It is difficult to describe an Indian tribe by the affirmative elements of its composition. Nevertheless it is clearly marked, and the ultimate organization of the great body of the American aborigines. The large number of independent tribes into which they had fallen by the natural process of segmentation, is the striking characteristic of their condition. Each tribe was individualized by a name, by a separate dialect, by a supreme government, and by the possession of a territory which it occupied and defended as its own. The tribes were as numerous as the dialects, for separation did not become complete until dialectical variation had commenced. Indian tribes, therefore, are natural growths through the separation of the same people in the area of their occupation, followed by divergence of speech, segmentation, and independence.
We have seen that the phratry was not so much a governmental as a social organization, while the gens, tribe, and confederacy, were necessary and logical stages of progress in the growth of the idea of government. A confederacy could not exist, under gentile society, without tribes as a basis; nor could tribes exist without gentes, though they might without phratries. In this chapter I will endeavor to point out the manner in which these numerous tribes were formed, and, presumptively out of one original people; the causes which produced their perpetual segmentation; and the principal attributes which distinguished an Indian tribe as an organization.
The exclusive possession of a dialect and of a territory has led to the application of the term nation to many Indian tribes, notwithstanding the fewness of the people in each. Tribe and nation, however, are not strict equivalents. A nation does not arise, under gentile institutions, until the tribes united under the same government have coalesced into one people, as the four Athenian tribes coalesced in Attica, three Dorian tribes at Sparta, and three Latin and Sabine tribes at Rome. Federation requires independent tribes in separate territorial areas; but coalescence unites them by a higher process in the same area, although the tendency to local separation by gentes and by tribes would continue. The confederacy is the nearest analogue of the nation, but not strictly equivalent. Where the gentile organization exists, the organic series gives all the terms which are needed for a correct description.
An Indian tribe is composed of several gentes, developed from two or more, all the members of which are intermingled by marriage, and all of whom speak the same dialect. To a stranger the tribe is visible, and not the gens. The instances are extremely rare, among the American aborigines, in which the tribe embraced peoples speaking different dialects. When such cases are found, it resulted from the union of a weaker with a stronger tribe speaking a closely related dialect, as the union of the Missouris with the Otoes after the overthrow of the former. The fact that the great body of the aborigines were found in independent tribes illustrates the slow and difficult growth of the idea of government under gentile institutions. A small portion only had attained to the ultimate stage known among them, that of a confederacy of tribes speaking dialects of the same stock language. A coalescence of tribes into a nation had not occurred in any case in any part of America.
A constant tendency to disintegration, which has proved such a hinderance to progress among savage and barbarous tribes, existed in the elements of the gentile organization. It was aggravated by a further tendency to divergence of speech, which was inseparable from their social state and the large areas of their occupation. A verbal language, although remarkably persistent in its vocables, and still more persistent in its grammatical forms, is incapable of permanence. Separation of the people in area was followed in time by variation in speech; and this, in turn, led to separation in interests and ultimate independence. It was not the work of a brief period, but of centuries of time, aggregating finally into thousands of years. The great number of dialects and stock languages in North and South America, which presumptively were derived, the Eskimo excepted, from one original language, require for their formation the time measured by three ethnical periods.
New tribes as well as new gentes were constantly forming by natural growth; and the process was sensibly accelerated by the great expanse of the American continent. The method was simple. In the first place there would occur a gradual outflow of people from some overstocked geographical centre, which possessed superior advantages in the means of subsistence. Continued from year to year, a considerable population would thus be developed at a distance from the original seat of the tribe. In course of time the emigrants would become distinct in interests, strangers in feeling, and last of all, divergent in speech. Separation and independence would follow, although their territories were contiguous. A new tribe was thus created. This is a concise statement of the manner in which the tribes of the American aborigines were formed, but the statement must be taken as general. Repeating itself from age to age in newly acquired as well as in old areas, it must be regarded as a natural as well as inevitable result of the gentile organization, united with the necessities of their condition. When increased numbers pressed upon the means of subsistence, the surplus removed to a new seat where they established themselves with facility, because the government was perfect in every gens, and in any number of gentes united in a band. Among the Village Indians the same thing repeated itself in a slightly different manner. When a village became overcrowded with numbers, a colony went up or down on the same stream and commenced a new village. Repeated at intervals of time several such villages would appear, each independent of the other and a self-governing body; but united in a league or confederacy for mutual protection. Dialectical variation would finally spring up, and thus complete their growth into tribes.
