Inherited Obligations: Conquest, Californio Promises, and Native American Land in Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona
- J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 8, Number 1, Spring 2020
- pp. 147-169
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Because readers of Ramona focused on the romantic depictions of Californio hacienda culture, critics often see the inclusion of the Californios as a distraction that undermines Helen Hunt Jackson's political message. However, to read Californio culture as a mere misstep on Jackson's part obscures the important role it plays in her efforts to establish the legitimacy of Native-American land claims. The nostalgic representation Californio hacienda life in Ramona is actually a celebration and idealization of California's Mexican/Spanish past as a time when contracts cemented peaceful relations between Californio land owners and Native American tribes. Ramona illustrates the tragic consequences of replacing Californio-Native American contracts, which involved obligations and groups, with American liberalism's redefinition of contract and its emphasis on individualism and consideration. Jackson criticizes classical liberalism for replacing a Californio racial hierarchy constituted by contractual obligations for an American racial hierarchy that is founded on the suspension of contractual relations between whites and Native Americans. Stripped of the old Californio-Native American contractual agreements and unable to enter into new contracts with white Americans, Native Americans in Ramona have been transformed into a non-contractarian people by white settlers, who are determined to reduce them to a state of barbarism.