Ely Parker 1844-1865

Cayuga Academy and a Fine Frock Coat

Cayuga Academy was Lewis Henry Morgan's alma mater - an elite school in western New York with a sizeable library as well as the "latest" scientific equipment. Ely Parker began classes there in 1845, and found the new setting idyllic. The Academy was near the shores of Cayuga Lake, and he spent many hours exploring the surrounding forested hills. He didn't have to worry about tuition either; his education was funded by a "Federal Civilization" grant. A list of his expenses for the fall semester included $5.00 for "Donnegan's Greek Lexicon"; but his other purchases revealing his desire to fit into his white, well-to-do environment - he spent $22.00 for a "fine frock coat," and another $4.50 for a pair of "J. Kinney boots." Perhaps Morgan's influence is seen here, in the perception that "clothes make the man."

Despite the makeover, fellow students greeted Ely with hostility; some of that due to his newcomer status, some because he was an Indian. In a letter to a friend, Ely described numerous fistfights: "Once or twice I have been severely abused. But I returned blow for blow with savage ferocity. Whether I gained the upper hand of my antagonist I leave the public to decide. For mind you, these quarrels were public. Bad business, but it could not be helped."

Ely was also tested in numerous school debates, yet he would pass each one, rising to become the Academy's leading orator. The following is a transcription of "The Civilized Life" (courtesy American Philosophical Society).

    The "Civilized Life"
    "If the savage life is more conducive to happiness than the civilized, why has Mr. Parker abandoned that life, and is now studying to acquire the knowledge of the arts and sciences, which prevails among the civilized people and for that purpose is attending this academy and expects some time or other to enter to higher seminary of learning. The door is open for him, why does he not go back immediately!" was a question indirectly put to me in last evening's debate.

    I rejoice than in this land of religious light and freedom I can express and maintain my opinions. It is said that we are accountable beings, but I rejoice that I am accountable to no human tribunal for my beliefs and opinions. We will attribute no wrong motive to the gentleman whose wisdom propounded this question, but we will suppose that it originated from the fact, that in the debate I advocated the supremacy of the happiness of the savage in his wild state, in the deep, dense forests, to that of the civilized in all his refinement, pomp and power. We shall answer the question not merely for the gratification of the gentlemen who propounded it, but also for those hearing, who may have been equally in a mystery as the whys and wherefores of the case.

    I am one of the remnants of that race of beings generally denominated savages, and in the debate last evening, savages seem to have been found no where else that in the Indian of America. That being the understanding, it was generally concluded from my color, that I was of savage descent. This I will not deny. My kindred are Indians. My Fathers reposing in yonder wilderness grave, they too were Indians. I have lived among my people the greater part of my life and I have studied closely their manners, customs, beliefs and modes of thinking. I have seen that the happiness of savages consists in the gratification of his desires. Their appetites are few and not being social affectations, and the pains they use to cultivate this among themselves is great. Their happiness consists in the exercise of their physical and mental powers. Their happiness consists in their temperate habits and the great benedictions of health and ease. Their happiness consists in the prompt discharge of their duties and responsibilities, which are comparatively few to those of the civilized.

    The seemingly entire want of responsibility among them never engenders depressed spirits or a melancholy and gloomy countenance. Their duties being easily discharged never produces uneasiness or unhappiness. Special laws are unnecessary for the restraint of their actions, for in their intercourse with one another, their actions are dictated by right reason, common politeness and civility. Their happiness consists in the contemplation of the Great Attributes, the mighty works and the well-guided providences of the Great Spirit. In roaming through the dense, pathless forests of the earth, in his walk over mountains and through valleys, as he paddles the light canoe in the beautiful streams or on the silvery bosom of the lake, "with a propriety that none can fell, he calls all, the beauteous scenery his own, and with an unpresumptuous eye, he looks up to the clean blue sky and says the Great Spirit made them all."

    The savages walk through nature's vast temple and studio to collect wisdom. In the fall of the leaf and the stately oak, he learns the mortality of man. He sees the Great Spirit in the strong hurricane - he hears His whispers in the gentle Zephyrs of evening - he studies them in the thunder cloud, and views Him as he darts through the heavens in his electrical cars and humbly bows with reverence to his loud callings from the skies, as did the children of Israel to the thunderings of his voice upon Mt. Sinai. Their happiness consists in the contemplation of the red man's heaven - where all is pleasant and where the avarice of the white man will never reach them. Their happiness consists in their virtue, and their virtue consists in their bravery, friendship or hatred, universal benevolence and hospitality, and a strict adherence to truth and duty, and a high regard of word and authority. I have not exaggerated the savage in any respect, but have merely shown in what his happiness consists and which I know from my knowledge of them to be true, and which happiness I know they enjoy. This it was my privilege to enjoy. But it was rumored in my ears that the civilized life was able to provide more happiness than the savage. I left that happiness which I enjoyed to seek more. I have frequented your halls of learning, to see where it may be found. Thus far, I have not been able to find it; in as pure a state as it exists among the savages. I have read of civilized men possessing great wealth and riches of civilized acquiring distinctions and greatness, of civilized acquiring power almost unlimited in its extent, and of new learning and erudite wisdom, but I have never read of happiness existing among them.