The manner in which tribes are evolved from each other can be shown directly by examples. The fact of separation is derived in part from tradition, in part from the possession by each of a number of the same gentes, and deduced in part from the relations of their dialects. Tribes formed by the subdivisions of an original tribe would possess a number of gentes in common, and speak dialects of the same language. After several centuries of separation they would still have a number of the same gentes. Thus, the Hurons, now Wyandotes, have six gentes of the same name with six of the gentes of the Seneca-Iroquois, after at least four hundred years of separation. The Potawattamies have eight gentes of the same name with eight among the Ojibwas, while the former have six, and the latter fourteen, which are different; showing that new gentes have been formed in each tribe by segmentation since their separation. A still older offshoot from the Ojibwas, or from the common parent tribe of both, the Miamis, have but three gentes in common with the former, namely, the Wolf, the Loon, and the Eagle. The minute social history of the tribes of the Ganowánian family is locked up in the life and growth of the gentes. If investigation is ever turned strongly in this direction, the gentes themselves would become reliable guides, both in respect to the order of separation from each other of the tribes of the same stock, and possibly of the great stocks of the aborigines.
The following illustrations are drawn from tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism. When discovered, the eight Missouri tribes occupied the banks of the Missouri river for more than a thousand miles; together with the banks of its tributaries, the Kansas and the Platte; and also the smaller rivers of Iowa. They also occupied the west bank of the Mississippi down to the Arkansas. Their dialects show that the people were in three tribes before the last subdivisions; namely, first, the Punkas and Omahas, second, the Iowas, Otoes and Missouris, and third, the Kaws, Osages and Quappas. These three were undoubtedly subdivisions of a single original tribe, because their several dialects are still much nearer to each other than to any other dialect of the Dakotian stock language to which they belong. There is, therefore, a linguistic necessity for their derivation from an original tribe. A gradual spread from a central point on this river along its banks, both above and below, would lead to a separation in interests with the increase of distance between their settlements, followed by divergence of speech, and finally by independence. A people thus extending themselves along a river in a prairie country might separate, first into three tribes, and afterwards into eight, and the organization of each subdivision remain complete. Division was neither a shock, nor an appreciated calamity; but a separation into parts by natural expansion over a larger area, followed by a complete segmentation. The uppermost tribe on the Missouri were the Punkas at the mouth of the Niobrara river, and the lowermost the Quappas at the mouth of the Arkansas on the Mississippi, with an interval of near fifteen hundred miles between them. The intermediate region, confined to the narrow belt of forest upon the Missouri, was held by the remaining six tribes. They were strictly River Tribes.
Another illustration may be found in the tribes of Lake Superior. The Ojibwas, Otawas and Potawattamies are subdivisions of an original tribe; the Ojibwas representing the stem, because they remained at the original seat at the great fisheries upon the outlet of the lake. Moreover, they are styled “Elder Brother” by the remaining two; while the Otawas were styled “Next Older Brother,” and the Potawattamies “Younger Brother.” The last tribe separated first, and the Otawas last, as is shown by the relative amount of dialectical variation, that of the former being greatest. At the time of their discovery, A. D. 1641, the Ojibwas were seated at the Rapids on the outlet of Lake Superior, from which point they had spread along the southern shore of the lake to the site of Ontonagon, along its northeastern shore, and down the St. Mary River well toward Lake Huron. Their position possessed remarkable advantages for a fish and game subsistence, which, as they did not cultivate maize and plants, was their main reliance. It was second to none in North America, with the single exception of the Valley of the Columbia. With such advantages they were certain to develop a large Indian population, and to send out successive bands of emigrants to become independent tribes. The Potawattamies occupied a region on the confines of Upper Michigan and Wisconsin, from which the Dakotas in 1641, were in the act of expelling them. At the same time the Ottawas, whose earlier residence is supposed to have been on the Ottawa river of Canada, had drawn westward and were then seated upon the Georgian Bay, the Manitoulin Islands and at Mackinaw, from which points they were spreading southward over Lower Michigan. Originally one people, and possessing the same gentes, they had succeeded in appropriating a large area. Separation in place, and distance between their settlements, had long before their discovery resulted in the formation of dialects, and in tribal independence. The three tribes, whose territories were contiguous, had formed an alliance for mutual protection, known among Americans as “the Ottawa Confederacy.” It was a league, offensive and defensive, and not, probably, a close confederacy like that of the Iroquois.
