« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
the sources of the Multnomah, or the Rio del Norde—the passes of the Rocky Mountains on Peace River, or the shores of the Arctic Sea? it is known at all these places. The natives can call it by name, and they place a value on its possession. We do not wish to convey the idea that it is abundant at these remote places. We have reason to believe itis seldom seen. But we also believe that in proportion as it is scarce—in proportion as the quantity is small, and the occasion of its issue rare, so is the price of it in sale, and the value of it in gift, enhanced. And just so far as it is used, it is pernicious in effect, unnecessary in practice, unwise in policy.
The French, who have endeared themselves so much in the affections of the Indians, were earlier in Canada than the English upon the United States' coast. Cartier's treat of wine and bread to the Iroquois of the St. Lawrence, happened eighty-five years before the landing of the Pilgrims. They were also earlier to perceive the evils of an unrestrained trade, in which nothing was stipulated, and nothing prohibited. To prevent its irregularities, licenses were granted by the French government to individuals, on the payment of a price. It was a boon to superannuated officers, and the number was limited. In 1685, the number was twenty-five. But the remedy proved worse than the disease. These licenses became negotiable paper. They were sold from hand to hand, and gave birth to a traffic, which assumed the same character in temporal affairs, that "indulgences" did in spiritual. They were, in effect, licenses to commit every species of wrong, for those who got them at »ast, were generally persons under the government of no high standard of moral responsibility; and as they may be supposed to have paid well for them, they were sure to make it up by excessive exactions upon the Indians. Courier du bois, was the term first applied to them. Merchant voyageur, was the appellation at a subsequent period. But whatever they were called, one spirit actuated them—the spirit of acquiring wealth by driving a gainful traffic with an ignorant people, and for this purpose ardent spirits was but too well adapted. They transported it, along with articles of necessity, up long rivers, and over difficult portages. And when they had reached the borders of the Upper Lakes, or the banks of the Sasketchawine, they were too far removed from the influence of courts, both judicial and ecclesiastical, to be in much dread of them. Feuds, strifes, and murders ensued. Crime strode unchecked through the land. Every Indian trader became a legislator and a judge. His word was not only a law, but it was a law which possessed the property of undergoing as many repeals and mutations as the interest, the pride, or the passion of the individual rendered expedient. If wealth was accumulated, it is not intended to infer that the pressing wants of the Indians were not relieved—that the trade was not a very acceptable and important one to them, and that great peril and expense were not encountered, and a high degree of enterprise displayed in its prosecution. But it is contended, that if real wants were relieved, artificial ones were created—that if it substituted the gun for the bow, and shrouds and blankets in the place of the more expensive clothing of beaver skins, it also substituted ardent spirits for water—intoxication for sobriety—disease for health.
Those who entertain the opinion that the fall of Quebec, celebrated in England and America as a high military achievement, and the consequent surrender of Canada, produced any very important improvement in this state of things, forget that the leading principles and desires of the human heart are alike in all nations, acting under like circumstances. The desire of amassing wealth—the thirst for exercising power—the pride of information over ignorance—the power of vicious over virtuous principles, are not confined to particular eras, nations, or latitudes. They belong to mankind, and they will be pursued with a zeal as irrespective of equal and exact justice, wherever they are not restrained by the ennobling maxims of Christianity.
Whoever feels interested in looking back into this period of our commercial Indian affairs, is recommended to peruse the published statistical and controversial volumes, growing out of the Earl of Selkirk's schemes of colonization, and to the proceedings of the North West Company. This iron monopoly grew up out of private adventure. Such golden accounts were brought out of the country by the Tods, the Frobishers, and the M'Tavishes, and M'Gillvrays, who first visited it, that every bold man, who had either talents or money, rushed to the theatre of action. The boundary which had been left to the French, as the limit of trade, was soon passed. The Missinipi, Athabasca, Fort Chipewyan, Slave lake, Mackenzie's and Copper Mine Rivers, the Unjigah and the Oregon, were reached in a few years. All Arctic America was penetrated. The British government is much indebted to Scottish enterprise for the extension of its power and resources in this quarter. But while we admire the zeal and boldness with which the limits of the trade were extended, we regret that a belief in the necessity of using ardent spirits caused them to be introduced, in any quantity, among the North West tribes.
Other regions have been explored to spread the light of the gospel. This was traversed to extend the reign of intemperance, and to prove that the love of gain was so strongly implanted in the breast of the white man, as to carry him over regions of ice and snow, woods and waters, where the natives had only been intruded on by the Musk Ox and the Polar bear. Nobody will deem it too much to say, that wherever the current of the fur trade set, the nations were intoxicated, demoralized, depopulated. The terrible scourge of the small pox, which broke out in the country north west of Lake Superior in 17S2, was scarcely more fatal to the natives, though more rapid and striking in its effects, than the power of ardent spirits. Nor did it produce so great a moral affliction. For those who died of the varioloid, were spared the death of ebriety. Furs were gleaned with an iron hand, and rum was given out with an iron heart. There was no remedy for the rigors of the trade ; and there was no appeal. Beaver was sought with a thirst of gain as great as that which carried Cortez to Mexico, and Pizarro to Peru. It had deadened the ties of humanity, and cut asunder the cords of private faith.'' Like the Spaniard in his treatment of Capolicpn, when the latter had given him the house full of gold for his ransom, he was himself basely executed. So the northern chief, when he had given his all, gave himself as the victim at last. He was not, however, consumed at the stake, but at the bottle. The sword of his executioner was spirits—his gold, beaver skins. And no mines of the Drecious metals, which the world has ever produced, have probably been more productive of wealth, than the fur-yielding regions of North America.
But while the products of the chase have yielded wealth to the white man, they have produced misery to the Indian. The latter, suffering for the means of subsistence, like the child in the parable, had asked for bread, and he received it; but, with it, he received a scorpion. And it is the sting of the scorpion, that has been raging among the tribes for more than two centuries, causing sickness, death, and depopulation in its track. It is the venom of this sting, that has proved emphatically
When we consider the effects which our own humble efforts as inhabitants of a distant post have produced in this labor of humanity, have we not every encouragement to persevere? Is it not an effort sanctioned by the noblest affections of our nature—by the soundest principles of philanthropy—by the highest aspirations of Christian benevolence? Is it not the work of patriots as well as Christians? of good citizens as well as good neighbors? Is it not a high and imperious duty to rid our land of the foul stain of intemperance? Is it a duty too hard for us to accomplish? Is there anything unreasonable in the voluntary obligations by which we are bound? Shall we lose property or reputation by laboring in the cause of temperance? Will the debtor be less able to pay his debts, or the creditor less able to collect them? Shall we injure man, woman or child, by dashing away the cup of intoxication? Shall we incur the charge of being denominated fools or madmen? Shall we violate any principles of morality, or any of the maxims of Christianity? Shall we run the risk of diminishing the happiness of others, or putting our own in jeopardy? Finally, shall we injure man—shall we offend God?
If neither of these evils will result—if the highest principles of virtue and happiness sanction the measure—if learning applauds it, and religion approves it—if good must result from its success, and injury cannot accrue from its failure, what further motive need we to impel us onward, to devote our best faculties in the cause, and neither to faint nor rest till the modern hydra of intemperance be expelled from our country?