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It is the design of this work to narrate, in a clear, simple, and intelligible manner, the leading events connected with the history of our country, from the earliest periods, down, as nearly as practicable, to the present time. The several volumes will be illustrated with all necessary maps and with numerous engravings, and the work is intended to comprise, in a distinct and connected narrative, all that it is essential for the general reader to understand in respect to the subject of it, while for those who have time for more extended studies, it may serve as an introduction to other and more copious sources of information.
The author hopes also that the work may be found useful to the young, in awakening in their minds an interest in the history of their country, and a desire for further instruction in respect to it. While it is doubtless true that such a subject can be really grasped only by minds in some degree mature, still the author believes that many young persons, especially such as are intelligent and thoughtful in disposition and character, may derive both entertainment and instruction from a perusal of these pages. Chapter 1Types of Life in America. Subject of the Volume
The first step to be taken in studying the history of our country is to form some clear and proper conception of the characteristics and condition of the territory which is now occupied by the American people, as it existed when first discovered and explored by Europeans. The aboriginal condition of the country, therefore, anterior to its occupation by white men, and the character and condition of the native tribes which then inhabited it, will be the subject of this volume.Origin of Vegetable and Animal Life in America
When the new world was first discovered it was found to be, like the old, well stocked with plants and animals, and inhabited by a great many tribes and nations of men; and yet the plants and animals, if not the men, were all essentially different from those known in the old world. This was unexpected; it was thought to be quite remarkable, and it added greatly to the difficulty of deciding the question, which, of course, at once arose, in respect to the origin of these plants and animals and men, and to the manner in which they came in possession of a continent thus cut off apparently from all intercourse and connection with the rest of the world.
For the American continent is entirely separated from the old. The nearest approach which it makes to it in any part is at Behring’s Straits, on the north-west, where it is divided form the Asiatic continent by a channel about forty miles wide.Means of Communication With the Old World.
Some animals and perhaps some plants, and most certainly man, may be supposed to have been transported across such a channel of water as this of Behring’s Straits, either by boats made by the savages living on the coasts, or possibly by means of ice, either upon moving fields driven by the wind, or upon the solid surface, at some time when the whole channel was entirely frozen over.
There is also at some distance south of Behring’s Straits a remarkable chain of islands, called the Aleutian Islands, which extend in a regular and continuous line from the American to the Asiatic shore. These islands are nearly all inhabited, and the natives navigate the seas around them in boats made of a frame-work of wood or bone, covered externally with seal skins.
These islands are volcanic. They contain now numerous volcanoes, some active and some extinct, and also hot springs and other indications of subterranean fire. They bear no trees, but they produce a great variety of animals. They look, upon the map, like a row of stepping stones, placed on purpose to enable men and animals from the old world to make their way to the new.
It is perhaps possible to imagine also that a company of men might have been forced accidentally to sea in some large canoe from the coast of Africa, or on the other side from some of the islands of the Pacific, and so driven across the intervening water, and landed upon the American shores. It is true that it would be exceedingly improbable that any such combination of circumstances would occur as could lead to such a result. The canoe or boat must have been very large, the stock of provisions very great, and the wind, while it must not have been violent enough to engulf the boat, must still have blown very long. and very steadily to have carried a company of men so far before they all perished of hunger and thirst. All this would have been very improbable. Still it would be difficult to show that it could not occur. From the hundreds and perhaps thousands of boats full of savages that have been blown off to sea from the coasts of Africa, or from the South Sea Islands, it would be impossible to prove positively that there could never have been one that by any chance could have reached the American shores.
There is still another mode by which we can imagine the animal and vegetable life of America to have been communicated to it from other regions, and that is, by supposing that there was in former ages some direct connection between the two continents by a tract of land which has since become submerged. It is well known now that the crust of the earth is not in a stable condition. It is subject to changes and movements of various kinds, which are now going forward all the time, and have probably always been going forward. In some places the land is slowly rising; in others it is slowly subsiding. There are many places in the world where towns and cities which formerly stood high and dry on the land are now under water. The land has slowly subsided, so that the sea at the present time flows over it, and people passing in boats now look down and see the old foundations, and fragments of the fallen walls and columns, at the bottom.
