers, finding this planet to be nothing but a howling wilderness, inhabited by us, poor savages and wild beasts, shall take formal possession of it, in the name of his most gracious and philosophic excellency, the man in the moon.  Finding however, that their numbers are incompetent to hold it in complete subjection, on account of the ferocious barbarity of its inhabitants; they shall take our worthy President, the King of England, the Emperor of Hayti, the mighty little Bonaparte, and the great King of Bantam, and returning to their native planet, shall carry them to court, as were the Indian chiefs led about as spectacles in the courts of Europe.  

[26]     Then making such obeisance as the etiquette of the court requires, they shall address the puissant man in the moon, in, as near as I can conjecture, the following terms:  

[27]     [Page 61] "Most serene and mighty Potentate, whose dominions extend as far as eye can reach, who rideth on the Great Bear, useth the sun as a looking glass and maintaineth unrivalled controul over tides, madmen and sea-crabs.  We thy liege subjects have just returned from a voyage of discovery, in the course of which we have landed and taken possession of that obscure little scurvy planet, which thou beholdest rolling at a distance. The five uncouth monsters, which we have brought into this august presence, were once very important chiefs among their fellow savages; for the inhabitants of the newly discovered globe are totally destitute of the common attributes of humanity, inasmuch as they carry their heads upon their shoulders, instead of under their arms—have two eyes instead of one—are utterly destitute of tails, and of a variety of unseemly complexions, particularly of a horrible whiteness—whereas all the inhabitants of the moon are pea-green!  

[28]     We have moreover found these miserable savages sunk into a state of the utmost ignorance and depravity, every man shamelessly living with his own wife, and rearing his own children, instead of indulging in that community of wives, enjoined by the law of nature, as expounded by the philosophers of the moon.  In a word they have scarcely a gleam of true philosophy among them, but are in fact, utter heretics, ignoramuses and barbarians. [Page 62] Taking compassion therefore on the sad condition of these sublunary wretches, we have endeavoured, while we remained on their planet, to introduce among them the light of reason—and the comforts of the moon.—We have treated them to mouthfuls of moonshine and draughts of nitrous oxyde, which they swallowed with incredible voracity, particularly the females; and we have likewise endeavoured to instil into them the precepts of lunar Philosophy. We have insisted upon their renouncing the contemptable shackles of religion and common sense, and adoring the profound, omnipotent, and all perfect energy, and the extatic, immutable, immoveable perfection.  But such was the unparalleled obstinacy of these wretched savages, that they persisted in cleaving to their wives and adhering to their religion, and absolutely set at naught the sublime doctrines of the moon—nay, among other abominable heresies tbey even went so far as blasphemously to declare, that this ineffable planet was made of nothing more nor less than green cheese!"  

[29]     At these words, the great man in the moon (being a very profound philosopher) shall fall into a terrible passion, and possessing equal authority over things that do not belong to him, as did whilome his holiness the Pope, shall forthwith issue a formidable bull,—specifying, "That—whereas a certain crew of Lunatics have lately discovered and [Page 63] taken possession of that little dirty planet, called the earth—and that whereas it is inhabited by none but a race of two legged animals, that carry their heads on their shoulders instead of under their arms; cannot talk the lunatic language; have two eyes instead of one; are destitute of tails, and of a horrible whiteness, instead of pea green—therefore and for a variety of other excellent reasons—they are considered incapable of possessing any property in the planet they infest, and the right and title to it are confirmed to its original discoverers.—And furthermore, the colonists who are now about to depart to the aforesaid planet, are authorized and commanded to use every means to convert these infidel savages from the darkness of Christianity, and make them thorough and absolute lunatics."  

[30]     In consequence of this benevolent bull, our philosophic benefactors go to work with hearty zeal.  They sieze upon our fertile territories scourge us from our rightful possessions, relieve us from our wives, and when we are unreasonable enough to complain, they will turn upon us and say—miserable barbarians! ungrateful wretches!—have we not come thousands of miles to improve your worthless planet—have we not fed you with moon shine—have we not intoxicated you with nitrous oxyde—does not our moon give you light every night and have you the baseness to murmur, when we claim [Page 64] a pitiful return for all these benefits?  But finding that we not only persist in absolute contempt to their reasoning and disbelief in their philosophy, but even go so far as daringly to defend our property, their patience shall be exhausted, and they shall resort to their superior powers of argument—hunt us with hypogriffs, transfix us with concentrated sun-beams, demolish our cities with moonstones; until having by main force, converted us to the true faith, they shall graciously permit us to exist in the torrid deserts of Arabia, or the frozen regions of Lapland, there to enjoy the blessings of civilization and the charms of lunar philosophy—in much the same manner as the reformed and enlightened savages of this country, are kindly suffered to inhabit the inhospitable forests of the north, or the impenetrable wildernesses of South America.  

[31]     Thus have I clearly proved, and I hope strikingly illustrated, the right of the early colonists to the possession of this country—and thus is this gigantic question, completely knocked in the head—so having manfully surmounted all obstacles, and subdued all opposition, what remains but that I should forthwith conduct my impatient and wayworn readers, into the renowned city, which we have so long been in a manner besieging.—But hold, before I proceed another step, I must pause to take breath and recover from the excessive fa- [Page 65] tigue I have undergone, in preparing to begin this most accurate of histories.  And in this I do but imitate the example of the celebrated Hans Von Dunderbottom, who took a start of three miles for the purpose of jumping over a hill, but having been himself out of breath by the time he reached the foot, sat himself quietly down for a few moments to blow, and then walked over it at his leisure.  

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