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English Colonists Vs Native Americans: Property Rights In The New World

1206 words - 5 pages

English colonists that came to settle the New World had one conception of what property was; in their minds, property equaled money. This differed greatly from the Native Americans’ perspective, where property equaled survival. When the English colonists took land that naturally belonged to the Indians under the rights of the charter given to them by the English Crown, they misconstrued many of the conceptions of property that the Natives’ had. Even though the English were similar to the Natives in certain aspects, in most, such as who had the right to the land, how the land should be farmed, what value property actually had, and who pre-owned and could distribute the land, both cultures differed greatly, leading to eventual conflict between the English and Native Americans.
Although the English and Native Americans were both every different in how they viewed the land, there were some similarities between the two cultures. First of all, both agreed to the terms of a monarchy- the idea that a monarch that ruled over the land was more a symbolic figure of a whole people rather than a rich and wealthy land owner. Even though the English called their monarch a King, and the Indians’ a Sachem, the ideas behind the two were virtually the same. Secondly, if hunters were in pursuit of game, both cultures agreed to the fact that they could cross otherwise strict borders in attainment of the game. This shows that even though both were fairly precise in drawing village borders, food superseded otherwise legal boundaries. Lastly, the English and the Native Americans both were little different in their sense of how land could be bought or sold. Now, this does not mean that they thought viewed property the same or that they used it in the same way; no, it just means the both sold it in similar fashion: treaties that outlined what the specific rules for that purchase were. Both had a fixed list of things that the buyer could, could not, to with the land, demonstrating the fact that they mutually believed it to be beneficial to both parties to have a set contract for each individual purchase. So although the Indians and English were very different in the way in which they viewed property, in a few aspects they had similar view points.
Since the Indians did not use their resources to the fullest and ‘improve’ the land, besides planting crops and burning woods, many English colonists believed that they could supersede the Indians’ natural right to the land by using the civil law of owning land; anyone who began to raise crops, keep cattle, or improve the land by enclosing had the right to the land that they were farming on: “People who moved so much and worked so little did not deserve to lay claim to the land they inhibited”(Cronon 55). This was a misconception of the Native American way of life was common among the English settlers. From the English view point, the Indians lived “like paupers in a landscape of natural wealth” (Cronon 54),...

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