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Indian Hater, Indian Fighter, Indian Killer: Melville’s Indictment of the “New Nation” and the “New World” LESLIE MARMON SILKO S ome readers have remarked on the darkness and hopelessness of Melville’s vision of America in The Confidence-Man. But for me, the novel, by its courage and audacity in confronting the great crimes of the European colonization of the Americas and the complicity and hypocrisy of Christianity in the great crime, was inspiring. Melville’s genius in using satire and irony and his dark humor filled me with happiness and hope. I was twenty years old the first time I read The Confidence-Man, and I was bound for law school where I thought I would find justice. But I had already been writing fiction since I was eighteen, and the fact that Melville’s intelligence and moral vision could reach me more than one hundred years later was an early, important lesson for me about the power of fiction and the novel to transform consciousness even in the most hostile political environments. That Melville wrote no other novels after The Confidence-Man and turned away from fiction to metaphysical poetry should not surprise us. As new knowledge about his life has emerged, especially how publisher Harper & Brothers cheated him and how Christian missionaries attacked him for exposing their crimes against indigenous people, the only wonder is that Melville did not give up fiction sooner. Melville had the misfortune to be born at a time when the integrity of the United States and its Constitution were put to the test, only to fail miserably. These failures deeply affected Melville. With The Confidence-Man, he turned his anger into moral outrage at the shining ideals of justice and brotherhood trampled by the elected officials of the U. S. Government. While there are no politicians on Melville’s riverboat, they are nevertheless represented by his con men who use the same rhetoric and ploys all politicians use. As William Ellery Sedgwick, Elizabeth S. Foster, Nathalia Wright, and Hershel Parker have all agreed, the Indian Hater chapters are the crux of the novel. I find ample evidence in the text of The Confidence-Man and in Melville’s biography to identify Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the c  2012 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 94 L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S M E L V I L L E ’ S I N D I C T M E N T United States, as the chief hypocrite and con man to lead America’s masses in their destruction of the only remnants of honor the United States still possessed. Jackson’s inaugural night brought out hordes of drunken supporters who had been promised jobs in exchange for supporting his election. In order to award jobs to his campaign cronies, Jackson removed 919 government officials from their positions, including the “old Major” Thomas Melvill, Herman Melville’s paternal grandfather, who was removed from his position in the Boston Custom House. With Andrew Jackson’s actions, the “spoils system” was inaugurated in the United States government; it would last for more than fifty years until the civil service reform in 1885. But Jackson did more than remove civil servants. He was, to use Melville’s phrase, an “Indian-hater par excellence” (NN CM 149–50) who campaigned for the presidency on his popularity as an Indian killer in the War of 1812. At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, he led the slaughter of more than eight-hundred Creek Indian men, women, and children. Later, Jackson won the presidential campaign with his promise of “Indian Removal”: all tribes were to be relocated west of the Mississippi River. Any candidate for the title of “Indian-hater par excellence” should possess at least some of the attributes of a con man and deserves to be heard in his own words. Here is what Andrew Jackson said in his inaugural address, March 4, 1829: “It will be my sincere and constant desire to observe toward the Indian...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 94-99
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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