Essay: The Future of Columbus Day
In the late 1400s, European explorers found the American continents. Native American peoples who were already living in North and South America had created a system of government and society that rivaled Europe’s. The cultural exchange between the “New World” and the “Old World” (America and Europe, respectively) is often called the Columbian Exchange in reference to Christopher Columbus.
Columbus Day became a federal holiday in the United States in 1937, though people have celebrated Columbus's voyage since the colonial period.
“Native Americans and other groups have protested the celebration of an event that indirectly resulted in the colonization of the Americas and the death of millions: European settlers brought a host of infectious diseases, including smallpox and influenza, that decimated indigenous populations; warfare between Native Americans and the colonists claimed many lives as well. The image of Christopher Columbus as an intrepid hero has also been called into question.” (History.com)
Prompt & Task
Columbus Day is a U.S. holiday that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World on October 12, 1492. Should this day be a national holiday?
Due: Printed out, in the turn-in basket, before class on Tuesday, Jan. 13. (no flexible late period on this assignment).
Grammar & Format
President Benjamin Harrison, 1882 (DOC 3)
“Now, therefore, I, Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States of America, in pursuance of the aforesaid joint resolution, do hereby appoint Friday, October 21, 1892, the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, as a general holiday for the people of the United States. On that day let the people, so far as possible, cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.
Columbus stood in his age as the pioneer of progress and enlightenment. The system of universal education is in our age the most prominent and salutary feature of the spirit of enlightenment, and it is peculiarly appropriate that the schools be made by the people the center of the day's demonstration. Let the national flag float over every schoolhouse in the country and the exercises be such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship.
In the churches and in the other places of assembly of the people let there be expressions of gratitude to Divine Providence for the devout faith of the discoverer and for the divine care and guidance which has directed our history and so abundantly blessed our people.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt (DOC 4)
Roosevelt viewed Columbus Day as a time to honor the qualities of vision, faith, courage and perseverance, not as an reason to disparage America. It is an opportunity to reflect on the efforts that resulted in the creation of the world’s greatest, freest, most prosperous nation.
He said, “The promise which Columbus’s discovery gave to the world, of a new beginning in the march of human progress, has been in process of fulfillment for four centuries. Our task is now to make strong our conviction that in spite of setbacks that process will go on toward fulfillment.”
English explorer John Lawson (DOC 5)
“The Indians are really better to us, than we are to them. They always give us food at their homes, and protect us from hunger and thirst. But we do not do the same for them. We let them walk by our doors hungry. We look upon them with scorn and disrespect, and think them, little better than beasts in human shape. If we thought out it, we would realize that even with out religion and education, we have more evils than these savages do.”
“These Indians are the freest people in the world and they are they are not intruding upon us. We are the one who left our home to drive them out and take their land. We do not give any allowance for their natural character, wilderness training and strange customs. We trade with them, it’s true, but we have furnished them with the vice of drunkenness, and daily cheat them in every thing we sell.”
Diary of Spanish governor de Soto, 1542 (DOC 6)
“The Indians spent 15 days with the Spanish in peace, and they played with them. They sway among Spanish and helped them very much in every way.
Later the Spaniards continued on their journey to another village where they rounded up the Indians and put them in iron collars and chains. They took the Indian prisoners to keep them as slaves or servants and to carry the supplies.”
Olaudah Equiano, a slave (DOC 7)
“I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation (greeting) in my nostrils as I never experienced in my life; so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat ... but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across ... the windlass, while the other flogged me severely.”
Current Public Debate
- Time magazine: A brief history of Columbus Day (DOC 10)
- New York Times: Columbus Day, or ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day’? (DOC 11)
- Good magazine: Seattle Wants to Kill Columbus Day (DOC 12)
- CNN: Instead of Columbus Day, some U.S. cities celebrate Indigenous People's Day (DOC 13)
- [pro-Columbus] The American Catholic: Columbus Day: No Apologies (DOC 14)
- Daily Kos: Christopher Columbus and His Crimes Against Humanity (DOC 15)
- City Pages newspaper: Minneapolis changes Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day (DOC 16)