Saturday, May 17, 2008


An old Indian chief sat in his hut on the reservation, smoking a ceremonial pipe and eyeing two U. S. Government officials sent to interview him.

"Chief Two Eagles" asked one official, "You have observed the White Man for 90 years. You've seen his wars and his technological advances. You've seen his progress and the damage he's done."

The chief nodded in agreement.

The official continues. "Considering all these events, in your opinion, where did the White Man go wrong?

The chief stared at the officials for over a minute and then replied, "When White Man found the land, Indians were running it. No taxes. No debt. Plenty buffalo. Plenty beaver. Women did all the work. Medicine man free. Indian man spent all day hunting and fishing, all night having sex". Then the chief leaned back and smiled. "Only White Man dumb enough to think he could improve system like that."

Aside from some cultural stereotyping in the above joke it certainly rings true of what we have mostly become in this country. We speak out of both sides of our collective mouths. All the while we are espousing cultural diversity and freedom, we seem to be hell bent on reinventing the rest of the world in our own image. We feel in an ultimate ethnocentric angst that whatever we do, how we do it, how we think and the God we worship should be adopted by all the peoples of the world. We think that if we can’t immediately and completely assimilate and homogenize those who would accept our invitation to settle within our borders, they pose a grave risk to our society.

History reflects that other cultures that thought and acted this way ultimately met an unseemly end. The Soviet Union pops into mind first but there are many, many more. China appears to currently have its hands full with Tibet.

There is no doubt that our society and culture will be tweaked and changes will inevitably happen as populations bringing new perspectives settle in our Land of Opportunity. Those who would staunchly defend our Pilgrim legacy (which is part of my heritage) have apparently forgotten that they were intolerant Protestant separatists who felt that the Church of England was beyond redemption and rejecting reconciliation, sought complete severance. These Puritan radicals were understandably persecuted by James I and eventually ended up on our shores via the Netherlands without a patent or royal charter, far from their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. They survived though were eventually swallowed up by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691 ironically with the blessing of King William III.

The Pilgrims with blinders on failed to learn the lesson of their own persecution and became masters of intolerance themselves. The Pilgrims, for example, banned Quakers from achieving Freeman status which didn’t endear themselves to their southern neighbors in Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Further south of Plimouth Colony and “New England” and the area originally sought by the Pilgrims, the cosmopolitan Dutch were busy in 1624 with the establishment of New Amsterdam/New Netherland at the mouth of the Hudson River on the strategic southern tip of Manhattan Island. Though they were eventually ousted by the English, their contribution to the history of the area and the eventual United States of America was and remains substantial. Then, as now, the Dutch can teach us a thing or two about tolerance in our woefully imperfect world.

Contrary to the Pilgrims, the Dutch welcomed diversity and the spirit of individualism from the perspective of a principled tolerance and necessity. For the Dutch there was little reason to emigrate to the New World as poverty and persecution were negligible in Holland. Those who promised to work for six years in New Amsterdam would receive free passage and a generous plot of land. Indeed, over half of the residents of New Amsterdam, were foreigners including, among others, Germans, Swedes, Finns, Flemish, Africans, Latinos, Portuguese, Arabs, English and Shepardic and Ashkenazi Jews. The historical record reflects that eighteen different languages were spoken within the small community of New Amsterdam. The Dutch unlike other Europeans (especially the English) were motivated to acknowledge native sovereignty though not so ethical as to purchase all of Manhattan Island for goods worth sixty Dutch Guilders (approximately $24.00 US) on M
ay 24, 1626).

So while I have at least partially raised up the Dutch let me insert a somber reality. While the Dutch Republic of the 17th century was built on a policy of tolerance and inclusion that was not entirely the case in New Amsterdam where policy based on commercial and economic interests was dictated by the Governor, Directors and Magistrates of the Dutch West India Company. We note that the citizens of New Amsterdam were not permitted to freely elect their own assembly until 1683. That concession to the mostly apathetic Dutch was in large part accomplished because of English influence.

Part of this whole paradigm was that the individualistic Dutch cared little for a grandiose sense of community and were not happy being concentrated into towns. They showed disdain for politics and were probably apathetc when gifted with a new democracy. The English, however, demonstrated a strong sense of community and embraced politics like a duck to water (they still do). The English demanded and received more privileges than their more complacent Dutch contemporaries.

The Dutch of New Netherland appear anesthetized, appeased and intellectually comforted by that critical passage in the founding document of the Dutch Republic in 1579 which stated, “Everyone shall remain free in religion and that no one may be persecuted or investigated because of religion.” The magistrates of Vlissingen, now Flushing in the New York Borough of Queens, embraced that passage when they wrote in 1658, “The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extends to Jews, Turks (Muslims) and Egyptians (Gypsies) which is the glory of the outward state of Holland… We are bound by the law of God and man to do good to all men, and evil to no man, according to the Patent and Charter of our Towne given unto us in the name of the States General.”

That grand statement is in direct contrast to the first settlers at Jamestown who obviously anticipating a warm-up for the 21st century on the occasion of the establishment of the Anglican Church in Virginia, were instructed to use every means possible to bring the natives to “the knowledge of God and the obedience of the King, his heirs and successors, under such severe pains and punishments as should be inflicted by the respective presidents and councils of the several colonies”. That statement would mostly fly in the face of the Dutch who landed on Governor’s Island in 1624. We can safely say, however, that was the mantra the Spanish used against the Aztecs and the Maya as their pretense for invasion. History speaks that in the long run, that policy just doesn’t work.

Still, many historians, especially the Dutch, see New Amsterdam as the epicenter of religious pluralism and tolerance in the Americas and even the basis for the formation of the United States of America. Indeed, there is no doubt that this was America’s first significant culturally diverse society.

Dutch tolerance was and is real and had an enduring positive effect on the formation of our own country witness the First Amendment to The Constitution which among other civil liberties, guarantees the right of religious freedom which was ratified in 1791.

No doubt that America’s Founding Fathers sought to imitate all that was right and conversely avoid all that was wrong with the Dutch Republic and the rest of the world. We should note that the Dutch were supportive of the American Revolution and in 1782 recognized the sovereignty of the United States. Who facilitated all this? None other than John Adams who as Ambassador to The Netherlands was no doubt playing to the Dutch crowds when he wrote in 1781 that, “the originals of the two republics are so much alike that the history of one seems but a transcript from that of the other; …the great characters the Dutch Republic exhibits…have been particularly studied, admired, and imitated in every American state”. All this was in advance of a successful request for a loan of five million dollars to pay for the revolution. In 1782 Adams also negotiated a treaty of Friendship and Commerce with the Dutch, the first such treaty between the United States and a foreign power following the 1778 treaty with France. By the way, the Kingdom of Morocco was the first sovereign nation to recognize the new United States of America in 1777.

Whether by practice or theory it certainly appears that the Dutch have been the bastions of true tolerance and understanding and can still teach us a thing or two. Their current full blown controversy about alleged anti Muslim immigration protocols aside, they appear to mostly get along, and admirably so.

It would not be unnatural to reinforce and reward healthy attitudes about cultural diversity while strengthening and enforcing our immigration laws. Tolerance, mutual respect and a sincere appreciation for the value of every human being needs to be coupled with a pragmatic approach to the issue. We need not be motivated by issues and behaviors just to appease cultural minorities and demonstrate our “cultural sensitivity”. We have to act for the good of the many especially when we see processes that work. I for one have an appointment with Chief Two Eagles who is going to counsel me on my upcoming move to the country.


Ned Buxton

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