Marshall, Whitman and Baum: Selections from the American Terminal Narrative

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Words that Kill Conference

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Paris, France


Intertwined with the elements of the origin story of the United States is the narrative that the indigenous populations of the country were destined to die as Euro-American civilization progressed from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. A narrative of predestined termination was used to excuse, encourage and celebrate the atrocities that accompanied westward expansion in fulfillment of the prophecy of manifest destiny. Written into the legal opinions penned by U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, the works of Walt Whitman and L. Frank Baum were the promotion and normalization of the terminal narrative. A narrative of predestined extermination became ingrained within the literature of the United States as an inseparable part of the nation's origin story. This paper will examine the perpetuation of the terminal narrative in works of law, literature and the press, and its use as a tool of dehumanization against the indigenous populations of North America. These works, which are not generally categorized within the discourse of hate, encouraged and condoned mass violence against indigenous people will be examined through their individual and collective historical contexts, and the effects of their influence. When these words were penned to paper they supported the unfounded and false concept of predestined extinction in three very distinct areas of the body of United States literature: legal jurisprudence, humanist poetry and essays, and newspaper editorials. This paper will demonstrate how words were used to justify and incite violence against indigenous people as a means of fulfilling the terminal narrative. It will consider how these works have contributed to the dehumanization process and as a justification for inciting violence against indigenous people. Further, it will address the generational trauma that has been inflicted upon and experienced by indigenous people because of these works and the resulting adulation of their authors. To understand the impact of the terminal narrative within the origin story of the United States requires the examination of the literature which promoted it and the historical context of the times in which each work was authored. By using selected works, this paper will provide a framework that will lend itself to providing a mechanism for understanding how the terminal narrative has been worked into the literary fabric that constitutes the body of literature around the western expansion of the United States.



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