The rising and sinking of the land in this way can only be directly and positively proved in places which lie along the sea shore, for nowhere else is there any exact standard of comparison by which the rising or falling may be measured. But it is now generally believed by geologists and philosophers that a state of gradual motion, rising in some places and sinking in others, is the natural and constant condition, or, as it is more scientifically expressed, the normal condition of the strata which form the crust of the globe. Of the causes which lead to this state of things it would be out of place to speak here, but there is no doubt of the fact; and this action is in no part of the world going on so actively and with so sensible an effect as on some of the coasts of America.
Now, although these changes of level proceed in an extremely gradual manner, so that the inhabitants that dwell upon the territory thus slowly rising or falling are, in most cases, wholly unconscious of the motion, still the effect might be sufficient, in the course of forty or fifty centuries, to submerge a very extensive tract of land, which in remote ages may have formed a connection between the American continent and other lands lying to the eastward or westward of it.The Plants and Animals of America Generally New.
These and various other similar theories were devised in former times in endeavors to contrive some way of bringing plants and animals from other countries to America; but they have been generally considered unsatisfactory, since on coming fully to examine the plants and animals living here, they were found to be, as it seemed, essentially different from those found in other countries, so different as to render it very improbable, according to the ideas on this subject that have hitherto generally prevailed, that they could ever be descended from the same stock, at least by ordinary generation. The fauna and the flora were both found to be in general essentially dissimilar.
We say in general, for there are some animals, such as birds, that might easily fly across the ocean, and sea-weeds, that might drift across, and polar animals, such as bears, seals, foxes and dogs, and the like, which go and come as they will, all over the Arctic seas, that were found common to both worlds. With a moderate number of exceptions such as these, however, the plants and animals found in America proved on examination to be entirely new.
By the fauna of a country is meant the system of animals that inhabit it. The flora is its system of plants. Now, inasmuch as both the fauna and the flora of America were so essentially different from those of the old world, that, so far as could be judged from all that was known of the propagation of plants and animals, and of the changes which they may undergo from the influence of climate and soil, and other conditions, the one system, in the opinion of naturalists, could not have been produced from the other, it seemed to be wholly useless to attempt to contrive means by which the progenitors of the present races in America could have been wafted across the ocean, or could have migrated by means of countries and territories which once existed, but are now submerged.Man Admitted to be an Exception
This reasoning, however, applied only to plants and to inferior animals, but not to man; for the races of men found upon this continent were deemed by naturalists to be of the same species with all the other races now existing in the world: that is, too difference between the different races of men were judged to be not specific differences, that is, not such as to preclude the possibility of their all being deduced from one original pair. This has always been the general opinion among naturalists, and in their systems of classification all the various races of men are classed as one species. Man, therefore, it has always been admitted, may have been brought to America over the ice at Behring’s Straits, or by boats blown off from the coast of Africa, or from the islands in the Pacific; but the general stocking of the country with its countless thousands of species, both of animals and vegetable life, it was thought could not be thus explained.What is a Species?
The degree of probability that the present plants and animals of America could not have been derived, within a modern period, and by direct descent, from those of the old world, depends, of course, upon the degree of difference there is between them, because there is a certain degree of difference, and that not small, which changes of climate and soil, and of other conditions of that kind will account for; but the difference in question was found to be very great indeed. It is a specific difference, that is, a difference in the species.
A species of plants or animals, as the term has been generally used by naturalists, comprises all such individuals as are so similar to each other that we may suppose them all to have proceeded from one common parentage, and so dissimilar from all others that they could not have been reproduced from the others, nor the others produced from them, by ordinary generation.
Whether there be or not some extraordinary mode by which at rare and distant intervals, and under conditions seldom occurring, and which have not occurred under the observation of men, by which a new species can arise, having its origin, in some way or other, in a former species, in the same sense as now a new individual, of the same species, has it origin in a former individual of the same species, by the production of a seed or an egg, for example; or whether it may not be possible that in an exceedingly great length of time, and by means of a very long-continued accumulation of minute and almost imperceptible changes, one species should be transformed into another, or, by branching, give origin to several others, adapted to new and peculiar circumstances arising in the world’s history, are questions which are now greatly agitated among the learned, and may not soon be settled. All we know is, that the plants and animals throughout the world exist in species, each one of which stands at present distinct and isolated wholly apart from all the rest, and one cannot be transformed into another by ordinary generation, through changes of soil and climate, or any other causes whatever known to man, within so short a period as six thousand years.