Prior to these secessions another affiliated tribe, the Miamis, had broken off from the Ojibwa stock, or the common parent tribe, and migrated to central Illinois and western Indiana. Following in the track of this migration were the Illinois, another and later offshoot from the same stem, who afterwards subdivided into the Peorias, Kaskaskias, Weaws, and Piankeshaws. Their dialects, with that of the Miamis, find their nearest affinity with the Ojibwa, and next with the Cree.78 The outflow of all these tribes from the central seat at the great fisheries of Lake Superior is a significant fact, because it illustrates the manner in which tribes are formed in connection with natural centres of subsistence. The New England, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Carolina Algonkians were, in all probability, derived from the same source. Several centuries would be required for the formation of the dialects first named, and for the production of the amount of variation they now exhibit.
The foregoing examples represent the natural process by which tribes are evolved from each other, or from a parent tribe established in an advantageous position. Each emigrating band was in the nature of a military colony, if it may be so strongly characterized, seeking to acquire and hold a new area; preserving at first, and as long as possible, a connection with the mother tribe. By these successive movements they sought to expand their joint possessions, and afterward to resist the intrusion of alien people within their limits. It is a noticeable fact that Indian tribes speaking dialects of the same stock language have usually been found in territorial continuity, however extended their common area. The same has, in the main, been true of all the tribes of mankind linguistically united. It is because the people, spreading from some geographical centre, and maintaining an arduous struggle for subsistence, and for the possession of their new territories, have preserved their connection with the mother land as a means of succor in times of danger, and as a place of refuge in calamity.
It required special advantages in the means of subsistence to render any area an initial point of migration through the gradual development of a surplus population. These natural centres were few in number in North America. There are but three. First among them is the Valley of the Columbia, the most extraordinary region on the face of the earth in the variety and amount of subsistence it afforded, prior to the cultivation of maize and plants; second, the peninsula between Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan, the seat of the Ojibwas, and the nursery land of many Indian tribes; and third, the lake region in Minnesota, the nursery ground of the present Dakota tribes. These are the only regions in North America that can be called natural centres of subsistence, and natural sources of surplus numbers. There are reasons for believing that Minnesota was a part of the Algonkin area before it was occupied by the Dakotas. When the cultivation of maize and plants came in, it tended to localize the people and support them in smaller areas, as well as to increase their numbers; but it failed to transfer the control of the continent to the most advanced tribes of Village Indians, who subsisted almost entirely by cultivation. Horticulture spread among the principal tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism and greatly improved their condition. They held, with the non-horticultural tribes, the great areas of North America when it was discovered, and from their ranks the continent was being replenished with inhabitants.
The multiplication of tribes and dialects has been the fruitful source of the incessant warfare of the aborigines upon each other. As a rule the most persistent warfare has been waged between tribes speaking different stock languages; as, for example, between the Iroquois and Algonkin tribes, and between the Dakota tribes and the same. On the contrary the Algonkin and Dakota tribes severally have, in general, lived at peace among themselves. Had it been otherwise they would not have been found in the occupation of continuous areas. The worst exception were the Iroquois, who pursued a war of extermination against their kindred tribes, the Eries, the Neutral Nation, the Hurons and the Susquehannocks. Tribes speaking dialects of the same stock language are able to communicate orally and thus compose their differences. They also learned, in virtue of their common descent, to depend upon each other as natural allies.
Numbers within a given area were limited by the amount of subsistence it afforded. When fish and game were the main reliance for food, it required an immense area to maintain a small tribe. After farinaceous food was superadded to fish and game, the area occupied by a tribe was still a large one in proportion to the number of the people. New York, with its forty-seven thousand square miles, never contained at any time more than twenty-five thousand Indians, including with the Iroquois the Algonkins on the east side of the Hudson and upon Long Island, and the Eries and Neutral Nation in the western section of the state. A personal government founded upon gentes was incapable of developing sufficient central power to follow and control the increasing numbers of the people, unless they remained within a reasonable distance from each other.
