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The American savage is not a solitary drunkard : his eagerness to become intoxicated generally arises from an uncontrolled wish to enjoy, in common with his comrades, those frantic and riotous orgies with which their drunken feasts are almost invariably accompanied. A feast which does not end in complete ebriety is insufficient; and a present of spirits to a band of Indians, unless the quantity be enough to intoxicate and madden the whole party, is but a paltry gift. Successive days and nights must be consumed in the debauch; the women commonly join in it with avidity; the youths partake of it; the children are taught to share in it; and the acts of intemperance and riot which ensue, often form throughout the tribe a subject of marked record for a long period to come.
The season of the year, also, in which the Indians were generally supplied with the means of carrying on their drunken debauches, added materially to the extent of the mischief. It was usually during the rigour of the winter that they were in the habit of obtaining spirituous liquors. At that period of the year they ought to have been occupied
procuring a stock of provisions for their families, and obtaining the furs-most valuable in the winter
which constitute the chief articles of their barter for European or American manufactures : but by the prolonged and enervating scenes of intem
perance which occurred during the winter months, they were rendered unable to hunt; their provisions failed them; the clothing which they had procured for themselves and families was often wantonly burnt and destroyed ; the women, from the effects of intoxication, in which they rivalled the men, were rendered incapable of protecting their children, or giving sustenance to their infants ;
hunger, cold, and disease, visited them with accumulated terrors; mutilations and murders every wbere prevailed ; and the accounts of those writers may well be credited, who state that, by the intemperate use of spirituous liquors, and its attendant evils, whole nations of Indians have been swept from the face of the globe.
It is not necessary to enter here into details, or to furnish melancholy examples connected with this subject; but if the reader wish to satisfy himself more fully with respect to the unjustifiable practices of those early periods, he may be referred (among other works) to the Journals of Mr. Adair, published in his History of the North American Indians, and to those of Mr. Long, in bis Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter ; — both of whom resided many years among the Indians, about the middle of the last century.
It cannot be denied, indeed, that Great Britain seems never - at any period, at least, of the more early history of her North American
colonies — to have strenuously endeavoured to put an adequate stop to this evil. In some cases during the reigns of James I. and Charles I., proclamations had been issued for the purpose of regulating the trade between the English and the Indians, and “for prohibiting interloping and disorderly trading in New England in America ;"* but these royal mandates seem to have been exclusively calculated for the benefit of the former, and contained no injunctions whatever against supplying the natives with spirituous liquors, the most destructive article which they could have imported. Neither does it appear that any very effectual measures were ever adopted by the provincial governments to effect its prohibition. We find, indeed, some early restrictions in Pennsylvania, but these were ineffectual. In Connecticut, also, a fine was imposed upon the seller of spirits to the natives; and every Indian who got drunk was likewise fined five shillings, and sentenced to receive ten lashes. But these, and similar enactments which were made in other provinces, proved of little or no effect.
In stating, however, that the government of
• See Rymer's Foedera, vol. xvii. p. 416, and vol. xix.
+ Douglass's Summary of the Settlements in North America, part ii. sec. 11.
Great Britain seems not to have paid an early attention to the subject of the disposal of spirits among the Indians within her North American territories, it ought to be noticed, that instructions upon this subject were issued for the guidance of what is termed the Indian Department in Canada. That branch of the public service originated about the year 1764, when Canada was ceded to Great Britain. Its object, no doubt, was to gain over and secure the good will of the Indians; and its operation has been probably continued, in the hope of retaining in the British interest those tribes who principally reside towards the frontiers of the territory belonging to the United States. For this purpose that department, among its other duties, has every year to distribute gratuitously among the Indians a large quantity of clothing, ammunition, cutlery, and other articles of British manufacture ; but spirituous liquors are strictly prohibited from constituting a part of these donations.
One of the powerful causes of the baneful traffic of spirits among the North American Indians, was the commercial rivalship of the European furtraders. These unfortunately considered the practice as very beneficial to them; and, while any individual trader, or class of traders, followed the pernicious custom, it could not be reasonably expected, perhaps, that others would be disposed to
relinquish it. Thus the evil continued its rapid progress, and the Indian became its victim. In the year 1821, in consequence of a junction which had been effected between the two principal rival companies by whom the fur-trade in British North America was chiefly carried on, an Act of Parliament was passed (1st and 2d Geo. IV. ch. 66), which, among other proposed ameliorations, pointed to that of preventing the distribution of spirituous liquors among the Indians; and the result of the measure, it is sincerely to be hoped, will ere long become perceptible, in the total abolition of that practice throughout the greater part of the extensive Indian countries belonging to Great Britain.
It is true that in some parts of the interior, where the Indian tribes are more powerful and independent, and where, from the abundance of game and provisions, they stand in less need of assistance from the Europeans, the prohibition of spirits would require to be somewhat more cautious and gradual. But, even among these, the period of a few years ought to be sufficient for the termination of a system which has proved so destructive to the welfare of the Indians in British North America. To this, however, there may be urged one objection, as applicable to those parts of the British possessions more immediately adjoining the territory belonging to the United States. The same reasons which had naturally prevented one