The apple, for instance, is one species, and the pear is another. In many respects they are similar to each other, and each may be changed by cultivation and by the operation of other causes a great deal, but by no possibility can one be derived from the other. By different modes of cultivation, by different selections of seeds, by changes in soil, and by other such means, a horticulturist may vary the character of his apples very much. He may produce large apples and small apples, sweet apples and sour apples, apples with a skin red, green, yellow, or brown, but he can never produce a pear. The apple, under all it modifications, will remain an apple still. It is a species by itself, separated from all other species whatever by a fixed and permanent bound, which it is impossible, as has always been supposed, that it can ever pass.
It is the same with animals. Each one is subject to a great many modifications in respect to its form, its size, its color, and even it faculties, but through all these changes each on remains entirely within its own bounds, as it were. The distinguishing characteristics of the species remain distinguishing characteristics of the species remain unchanged. Take for instance, any species of the dog. We may, perhaps, by means of differences of treatment, of food, of climate, or of immediate parentage, procure big dogs and little dogs, weak dogs and strong dogs, gentle dogs and fierce dogs, all proceeding from the same original stock, but we can have no cats, nor anything that shall bear the least specific resemblance to a cat. The Distinction of Species Very Permanent
It may, perhaps, be said that although in the comparatively short periods of time that have been covered by the experiments and observations which have been made by man, the transformation of one species into another may have been impossible, still such changes may have been effected in longer periods, and that the various forms of animal and vegetable life which now exist upon the earth may have proceeded from some common origin, or at least from some moderate number of original types existing in former ages. And, indeed, this may possibly be so. But there seems to be quite satisfactory evidence to prove that the distinction of species is as permanent in respect to the past and the future, at least for very long periods, as it is decisive at the present time.Evidence of Ancient Records
In the first place, we have in Egyptian and Assyrian monuments, which go back with their records several thousand years — much more than half the time, according to the usually received opinion, since the earth was stocked with the present races of animals — many drawings and other representations of plants and animals as they existed then, and even seeds, in some cases, found in the wrappings of Egyptian mummies, all of which show that these plants and animals, and even the races of men, were specifically the same then as now. There have been no changes whatever that encroach at all upon the limits and bounds by which the different species are separated from each other at the present day, or confuse the lines of demarcation in any degree. There is no approach of one type toward another, nor any tendency to such an approach. Now, is a change could be effected in the specific character of a plant or of an animal, in any limited series of generations, we should be very likely to find evidences of it in a period of three or four thousand years, especially in the case of such animals as arrive at maturity in a short time, and thus in any given period reckon as many generations as years. Between the bird carved upon an Egyptian or Assyrian slab, and its representative at the present day, probably three thousand generations may have intervened, and yet the present living specimen is specifically identical with the delineation of its ancestor. The great comparative anatomist Cuvier examined the mummy of an ibis, from three to four thousand years old, comparing it minutely with a living bird of the present day, and found the two specimens in all respects identically the same.
There is also a bass-relief from the ruins of Babylon, with a dog represented upon it, which is found by naturalists to be identical with a species of the dog existing in Asia at the present day.Evidence of Fossil Remains
But we have still more conclusive evidence than this derived from ancient monuments of the very great permanence of the characteristics by which different species of plants and animals are distinguished from each other, in the fossil remains which exist in the strata of the earth. By means of these our observations upon the forms of vegetable and animal life which have existed upon our globe may be carried back to an immense antiquity, and extended over so vast a number and variety of species as to furnish us, as it has always been supposed, with all the means of information on this subject that can be desired. It has been thought to be fully proved by these observations that every species which exists upon the earth remains unchanged so long as it exists. When at length its period has expired, it disappears from the field, while new ones are continually arising to take the place of those that are gone. But no one passes, by gradations, into any other; and the lines of distinction by which each is separated from all the rest remain sharp and well-defined from the beginning to the end.Opinions of Naturalists and Philosophers
At least, this has been hitherto the view which naturalists and philosophers have almost unanimously taken of this subject, though there have not been wanting writers who have maintained the contrary opinion. Notwithstanding the evidence furnished by the appearance of fossil remains, that the lines of demarcation separating the different species are absolutely and forever impassable, there have been some advocates of the theory that all the present races of animals may have been derived by insensible gradations from a few primordial types. This theory has very recently been brought forward anew in a form to attract general attention. Still, so unanimous and so decisive has been the testimony of geologists in respect to the evidence furnished by the fossil remains, and so inconsistent is it with the development theory, as it is called, that very great changes must take place in the opinion of naturalists in respect to the true import of the geological records before this opinion can be generally received.