Among the Village Indians of New Mexico, Mexico, and Central America an increase of numbers in a small area did not arrest the process of disintegration. Each pueblo was usually an independent self-governing community. Where several pueblos were seated near each other on the same stream, the people were usually of common descent, and either under a tribal or confederate government. There are some seven stock languages in New Mexico alone, each spoken in several dialects. At the time of Coronado’s expedition, 1540-1542, the villages found were numerous but small. There were seven each of Cibola, Tucayan, Quivira, and Hemez, and twelve of Tiguex; and other groups indicating a linguistic connection of their members. Whether or not each group was confederated we are not informed. The seven Moqui Pueblos (the Tucayan Villages of Coronado’s expedition), are said to be confederated at the present time, and probably were at the time of their discovery.
The process of subdivision, illustrated by the foregoing examples, has been operating among the American aborigines for thousands of years, until upwards of forty stock languages, as near as is known, have been developed in North America alone; each spoken in a number of dialects, by an equal number of independent tribes. Their experience, probably, was but a repetition of that of the tribes of Asia, Europe and Africa, when they were in corresponding conditions.
From the preceding observations, it is apparent that an American Indian tribe is a very simple as well as humble organization. It required but a few hundreds, and, at most, a few thousand people to form a tribe, and place it in a respectable position in the Ganowánian family.
It remains to present the functions and attributes of an Indian tribe, which may be discussed under the following propositions:
I.T he possession of a territory and a name.
II. The exclusive possession of a dialect.
III. The right to invest sachems and chiefs elected by the gentes.
IV. The right to depose these sachems and chiefs.
V. The possession of a religious faith and worship.
VI. A supreme government consisting of a council of chiefs.
VII. A head-chief of the tribe in some instances.
It will be sufficient to make a brief reference to each of these several attributes of a tribe.
I. The possession of a territory and a name.
Their territory consisted of the area of their actual settlements, and so much of the surrounding region as the tribe ranged over in hunting and fishing, and were able to defend against the encroachments of other tribes. Without this area was a wide margin of neutral grounds, separating them from their nearest frontegers if they spoke a different language, and claimed by neither; but less wide, and less clearly marked, when they spoke dialects of the same language. The country thus imperfectly defined, whether large or small, was the domain of the tribe, recognized as such by other tribes, and defended as such by themselves.
In due time the tribe became individualized by a name, which, from their usual character, must have been in many cases accidental rather than deliberate. Thus, the Senecas styled themselves the “Great Hill People” (Nun-da′-wä-o-no), the Tuscaroras, “Shirt-wearing People” (Dus-ga′-o-weh-o-no′), the Sissetons, “Village of the Marsh” (Sis-se′-to-wän), the Ogalallas, “Camp Movers” (O-ga-lal′-lä), the Omahas, “Upstream People” (O-mä′-hä), the Iowas, “Dusty Noses” (Pa-ho′-cha), the Minnitarees, “People from Afar” (E-năt′-zä), the Cherokees, “Great People” (Tsä-lo′-kee), the Shawnees, “Southerners” (Sä-wan-wä-kee′), the Mohegans, “Sea-side People” (Mo-he-kun-e-uk), the Slave Lake Indians, “People of the Lowlands” (A-cha′-o-tin-ne). Among the Village Indians of Mexico, the Sochimilcos styled themselves “Nation of the Seeds of Flowers,” the Chalcans, “People of Mouths,” the Tepanecans, “People of the Bridge,” the Tezcucans or Culhuas, “A Crooked People,” and the Tlascalans, “Men of Bread.” When European colonization began in the northern part of America, the names of Indian tribes were obtained, not usually from the tribe direct, but from other tribes who had bestowed names upon them different from their own. As a consequence, a number of tribes are now known in history under names not recognized by themselves.
