The Right by Cultivation

[1]    In his “Right by Cultivation” section of the History of New York, Irving uses an unassumingly satirical voice to discredit this right as a means of justification for the Europeans who took the land from the natives.  Throughout this section of chapter five, Irving uses a series of false justifications to show his audience how easy it is to rationalize any number of absurd theories on the cultivation of this continent and see them as truth.  Of these justifications, the ones that stood out were the European religious justifications, their desire to fully cultivate the land for material goods, and their contractual documents proving ownership of the new land.  Making the justifications all the more unreasonable is the fact that, in the end, they all led to the rationalized extermination of the Natives.

[2]    The prevailing theme throughout this section is undoubtedly the justification through religion.  While other justifications are mentioned, they almost always have the common ground of leading back to God’s will or “the will of heaven.” The one rationalization that does not do so is the initial justification about the natives' lack of desires.  In this passage, the narrator states that the earth is made to be used for all possible things and that since the Natives do not use the lands to fulfill concrete desires like cities, towns, and public parks, they deserve to be exterminated.  While the logic in itself makes no sense, the narrator even admits to the fact that the Natives had no way of knowing about these foreign desires and did cultivate their land to fulfill all of their wants but were guilty of not cultivating the land to the European standards anyway.

[3]    Connected to the rationalization of the Natives not using the land to its utmost efficiency, another strategy used by Irving to justify the Europeans ravaging this continent comes to light.  In this section (paragraph 12) Irving uses an illogical ideology along with a satirical voice to poke fun at any similar theories that might have been used to justify the European actions towards the Natives.  The section reaches its humorous climax when the narrator writes that "it is the 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."  It is easy to notice the ridiculous mindset the narrator possesses when he states that because of the cultural differences between the two peoples and the technological advancement of the Europeans, the Natives are inferior beings to the Europeans.

[4]    As ridiculous as the previous justification sounds, the humor just keeps on coming from this section.  While the false religious theories and the playing up of culture differences are not close to being justifiable by the Europeans, the rationalization that since the Natives held no formal documents announcing their ownership, and thus had no right to the land, is utter lunacy (paragraph 12).  If a reader did not recognize this piece of historical literature as satirical until this point, then this rationalization surely gives it away.  On the surface, it would seem impossible for the Europeans to expect the Natives to be familiar with the European practice of chartering land.  Just as a person would assume that the Natives would have no experience in officially delegating new territories, the Europeans naturally assumed that the Natives were too savage to be able to accomplish such a task.

The existence of wampum belts is undeniable, so too is the fact that lengthy documents could be recorded on them.  Because the Natives were able to divide land between tribes and record that information on wampum belts, the ignorance of the Europeans is brought to light, and their justification is proven wrong.

[5]    The justification of the Europeans taking the land from the Native Americans was certainly unfounded.  In this section of his History of New York, Irving, with use of his satirical literary voice, destroys the “Right by Cultivation” as a valid rationale for the taking of this continent from the Native Americans.  By using religious falsities, lack of physical desire, and cultural ignorance, Irving successfully destroys the probable rationales that the Europeans had while seizing this land.