But however the great question in respect to the absolute and perpetual permanence of the distinction of species may be ultimately decided, there is no doubt that all naturalists fully concur in the opinion that this permanence is, at all events, so great as entirely to preclude the possibility that the American species of plants and animals can have descended from the stocks of the old world within so short a period as six thousand years. Some other supposition must, therefore, be made than that the forms of life existing here could have been derived, within that period, by ordinary generation from those prevailing in other portions of the world. Some of the principal suppositions which have been made will be presently alluded to.Examples of Diversity
Some of the American plants and animals attracted great attention in Europe when they were first made known there, being recognized as entirely new, and found to be quite peculiar in character. The potato was one; the turkey was another. No turkey was ever known to exist in Europe, Asia, or Africa before that time, and no fossil remains of such an animal have ever been discovered there. The tobacco plant was another species that was originally first found in America, though it has since become extensively diffused throughout the world. A more particular account of some of these plants and animals will be given in future chapter. They are only mentioned here as illustrations of the great truth, that when this country was first explored by European visitors an entirely new series of forms of vegetable and animal life was found to prevail here, and such as could not have resulted from any of the forms that prevail in the old world, within the period of six thousand years, through the operation of any laws that are known to us, in respect to the relation of parent and offspring.The General Types the Same
And yet, though the plants and animals that are found in America are all different, and seem to be essentially different, so far as relates to derivation from the same parentage within any moderate period, from those of the old world, it is a very curious and a very significant fact, that there is a very close analogy between the two great stocks — an analogy so close as to furnish very strong reason to believe that they must have had a common origin, or at least have derived their existence from some common law. All, or nearly all, the great types of animal and vegetable life which are known in the old world, have their representatives in the new, and yet no particular species are so represented. While there is a generic similarity, there is also a specific difference. We scarcely knew which excites most our wonder and curiosity, the analogy in the great types, or the total, or almost total diversity in individual species. We say almost total, for, in addition to the exceptions already referred to, by the time that the fauna and flora of America came to be fully examined, great numbers of animals had been brought over, either by accident or design, from Europe, and mingled with the animals in America; and there are many plants which are now found growing wild in various parts of the country, and seem to be natives, but which are identical in species with those growing in the seeds were originally brought from the old world, though perhaps it cannot in all cases be positively proved that they were. It may however be said with certainty, that, as a general rule, of the hundreds and thousands of plants and animals, natives of America, that have been examined and described, all or nearly all are essentially different from those of corresponding type produced by the old world.
Lammergeyer of the Alps
The accompanying engravings, which represent the gigantic vultures which inhabit the mountain summits respectively of the new world and the old, strikingly illustrated this principle. While they are generically similar, both in their structure and in their habits, still, in respect to what the naturalists call specific characters, they are entirely distinct.The Mystery General
The mystery which attends the origin of these different and peculiar species of plants and animals inhabiting the new continent, has been found, since America was discovered, to be general, for it is now known that not merely America, but also every part of the globe, so far as the different zones and districts of the earth are separated from each other by seas, or mountains, or other great natural boundaries, has each its own fauna and flora different from those of every other region. These differences of species, too, exist not in space only, but in time. From the evidence that an examination of the strata of the earth affords, we find that every different period of the earth’s history, going back to very remote ages, had its own system of plants and animals, so that thousands of species that existed once do not exist now, and those which exist now did not exist then. Thus it is established by evidence that seems to be conclusive, that just as in the history of any one species, there is a succession of individuals, each of which is born, grows, flourishes, declines, and dies, to be succeeded by others which rise into being, and come forward to maturity, while their predecessors decline; in the same manner, in the history of the world, there has been a succession of species. each of which has come into being in its own time, increased in numbers, become widely extended, and then has gradually diminished and finally disappeared, to be succeeded by other species that arise in the same manner, and go through in the same manner the successive periods of youth, maturity, and decay. Thus it would appear that, of the vast congeries of animal and vegetable creations which the history of the globe presents to view, each separate period of its existence, and also every different district on its surface, has received its own peculiar and exclusive forms. There are several different opinions in regard to the proper explanation of this remarkable fact. Of these opinions only two are now seriously entertained by naturalists and philosophers, and the question between these two is, at the present time, a subject of earnest discussion throughout the whole scientific world.Condor of the Andes The Two Principal Theories
The first opinion is, that each species is, in its essential nature, and has been throughout its whole history, entirely distinct from every other one, and that it was called into being in its own appointed time, either by a special act of creation exerted for this end, or else by the operation of some general laws to us wholly unknown, by which, when certain conditions are combined, a new species is derived in some mysterious way from one or more other species existing before it, just as individuals of any given species are known to proceed from other individuals of the same. This opinion has been hitherto a prevailing one among naturalists and philosophers, and a great desire has been felt to discover the general conditions and laws, if such there are within the reach of human observation, under which new species arise.
