Christopher Columbus’ impact on modern America...
By: Hayden Cunningham
If you went to elementary school before the last decade, chances are you learned a different version of American history than what is taught today. There has been a recent push for new school curriculums that echo the perspectives of works like Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project. The idea of this new curriculum is to teach children that America was founded on racism and bigotry, and that the country’s racist history is still an active part of today’s laws.
But is this true? Was America “rooted in slavery” and discrimination? This is not the same as asking if America has racist sins of it’s past. The United States committed many evil sins throughout it’s history, but it was definitely not rooted in slavery.
American values originated from the Enlightenment era of the 17th-18th century. It’s values included freedom and liberty for all people. That concept was not executed in practice for a long time in this country, but has since been corrected (this was explained in a previous article). To go so far as to say that America was “rooted” in slavery and racism shows a misunderstanding of world history.
The great sin of American history was slavery, but there is another sin that the country is accused of. America is accused of being founded on “stolen land.” Christopher Columbus, once taught to be a hero and respected navigator, is now branded a genocidal killer. Columbus Day is now observed by many as “Indigenous People’s Day.” There are those who spark outrage over the treatment of Native Americans by both European colonizers and American leaders. While some of their outrage is valid, some is overblown. Like all groups of people, no one is perfect. Everyone has a history of flaws and sins, but there are times that contributions outweigh the sins. Here is the case for why that applies to the colonizers of the Americas and the leaders who followed:
Christopher Columbus and the Colonization of the Americas
Before Christopher Columbus arrived to the Americas, there was already war and conflict occurring. To picture Native American tribes prior to Europe colonizers arriving as peaceful would be extremely incorrect. The tribes were constantly at war with each other. They would conquer land, pillage tribes, rape, and perform sacrifices from kidnapped members of rivaling tribes (many of which were children). For example, the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan were notorious for their human sacrifices. It is estimated that when the Pyramid of Tenochtitlan was built, over 80,000 prisoners were sacrificed over the course of four days. The Aztec Empire was one of the most vicious and evil civilizations in World history.
The tribes that Columbus first interacted with were the Arawak and the Caribs. The Caribs were a tribe of cannibals, who hunted down the Arawak. When the Europeans arrived, the Arawak were willing to work with them in order to conqueror the warring Carib tribes.
When Columbus first arrived to Hispaniola (modern-day Dominican Republican and Haiti) in 1492, there was an estimated 250,000 Native Americans populating the island. By 1517, the population was reduced to roughly 12,500. This was a 95% reduction in population, but the reason was not because of genocide or conquest. The death toll was a result of the diseases that the European settlers inadvertently brought with them.
The world in 1492 was a time of conquest. All of world history before and during that time saw the conquest of land by superior civilizations. To look at Europe’s conquest of the Americas with a 2021 perspective is inaccurate. A time of war and conquest may not be morally right, but that’s the way the world was at the time. It is also hypocritical to condemn the conquest of the Europeans while also ignoring the conquest and destruction that Native Americans were doing to each other long before white colonizers even arrived. Besides, were the Native Americans entitled to the entire continents of North and South America? Surely their settlements did not spread from coast-to-coast, so how do we condemn all forms of settlement by the Europeans?
Doesn’t Christopher Columbus get at least some credit? The man sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and connected two parts of the world that were unknown to one another. He is the reason that the world map is complete. He was not perfect, but his contributions to geography play significant roles in the world to this day.
Post-United States Revolution
Manifest Destiny. After revolting from Great Britain and claiming independence as a new nation, the United States of America was ready to expand westward. The U.S. looked to spread it’s borders from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Native American tribes were defeated along the way.
By 1830, the U.S. issued the Indian Removal Act under the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Due to rising tensions between American citizens and Native American tribes along the east coast, the government ordered the relocation of Native Americans further west. This would be known as the Trail of Tears.
This order is the highlight of President Jackson’s presidency, and the reason many consider him one of the worst presidents in our history. But his character may be more complicated than simply stating he was a racist and an inhumane leader. Andrew Jackson believed that the relocation of Native Americans would save the tribes from “utter annihilation.” In his State of the Union, he said that he sincerely believed the order was a “wise and humane policy.” Jackson and his wife also adopted a Native American child that was orphaned after the Creek War. These comments and actions make it difficult to paint President Jackson as a supporter of genocide.
The battle for land between the United States of America and Native American tribes was largely one-sided. There were times that both sides saw casualties, but ultimately the U.S. won. Today, our country spans over 2,500 miles from San Francisco to New York.
To criticize the fact the U.S. conquered and killed groups of people for land is an understandable criticism. But if you do not hold every other country with the same criticism, then that is hypocrisy. Are there countries that were not founded on conquered land? Every country, even the Native Americans here before white Europeans arrived, took land from another group of people. To condemn the U.S. for this while ignoring the fact that it was a part of the time is dishonest.
Why does all this matter? Because truth matters. Understanding history is essential to understanding the times we live in today. Accusing the U.S. of being a country founded on someone else’s land is an attempt to delegitimize western society. It is also a way to push guilt on white people in 2021, even if a person has no ancestral ties to the oppressors of the past. But If you do have ancestors who were oppressors, it still would not matter. No person should have to apologize for sins committed hundreds of years before they were born.
Christopher Columbus and western expansion by American pioneers are part of the reason western society exists today. That should be applauded by all who are grateful for this country. You don’t have to excuse sins of the past to acknowledge the successes of the present.
Western civilization is here because of conquest. Like all civilizations and groups of people, land was claimed by force. The means may have been uncomfortable, but they were common at the time. The American culture and civilization that was created on this continent was better than the tribes who were here before the Europeans arrived. It may be uncomfortable to agree with that, but it is true. Today we have freedom, liberty, and justice for everyone. The treatment of Native Americans was a stain on out past, but it does not discredit the modern state of the country. The U.S.A. is a home for all types of people to improve their lives and have freedom. Stop forcing shame on all Americans for the actions of people who are no longer alive. At some point, we need to have gratitude for what we have today and move on.