Ben Franklin’s words on a horrific massacre ring true today

Ben Franklin wrote A Narrative of the Late Massacres almost 300 years ago. It still has relevance today as it describes just how horrific a certain strain of American thinking can be. A strain that we have seen re-emerging in recent years.

He wrote about a terrible episode in our history: the massacre of Christian Native Americans by white vigilantes called Paxton Boys. They tortured, mutilated and killed men, women and children. Again these were Christians with Christian names killed by others who falsely called themselves Christian.

Following the massacre of the entire tribe, a tribe that has assimilated quite well into colonial life, Franklin wrote words that echo words recently spoken by President Obama:

If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians? It is well known that Indians are of different Tribes, Nations and Languages, as well as the White People. In Europe, if the French, who are White People, should injure the Dutch, are they to revenge it on the English, because they too are White People? The only Crime of these poor Wretches seems to have been, that they had a reddish brown Skin, and black Hair; and some People of that Sort, it seems, had murdered some of our Relations. If it be right to kill Men for such a Reason, then, should any Man, with a freckled Face and red Hair, kill a Wife or Child of mine, it would be right for me to revenge it, by killing all the freckled red-haired Men, Women and Children, I could afterwards any where meet with.

You cannot attribute to an entire group the actions of a few. You cannot kill others because of the actions of some.

Yet, many people then did not agree. And, as we see, many people today do not agree. They wish to punish a group collectively for the actions of a minority. Killing the innocent is just an unfortunate side-effect of killing the guilty.

Let’s see just where this sort of thinking leads. After listing the names and backgrounds of over 11 of the murdered people, this is how Franklin describes what the killers did, how they massacred others who had done them no harm, as they with malice aforethought, went after people under the protection of authorities:

… those cruel Men again assembled themselves, and hearing that the remaining fourteen Indians were in the Work-house at Lancaster, they suddenly appeared in that Town, on the 27th of December. Fifty of them, armed as before, dismounting, went directly to the Work-house, and by Violence broke open the Door, and entered with the utmost Fury in their Countenances. — When the poor Wretches saw they had no Protection nigh, nor could possibly escape, and being without the least Weapon for Defence, they divided into their little Families, the Children clinging to the Parents; they fell on their Knees, protested their Innocence, declared their Love to the English, and that, in their whole Lives, they had never done them Injury; and in this Posture they all received the Hatchet! — Men, Women and little Children — were every one inhumanly murdered! — in cold Blood!

These were Christians killing other Christians, killing children as they clung to their parents. Killing. All of them.

He then discusses how other cultures over thousands of years – from ancient Greece to Muslims during the Crusades to even current Spanish enemy – had prohibitions against violence towards strangers, prisoners, the elderly and the young. Once protection was offered, it could not be taken away.

Except by a bunch of murderous vigilantes.

These poor People have been always our Friends. Their Fathers received ours, when Strangers here, with Kindness and Hospitality. Behold the Return we have made them! — When we grew more numerous and powerful, they put themselves under our Protection. See, in the mangled Corpses of the last Remains of the Tribe, how effectually we have afforded it to them! —

Native-Americans did a better job protecting the Christians than Christians did protecting Native Americans  Despite the anger of many colonials, none of the killers was ever brought to justice. 

And Native-Americans would never again try to assimilate into American culture. Which led to their genocide.

This is what we saw done to other Christians who has become part of colonial culture but were not white. What might be done today to non-white, non-Christians? Are we in the process of repeating this horrific episode?

We could be if the anti-Christian, inhumane words being spoken by current bullies targeting Muslims is not met with strong actions condemning those words.

Franklin ended his essay with these words, as true today as 300 years ago:

I shall conclude with observing, that Cowards can handle Arms, can strike where they are sure to meet with no Return, can wound, mangle and murder; but it belongs to brave Men to spare, and to protect; or, as the Poet says, – Mercy still sways the Brave.

Only the Brave can show mercy. Cowards show none. Only the Brave can protect. Cowards protect no one.

We have a lot of cowardly people today, including many Americans. We need more brave ones. I wish we had more Ben Franklins.

Image: Paxton Boys Massacre