The second opinion is, that life, in all its manifestations, throughout the whole vegetable and animal world, is one, and that all organizations that now exist, or have ever existed, have been produced, by a succession of exceedingly gradual and long-continued changes, from one, or at most a very few, primordial forms.
These changes, it is supposed, result from a constitution of vegetable and animal life such that very slight modifications of structure occur in all cases in the descent from parent to offspring; that these modifications, which are insignificant, and sometimes scarcely perceptible in the first generation, become very great by being accumulated in a long series of years, and that changes thus resulting, branching off in different directions, as it were, according as the conditions and influences to which different races are exposed, vary, in different places and time, and acting through immensely long periods of time, have given rise to all the countless forms of animal and vegetable life with which the world now teems.Inquiries Into This Subject Right and Proper
This is not the place to discuss, nor even to explain these opinions. They are only briefly alluded to here, on account of the bearing of this general question on the origin of life in America. Some persons feel a degree of hesitation in following the guidance of naturalists in their inquiries in respect to the laws of life, as if the object of those engages in these studies was to discover some way of accounting for the works of creation without acknowledging the hand of a creator. But this is not so. Scientific inquiries into the causes of what we see are not attempts to dispense with a divine agency in nature, but to discover the manner in which this agency is exercised, and the laws by which it regulates it action. When Franklin, and the other philosophers of his time, made known to the world that they had discovered the cause which produced thunder and lightning, many people thought it was impious for them to pretend to have done so. For the philosophers to attribute a phenomenon which had always been regarded as produced directly by the power of God to petty secondary causes, which they had themselves discovered, was, in the opinion of these persons, atheistical and profane.
But it is now universally admitted that such a discovery does not limit or control the power of God at all. It only enables us to see somewhat further into his ways. No one detracts from the honor due to an engineer for any grand result that he produces, by explaining the mystery of the secret mechanism that he has contrived by which to produce it.
It is so with all the works of nature. We may push our inquiries in every direction with the utmost diligence and vigor, and carry them to any extent, without the least fear of ever making any discoveries which will tend in the smallest degree to supersede the agency of a supreme and all-pervading power, either in the original constitution of nature, or in the constant control of all that takes place under the operation of its laws.The Testimony of Scriptures
There is another source of apprehension, of a religious nature, by which the mind is sometimes restricted and hampered in studying the laws of nature and the past history of the globe, and that is the fear that something will be found which may conflict, or at least appear to conflict, with the testimony of Scripture, and thus shake the foundation of our Christian faith. But we must consider that the book of revelation is intended to instruct us solely in moral and spiritual truths, while the book of nature has been opened before us to teach us science and philosophy. They are both equally from God. In one as much as in the other, it is his voice that we hear, and his instructions that we receive; and we must not allow our ears to be closed, or our reason to be trammeled, in respect to what he teaches us directly in one, by too literal interpretations of what is said incidentally and indirectly in the other. Since the great mistake which was made in the time of Galileo, when it was attempted to shut out from mankind the evidences presented by mathematics and astronomy, in respect to the laws of the solar system, by inferences ignorantly drawn from incidental allusions in the Scriptures to the motions of the heavenly bodies, all wise and good men have come to the conclusion that we must look to the word of God for instruction in moral and religious truth alone, while for science and philosophy we must go to that other volume — the great system of creation and providence — which the same infallible teacher has spread open before us. Each comes from the same hand, and each in its own sphere it, in a certain sense, equally, for us, the word of God.Means of Transportation for Animals and Plants
A great many very curious modes by which plants and animals may be transported from one country to another, even across wide and deep seas, have recently been brought to light, which very much diminish the difficulty of supposing that America might have been stocked from the old — provided always, we grant that plants and animals are subject to extensive modifications in the course of long periods of time, by which the species is finally changed, and new forms adapted to new situations and conditions are developed.