II. The exclusive possession of a dialect.
Tribe and dialect are substantially co-extensive, but there are exceptions growing out of special circumstances. Thus, the twelve Dakota bands are now properly tribes, because they are distinct in interests and in organization; but they were forced into premature separation by the advance of Americans upon their original area which forced them upon the plains. They had remained in such intimate connection previously that but one new dialect had commenced forming, the Tecton, on the Missouri; the Isauntie on the Mississippi being the original speech. A few years ago the Cherokees numbered twenty-six thousand, the largest number of Indians ever found within the limits of the United States speaking the same dialect. But in the mountain districts of Georgia a slight divergence of speech had occurred, though not sufficient to be distinguished as a dialect. There are a few other similar cases, but they do not break the general rule during the aboriginal period which made tribe and dialect co-extensive. The Ojibwas, who are still in the main non-horticultural, now number about fifteen thousand, and speak the same dialect; and the Dakota tribes collectively about twenty-five thousand who speak two very closely related dialects, as stated. These several tribes are exceptionally large. The tribes within the United States and British America would yield, on an average, less than two thousand persons to a tribe.
III. The right of investing sachems and chiefs elected by the gentes.
Among the Iroquois the person elected could not become a chief until his investiture by a council of chiefs. As the chiefs of the gentes composed the council of the tribe, with power over common interests, there was a manifest propriety in reserving to the tribal council the function of investing persons with office. But after the confederacy was formed, the power of “raising up” sachems and chiefs was transferred from the council of the tribe to the council of the confederacy. With respect to the tribes generally, the accessible information is insufficient to explain their usages in relation to the mode of investiture. It is one of the numerous subjects requiring further investigation before the social system of the Indian tribes can be fully explained. The office of sachem and chief was universally elective among the tribes north of Mexico; with sufficient evidence, as to other parts of the continent, to leave no doubt of the universality of the rule.
Among the Delawares each gens had one sachem, (Sä-ke′-mä), whose office was hereditary in the gens, besides two common chiefs, and two war-chiefs—making fifteen in three gentes—who composed the council of the tribe. Among the Ojibwas, the members of some one gens usually predominated at each settlement. Each gens had a sachem, whose office was hereditary in the gens, and several common chiefs. Where a large number of persons of the same gens lived in one locality they would be found similarly organized. There was no prescribed limit to the number of chiefs. A body of usages, which have never been collected, undoubtedly existed in the several Indian tribes respecting the election and investiture of sachems and chiefs. A knowledge of them would be valuable. An explanation of the Iroquois method of “raising up” sachems and chiefs will be given in the next chapter.
IV. The right to depose these sachems and chiefs.
This right rested primarily with the gens to which the sachem and chief belonged. But the council of the tribe possessed the same power, and could proceed independently of the gens, and even in opposition to its wishes. In the Status of savagery, and in the Lower and also in the Middle Status of barbarism, office was bestowed for life, or during good behavior. Mankind had not learned to limit an elective office for a term of years. The right to depose, therefore, became the more essential for the maintenance of the principle of self-government. This right was a perpetual assertion of the sovereignty of the gens and also of the tribe; a sovereignty feebly understood, but nevertheless a reality.
V. The possession of a religious faith and worship.
After the fashion of barbarians the American Indians were a religious people. The tribes generally held religious festivals at particular seasons of the year, which were observed with forms of worship, dances and games. The Medicine Lodge, in many tribes, was the centre of these observances. It was customary to announce the holding of a Medicine Lodge weeks and months in advance to awaken a general interest in its ceremonies. The religious system of the aborigines is another of the subjects which has been but partially investigated. It is rich in materials for the future student. The experience of these tribes in developing their religious beliefs and mode of worship is a part of the experience of mankind; and the facts will hold an important place in the science of comparative religion.
Their system was more or less vague and indefinite, and loaded with crude superstitions. Element worship can be traced among the principal tribes, with a tendency to polytheism in the advanced tribes. The Iroquois, for example, recognized a Great, and an Evil Spirit, and a multitude of inferior spiritual beings, the immortality of the soul, and a future state. Their conception of the Great Spirit assigned to him a human form; which was equally true of the Evil Spirit, of He′-no, the Spirit of Thunder, of Gă′-oh, the Spirit of the Winds, and of the Three Sisters, the Spirit of Maize, the Spirit of the Bean, and the Spirit of the Squash. The latter were styled, collectively, “Our Life,” and also “Our Supporters.” Beside these were the spirits of the several kinds of trees and plants, and of the running streams. The existence and attributes of these numerous spiritual beings were but feebly imagined. Among the tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism idolatry was unknown.83 The Aztecs had personal gods, with idols to represent them, and a temple worship. If the particulars of their religious system were accurately known, its growth out of the common beliefs of the Indian tribes would probably be made apparent.
