The history of America is full of very controversial and even shameful episodes. There were unjust wars, stealing of land, killings of thousands of innocent people, massacres, and bloodbaths. Looking from today’s perspective at what was going on two hundred years ago, when the nation was still at war, it is hard to define who were heroes and who were villains because people were murdering each other from every side. However, despite the controversy, some people did come to be recognized as American heroes, and I think Tecumseh should be regarded as an American hero, too. He refused to sign the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which established the boundary between Indian and American territories, and he rejected Indian leaders who had sold land to the federal government. However, unlike his brother Tenskwatawa, Tecumseh did not say that “white people…were the source of all evil in the world.” In his speech to William Harrison, Governor of the Indian Territory, Tecumseh did not call upon Indians to fight against white people. Instead, what he did was question the promises made by the Americans and condemn their taking of Indian land. Tecumseh calls Harrison “brother,” and his message is mostly peaceful. The Indian leader does say that he is a warrior, but he does not ask his followers to shed blood. His main value and goal is Indian unity. He wants all tribes to live in peace with each other, and he wants them to live in peace with the Americans. Indeed, he condemns the efforts by the Americans to separate tribes, set them against each other, and thus make them weaker. Judging from his speech to Harrison, Tecumseh was a leader who wanted peace, which is always praiseworthy but especially so in a time of war.
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However, it is also known that Tecumseh was an ally of Britain in the War of 1812 and had called for attacks on American frontier settlements prior to that. This fact makes his status as an American hero questionable at the very least. However, I still think that what the Indian leader declared in his speech to Harrison is an outstanding attempt to preserve peace, which certainly makes him eligible to be called a hero. He said that Americans had repeatedly broken their promises of providing security to Indians, which is why Indians had the right to disregard further promises and protect their own security by creating a union. Again, Tecumseh did not suggest an attack on Americans in his speech. Moreover, he stressed the major similarity between the American nation and the Indian tribes, as both were striving for unity. He said, “Your states have set an example of forming a union among all the Fires, why should you censure the Indians for following that example?” What Tecumseh was asking for was nothing more than for Indian lands to be left to Indians. He judged those chiefs who had sold their land to the Americans, as he exclaimed, “Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the clouds, and the Great Sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Good Spirit make them all for the use of his children?” The Indian leader was an American hero because he declared the very principles that were pivotal in forming the American nation: unity, the protection of land, and readiness to fight against injustice. Moreover, unlike many other leaders, he openly declared his desire for peace and not war.
Lydia Maria Child’s book The American Frugal Housewife contains a passage entitled “How to Endure Poverty,” in which the story of two women living in an almshouse is told. Using this example of two dramatically different destinies and characters, Child reflects on what were regarded to be the traits of a virtuous woman around the time when the book was written (1829). Interestingly, at that time, there had been a shift within the past fifty years or so regarding the concept of virtue. In the early days of American independence, the notion of “self-sacrificing republican virtue” was heavily exploited and propagated by the government. In this context, virtue was regarded to be a feature of a citizen who devoted to the principles of American freedom and willing to protect them. Half a century later, according to Eric Foner, virtue “came to be redefined as a personal moral quality associated more and more closely with women.” It can be argued that this shift in meaning was due to the government’s attempt to control society. Widespread and generally shared ideas often serve as a tool for governments to maintain a certain order and to regulate people’s relationships and societal processes.
The example of redefining virtue in America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries shows exactly how such regulation through acceptable ideas can occur. In The American Frugal Housewife, Child claims that a woman should be grateful, “patient, pious, and uniformly cheerful.” She should also be strong and never complain about her fate, no matter how hard it may be. The author demonstrates that a virtuous woman, one who follows these principles, is full of dignity and respected by everyone. A woman who does not follow them, on the contrary, is miserable and unbearable because she is “infested with envy, hatred, and discontent… and even the little children run away, when they see her coming.” Child argues that what is pivotal in a virtuous woman is education. When raising a young girl, it is important that at every moment she is either learning something or doing something; vain conversations—such as remarks about other people, their relationships, or their manner of dress—should not be allowed. When a young girl is spoiled by indolence, she grows into an ungrateful person incapable of exertion. This example demonstrates how the status quo of American society of that time was sustained through the notion of virtue. By the late 18th century, what the country needed most was devoted male citizenry, which is why the message was conveyed to the public that having virtue is being committed to protecting the republic. Later, to support male dominance, the discourse changed toward the virtue of a woman, which meant, according to Eric Foner, “not only sexual innocence but beauty, frailty, and dependence on men.” In the society of that time, women were not needed as active citizens or participants in political processes. They were needed to run households and raise children while men did “the important things.” For that, women were deprived of political and social rights and given the role of only supporting men. Through mass media, such as magazines, women were told to be obedient, submissive, and humble. The titles of articles in those magazines read as follows: “Woman, a Source of Comfort,” “Woman, a Being to Come Home To,” and “Woman—Man’s Best Friend.” These titles reveal how virtue was understood for women and how this understanding was a tool for maintaining male dominance. Later in history, going beyond the boundaries of being only wives and mothers was the first step for the women of America to achieve more political and social freedoms.
I know that your life in Mississippi is hard, and I am writing this letter to you to support you and share my own hardship. You might not be aware of this, but you and I have a strong connection despite the fact that we have never met and may never meet. At a textile mill in Lowell, Massachusetts, where I work alongside many other young women, we tend machines, spinning and weaving, to produce textile from the cotton that you grow in the South. We are links of the same chain, you and I, producing the county’s major export. Are we supposed to be proud of this? Of being part of this industry that has been constantly expanding since the invention of the cotton gin a score and twelve years ago and being part of our growing economy? I dare suppose you would rather opt for a different fate, and I am certain I would, too.
Working at the mill has its own benefits. When I was living in my family’s home, I felt completely deprived of all rights and freedoms. I did not have a vote on anything, and I knew my destiny was in the hands of my father and the man who would take me as his wife. Sadly, I am sure you can understand me like no one else: I felt like property. In the free states of New England, many women continue to bear the burden of unfreedom, as there is little they can do with their lives. Working at the textile mill was my only chance to escape my chains, even for a short time, and do something independently. Earning money of my own is liberating, and I ardently look forward to the time when all women are given the opportunity to work freely. It is not the invention of new machines for separating cotton from its seeds or spinning it into yarn that should move the economy, wealth, and well-being of the entire country forward—it should be free labor. I condemn the slavery that continues to reign in the South and the burden of which you are forced to bear. I condemn even the sunny weather and the fertile soil of the South that made those lands suitable for the Cotton Kingdom. I condemn slavery here in Lowell, too, for the conditions in which we are working suggest that we are in fact nothing more or less than slaves. If you and I had a chance to work freely, for our own profit, and under conditions that do not humiliate human dignity, I am sure that at this moment our country would become the greatest in the world—not only the wealthiest, but the most just and with the most content, accomplished citizens. I strongly believe that this measure is exactly what should constitute the greatness of a country instead of the amount of cotton it exports at the expense of exploited people who deserve freedom and fair treatment.