    Then to answer the question which was indirectly propounded by the gentleman we only say we are seeking for that happiness, which you say exists among the civilized and not the savages. We have not yet found it - we have plainly told you so. You ask why we go through a higher seminary of learning - the answer, to find that happiness which you say exists in the cultivation of the liberal arts and sciences and the powers of the mind. If then, we do not find it, we shall resume the blanket, the tomahawk and scalping knife, and vermin savage life in all its wildness, and then you may justly say, "Do what you will, and Indian will still be an Indian."

    Ely S. Parker
    Cayuga, 1845

Melancholy Decay of the Indian
This is another speech written by Ely Parker in 1845 at Cayuga Academy. The theme is familiar: the impact of white settlement upon Native nations. However, it is interesting to note that Parker refers to the nations as "they" and to white society and himself as "we."

    "Neither the government nor the people of the United States have any wish to conceal from themselves, nor from the world, that there is upon the frontiers, a wretched forlorn people, looking up to them for support and protection, and proposing strong claims upon their justice and humanity. These people received our forefathers with a spirit of friendship; aided them how to endure privations and hardships; and taught them how to provide for many of the wants with which they were surrounded. The Indians were then strong and we were weak, and without looking at the change that has occurred in any spirit of morbid affectation, but with a feeling of an age accustomed to observe great mutations in the fortunes of nations and of individuals, we may express our regret that they have lost so much of what we have gained.

    The forests that afforded them food and security, where were their cradles, their homes and their graves, have disappeared, or are disappearing before the progress of civilization. We have extinguished their council fires, and ploughed up the bones of their fathers. Their population has diminished with lamentable rapidity. Those tribes that remain like the lone columns of a temple, exhibit but the sad relics of their former strength; and many others live only in the names that have reached us through the earlier accounts of travelers and historians. The causes which have produced this physical desolation are yet in constant and active operation, and threaten to leave us at no distant day without any proof of Indian sufferings, from the Atlantic to the immense desert that slopes along the base of the Rocky Mountains. Nor can we console ourselves with the reflection that their physical condition has been counterbalanced by any melioration in their moral condition. We have taught them neither how to live nor how to die. They are equally stationary in their manners, habits and opinions, in everything but their numbers and happiness, and though existing for more than six generations in contact with a civilized people they owe to them no one valuable improvement in the arts, nor a single principle who can restrain their passions or give hope to despondence, motion to exertion, or confidence to virtue."

    Ely S. Parker
    Cayuga, 1845

National Faith
This is an essay written by Ely Parker in 1847 at Cayuga Academy. It reveals both strong "Christianizing" influences in his life as well as an extraordinary command of the English language - at this point, Parker had only 5 years of formal schooling.

    "The Bible tells us that God does his pleasure in heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. If it is true that not a sparrow falls to the ground without his cognizance, it requires no reasoning to infer that the events of nations connected with their moral interest is subject to the scrutinizing of him who say to kings and ruler, "You shall give an account of you stewardship." If nations and individuals are blessed of God in proportion to their adherence to truth and duty, them surely the prosperity of a nation depends in a great degree upon its recognition of Divine providence, and also on the manner with which it has been received. We shall see this exemplified in the records of history. Nations have arisen and fallen, kingdoms have arisen out of political chaos, flourished and gloried in their power, but they are now moldering into their original element. Cities have also arisen as by a magic power, but they have decayed with their builders. It is not only essential that nations should recognize the hand of the Almighty in their prosperity, but that they should strictly observe his commandments in every vicissitude. The constituted authorities should extend this principle of moral obligation to the people, since the people individually constitute the nation and make up the general character of the body politic. In contemplating the past, individuals have felt a pang of anguish, when the awful thought rushes into the mind that mighty nations have been and are not; that they once exerted an untold influence in the lower world, but are now going to give place to a people more worthy than they; that they once had a living name, but are lost in obscurity; that they once stood high in national grandeur, but are now resting if not in utter forgetfulness, in a degradation more cheerless than blank oblivion. When all this passes through the reflecting mind, the inquiry arises, how is it that after having attained to honor, fame and renown, they are allowed to be brought low? As we proceed with the subject this question will be solved.