Dancing was a form of worship among the American aborigines, and formed a part of the ceremonies at all religious festivals. In no part of the earth, among barbarians, has the dance received a more studied development. Every tribe has from ten to thirty set dances; each of which has its own name, songs, musical instruments, steps, plan and costume for persons. Some of them, as the war-dance, were common to all the tribes. Particular dances are special property, belonging either to a gens, or to a society organized for its maintenance, into which new members were from time to time initiated. The dances of the Dakotas, the Crees, the Ojibwas, the Iroquois, and of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, are the same in general character, in step, plan, and music; and the same is true of the dances of the Aztecs so far as they are accurately known. It is one system throughout the Indian tribes, and bears a direct relation to their system of faith and worship.
VI. A supreme government through a council of chiefs.
The council had a natural foundation in the gentes of whose chiefs it was composed. It met a necessary want, and was certain to remain as long as gentile society endured. As the gens was represented by its chiefs, so the tribe was represented by a council composed of the chiefs of the gentes. It was a permanent feature of the social system, holding the ultimate authority over the tribe. Called together under circumstances known to all, held in the midst of the people, and open to their orators, it was certain to act under popular influence. Although oligarchical in form, the government was a representative democracy; the representative being elected for life, but subject to deposition. The brotherhood of the members of each gens, and the elective principle with respect to office, were the germ and the basis of the democratic principle. Imperfectly developed, as other great principles were in this early stage of advancement, democracy can boast a very ancient pedigree in the tribes of mankind.
It devolved upon the council to guard and protect the common interests of the tribe. Upon the intelligence and courage of the people, and upon the wisdom and foresight of the council, the prosperity and the existence of the tribe depended. Questions and exigencies were arising, through their incessant warfare with other tribes, which required the exercise of all these qualities to meet and manage. It was unavoidable, therefore, that the popular element should be commanding in its influence. As a general rule the council was open to any private individual who desired to address it on a public question. Even the women were allowed to express their wishes and opinions through an orator of their own selection. But the decision was made by the council. Unanimity was a fundamental law of its action among the Iroquois; but whether this usage was general I am unable to state.
Military operations were usually left to the action of the voluntary principle. Theoretically, each tribe was at war with every other tribe with which it had not formed a treaty of peace. Any person was at liberty to organize a war-party and conduct an expedition wherever he pleased. He announced his project by giving a war-dance and inviting volunteers. This method furnished a practical test of the popularity of the undertaking. If he succeeded in forming a company, which would consist of such persons as joined him in the dance, they departed immediately, while enthusiasm was at its height. When a tribe was menaced with an attack, war-parties were formed to meet it in much the same manner. Where forces thus raised were united in one body, each was under its own war-captain, and their joint movements were determined by a council of these captains. If there was among them a war-chief of established reputation he would naturally become their leader. These statements relate to tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism. The Aztecs and Tlascalans went out by phratries, each subdivision under its own captain, and distinguished by costumes and banners.
Indian tribes, and even confederacies, were weak organizations for military operations. That of the Iroquois, and that of the Aztecs, were the most remarkable for aggressive purposes. Among the tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism, including the Iroquois, the most destructive work was performed by inconsiderable war-parties, which were constantly forming and making expeditions into distant regions. Their supply of food consisted of parched corn reduced to flour, carried in a pouch attached to the belt of each warrior, with such fish and game as the route supplied. The going out of these war-parties, and their public reception on their return, were among the prominent events in Indian life. The sanction of the council for these expeditions was not sought, neither was it necessary.
The council of the tribe had power to declare war and make peace, to send and receive embassies, and to make alliances. It exercised all the powers needful in a government so simple and limited in its affairs. Intercourse between independent tribes was conducted by delegations of wise-men and chiefs. When such a delegation was expected by any tribe, a council was convened for its reception, and for the transaction of its business.
