American Philosophy

Early American Philosophical Strains

Who was Tenskwatawa?

The Prophet, Tenskwatawa (also known as Tenskatawa, Tensquatawa, or by his original name, Lalawethika; 1775–1834) was the brother of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Tenskwatawa was a powerful orator who preached a return to Native American traditions as a form of resistance against destruction and oppression suffered. In a speech to Governor William Henry Harrison in 1810, he expressed what was later to become a broadly American form of self-creation, combined with biting wit:

It is true I am a Shawnee. My forefathers were warriors. Their son is a warrior. From them I take only my existence; from my tribe I take nothing. I am the maker of my own fortune; and oh! that I could make of my own fortune; and oh! that I could make that of my red people, and of my country, as great as the conceptions of my mind, when I think of the Spirit that rules the universe. I would not then come to Governor Harrison to ask him to tear the treaty and to obliterate the landmark; but I would say to him: “Sir, you have liberty to return to your own country.”


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