    Since, as has been observed, individuals constitute this nation, there must be personal duties discharged in order that the general character of the nation as a moral community be vindicated. By nature, men have lost sight of divine laws, forgotten that mandate of high heaven, and thus followed those paths which lead into ignorance and debasement, and involved themselves in unnatural and extravagant vices. Enlightened nations, however, have continually before them those laws which check those immoral and dissolute habits. The Bible, the only written document containing the will and requisitions of God both to individuals and to nations, is everywhere spread. Wheresoever then, this will is made known the Creator requires that it should be observed. Nor is the command given in the spirit of despotism which legislates only for one's self, but is enjoined and promulgated as the eternal rule of equity and is enforced by the most dreadful sanctions, that a vindictive God could append to compel men to do justly and love mercy. Nations recognizing the same moral laws which govern individuals became happy and prosperous. If there is a tendency to profligacy and indolence in the discharge of business relating to the welfare of the people, or if perplexities embarrass them, they have only to resort to the record books of the Great Law Giver, whose divine pages are full of the testimonials of national afflictions and chastisements as the result of a violated faith and of national sins.

    Since the fall, man has arrogated too much of that glory which belongs to God alone. If he has prospered the language of his heart has been, "See this great Babylon that I have built with my own hand." To such a degree of insolence was this carried that it soon repented God that he had made man. His wrath was exhibited in the destruction of the world by the flood of his vengeance; and Tyre and Babylon and Egypt and Nineveh fell in succession, victims to a just national retribution. Nor was Jerusalem, the City of God, spared when their sins arose like a cloud of death and shut out all the sunlight of God's approbation. If it were necessary, Greece and Rome and Carthage of ancient days, Spain and Turkey of modern times, might be discussed as instances of national degeneracy, punished with national overthrow and decline. But God's hand in controlling the destinies of nations is not seen in their destruction alone. His mercy in rewarding goodness is a signal as his wrath against transgression. For by tracing the progress of every nation we find that national virtue, like individual morality, is blessed, and departure from the laws of equity, visited with vengeance.

    These concise views give us a clue to the future, and enable us to predict with certainty the destiny of modern nations. And though now they may be unequalled in every respect, if judgement and justice are absent from their national council, their seal is fixed. The England that now challenges the admiration of the world will one day meet a day of retribution. Where does not her power extend? The sun rises in her dominions and still sets in the empire. But how came she by her vast power and limitless wealth? Let her monuments of national pride, laid in the blood of the Hindostan and Asiatic answer. Her silken livery was extorted by the oppression of an unjust commerce, and her manufactures are based on extortion. But her foundations are already giving way, and the day is not far distant when the fabric of her government will become a ruined desolation. The canker of discord is already gnawing at the vitals of her empire and the earthquake of disunion rocking her citadels, and England will learn at the expense of her glory that God is just to mark iniquity. America, our America, is too, in the hands of God. And no wonder that the immortal Thomas Jefferson, in view of her national sins, said, "When I remember God is just, I tremble for my country." It is true, religion and learning and liberty have here their home, but the principles of justice have governed neither the nation nor the people. If you ask, "how so," let the burdened sons of Africa answer. They are calling upon God to remember their oppression. He hears them cry and sooner of later the tempest of his wrath will come and tear your national escutcheon in shreds. Nor is this all. The voice of a once powerful people, owners of the soil upon which the monuments of America's glory are reared, is crying to the Great Spirit to revenge their wrongs. The southern slave has no pledge of your national fidelity, nor broken treaties to show, not father's grave desecrated, but how is it with these children of the wilderness! I have seen the tears of the red man, wrung out by the agony of violated patriotism. It is not pleasant task for me to reproach you, but my own nation is now veiled in sorrow by the perfidy of the white man. Do you love your lands, your homes, your kindred? So does the Indian. But this injustice is no new story. Philip and Tecumseh and Osceola, the mighty dead of Indian name will live in their gore forever, and no atonement can bleach their blood out of the ensign of your country. We know many of you would have it otherwise, and as expiation would offer the Indian, Christianity for Paganism. But if he rejects it, at whose hands will the blood of his should be required? Oh America, I fear that there are yet days of darkness in reserve for thee and that they hallowed name may yet be recorded with that of Babylon. Remember then America, that righteousness exalted a Nation, but sin is a reproach to any nation!"