VII. A head-chief of the tribe in some instances.
In some Indian tribes one of the sachems was recognized as its head-chief; and as superior in rank to his associates. A need existed, to some extent, for an official head of the tribe to represent it when the council was not in session; but the duties and powers of the office were slight. Although the council was supreme in authority it was rarely in session, and questions might arise demanding the provisional action of some one authorized to represent the tribe, subject to the ratification of his acts by the council. This was the only basis, so far as the writer is aware, for the office of head-chief. It existed in a number of tribes, but in a form of authority so feeble as to fall below the conception of an executive magistrate. In the language of some of the early writers they have been designated as kings, which is simply a caricature. The Indian tribes had not advanced far enough in a knowledge of government to develop the idea of a chief executive magistrate. The Iroquois tribe recognized no head-chief, and the confederacy no executive officer. The elective tenure of the office of chief, and the liability of the person to deposition, settle the character of the office.
A council of Indian chiefs is of little importance by itself; but as the germ of the modern parliament, congress, and legislature, it has an important bearing in the history of mankind.
The growth of the idea of government commenced with the organization into gentes in savagery. It reveals three great stages of progressive development between its commencement and the institution of political society after civilization had been attained. The first stage was the government of a tribe by a council of chiefs elected by the gentes. It may be called a government of one power; namely, the council. It prevailed generally among tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism. The second stage was a government co-ordinated between a council of chiefs, and a general military commander; one representing the civil, and the other the military functions. This second form began to manifest itself in the Lower Status of barbarism, after confederacies were formed, and it became definite in the Middle Status. The office of general, or principal military commander, was the germ of that of a chief executive magistrate, the king, the emperor, and the president. It may be called a government of two powers, namely, the council of chiefs, and the general. The third stage was the government of a people or nation by a council of chiefs, an assembly of the people, and a general military commander. It appeared among the tribes who had attained to the Upper Status of barbarism; such, for example, as the Homeric Greeks, and the Italian tribes of the period of Romulus. A large increase in the number of people united in a nation, their establishment in walled cities, and the creation of wealth in lands and in flocks and herds, brought in the assembly of the people as an instrument of government. The council of chiefs, which still remained, found it necessary, no doubt through popular constraint, to submit the most important public measures to an assembly of the people for acceptance or rejection; whence the popular assembly. This assembly did not originate measures. It was its function to adopt or reject, and its action was final. From its first appearance it became a permanent power in the government. The council no longer passed important public measures, but became a pre-considering council, with power to originate and mature public acts, to which the assembly alone could give validity. It may be called a government of three powers; namely, the pre-considering council, the assembly of the people, and the general. This remained until the institution of political society, when, for example, among the Athenians, the council of chiefs became the senate, and the assembly of the people the ecclesia or popular assembly. The same organizations have come down to modern times in the two houses of parliament, of congress, and of legislatures. In like manner the office of general military commander, as before stated, was the germ of the office of the modern chief executive magistrate.
Recurring to the tribe, it was limited in the numbers of the people, feeble in strength, and poor in resources; but yet a completely organized society. It illustrates the condition of mankind in the Lower Status of barbarism. In the Middle Status there was a sensible increase of numbers in a tribe, and an improved condition; but with a continuance of gentile society without essential change. Political society was still impossible from want of advancement. The gentes organized into tribes remained as before; but confederacies must have been more frequent. In some areas, as in the Valley of Mexico, larger numbers were developed under a common government, with improvements in the arts of life; but no evidence exists of the overthrow among them of gentile society and the substitution of political. It is impossible to found a political society or a state upon gentes. A state must rest upon territory and not upon persons, upon the township as the unit of a political system, and not upon the gens which is the unit of a social system. It required time and a vast experience, beyond that of the American Indian tribes, as a preparation for such a fundamental change of systems. It also required men of the mental stature of the Greeks and Romans, and with the experience derived from a long chain of ancestors to devise and gradually introduce that new plan of government under which civilized nations are living at the present time.
Following the ascending organic series, we are next to consider the confederacy of tribes, in which the gentes, phratries and tribes will be seen in new relations. The remarkable adaptation of the gentile organization to the condition and wants of mankind, while in a barbarous state, will thereby be further illustrated.
Adapted from: Lewis Morgan, LL.D. , Ancient Society or Researches in the LInes of Human Progress from Savagery, through Barbarism to Civilization