Printable Version

The Missionary Impulse
Digital History ID 681

Author:   American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions

Annotation: By the early 19th century, there was a growing consensus among humanitarian reformers that Indian survival depended on "civilization and Christianization." By this, they meant education in white ways of life, adoption of single family farms, and acceptance of Protestant religious tenets.

Document: ...A prominent object of the board we represent is to extend the blessing of civilization and Christianity, in all their variety, to the Indian tribes within the limits of the United States. In carrying on this work of benevolence and charity, we are happy to acknowledge, with much gratitude, the aid received from the government, in making and supporting the several establishments for accomplishing this purpose....

The history of our intercourse with Indians, from the first settlement of this country, contains many facts honorable to the character of our ancestors, and of our nation--many, also, too many, which are blots on this character.... We here allude to the neglect with which the aboriginal tribes have been treated in regard to their civil, moral, and religious improvement--to the manner in which we have, in many, if not most instances, come into possession of their lands, and of their peltry: also, to the provocations we have given, in so many instances, to those cruel, desolating, and exterminating wars, which have been successively waged against them; and to the corrupting vices, and fatal diseases, which have been introduced among them, by wicked and unprincipled white people.... The only way, we humbly conceive, the forgiveness and favor of Him whom we have happily, that which has been already successfully commenced, and which the government of our nation, and Christians of nearly all denominations, are pursuing....

We are aware of the great and only objection, deserving notice, that is made to our project...that "it is impracticable; that Indians, like some species of birds and beasts...are untamable; and that no means, which we can employ, will prepare them to enjoy the blessings of civilization." In answer to this, we appeal to facts...which cannot be furnish indubitable evidence of the practicability of educating Indians in such manner, as to prepare them to enjoy all the blessings, and to fulfill all the duties, of civilized life....

It is desirable that our Indians should receive such an education as has been mentioned, we conceive, because the civilized is preferable to the savage state; because the Bible, and the religion therein revealed to us, with its ordinances, are blessings of infinite and everlasting value and which the Indians do not now enjoy. It is also desirable as an act of common humanity. The progress of the white population, in the territories which were lately the hunting grounds of the Indians, is rapid, and probably will continue to increase. Their game, on which they principally depend for subsistence, is diminishing, and is already gone from those tribes who remain among us. In the natural course of things, therefore, they will be compelled to obtain their support in the manner we do ours. They are, to a considerable extent, sensible of this already. But they cannot thus live, and obtain their support, till they receive the education for which we plead. There is no place on earth to which they can migrate, and live in the savage and hunter state. The Indian tribes must therefore, be progressively civilized, or successively perish.

Source: American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, "Memorial to the Senate and the House of Representatives," in American Society for Improving Indian Tribes, First Annual Report, 1824, 66-68.

Copyright 2021 Digital History