President James M. Taylor, Vassar College

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President James M. Taylor, of Vassar College, was invited to speak.

President Taylor. There is only one subject on which I can say a word tonight. I was struck by a remark made last night by Mr. Sherman in his interesting address regarding the difficulty in the way of proper reform in many directions, which we are pursuing in the Indian work on account of the treaties that have been made by us, or were made by our fathers with the various Indian tribes. Reference has been made to that subject by one of the speakers this afternoon. I am very sorry to controvert in any way an Impression that a treaty should in all circumstances be maintained, but I raise this question, as a simple, practical question in ethics, Is it always desirable to keep a treaty? I shall not yield to any man or woman here in my reverence for truth, in my abhorrence for untruth, whether on the part of a man or a nation. But it becomes often something more than a simple abstract question of truth and falsehood when we face an issue of this kind. Statesmanship is not, as it was cynically suggested, the property of dead politicians. Statesmanship consists in adjusting ourselves on principles of truth and honor to present conditions. A states-man is a man who dares to put before a nation a course of conduct in harmony with truth and righteousness which may be unpopular today, which may not commend itself to the majority of the people, but which he knows to be for the ultimate good of the nation, and to all concerned with the nation.

I submit this question: If there are treaties with Indian tribes which are standing absolutely in the way of the interests of the Indians, then is it fair, because of the mere abstract love of truth, that we continue to pauperize the Indian, to make less and less a man of him, to threaten him, indeed, with effacement, simply that we may keep a treaty that our fathers made with him?

I do not believe that in any high sense that is truth, nor that in any worthy sense that is righteousness. Our fathers did the best that they knew how, and in many things, perhaps, they did better than their children will ever do. I am not here to discuss that, but it has seemed to me as I have been trained year after year by the Mohonk conference, and as I have read history, that the most vital mistake made was the treating with Indian tribes as separate nations. There was the root of all the evils that have sprung up, and that have been so slowly reforming themselves under the lead of the men and women who have given themselves to the cause in the nation and in Congress. If that be true, it becomes us to remedy the defects of those treaties. The great work of Indian reform has been removing conditions forced upon us by those old treaties.

Let me raise that issue again in the light of concrete facts before us in the very State of New York. There are those on this floor who can speak with fuller knowledge than I can, and who have considered this particular question in connection with Governor Roosevelt’s commission; but I have no hesitation in saying that if we should find that by keeping the treaties with the Indians of New York we are bound to maintain a condition that is degrading to the Indian, that is forcing him into pauperism, that is reducing his manhood, that is encouraging social conditions that are vicious in the tribe and dangerous to the surrounding population, I would break any treaty by whomsoever made, in the interests of truth, righteousness, and the welfare of the Indian.

Now, as I said, this is a very unpleasant subject to bring into any discussion, because one is so easily able to say, Why, that is not reverence for truth, and that is not respect for honor. All that you can say is, If you respect honor and truth more than you do the saving of the human soul, then you must have your honor and truth. I would much rather be instrumental in seeming to set aside honor and truth, and helping, thereby, some human soul up to a higher conception of honor and truth.

We must do some straight thinking and straight talking. I am aware that it will be said, Oh, you will endanger society if you set aside the duty to keep treaties, and it will be the introduction of a new element of danger. If we can not be fair in this matter, then probably we would better let them alone; but I am not prepared to admit that there are not able and conscientious men, like the Indian Commissioner, who can adjust these matters precisely as fairly if the treaty were set aside, and it is a simple matter of fact that we have been setting them aside. After fifty years of experience we ought to have gained some wisdom to readjust these matters so that they may meet present conditions.

I do not know that there has been a very loud outcry among the American people against the proposition to set aside the treaty made with Great Britain in regard to the canal at Nicaragua or Panama. At least we have been pushing along those issues until we seem to be in the way of getting a new treaty. Is that right or wrong? It is the only way in which we can adjust such matters between nations. When you take the great body of gifts made to the universities of Great Britain, what comes to pass? When conditions change, then Parliament is asked to meet those changed conditions. For instance, because five hundred years ago a man left money to give a glass of beer to every applicant at St. Cross, shall the bequest be defended when it is found to encourage pauperism and tramps? Parliament says: “Very well, these agreements were made when conditions were very different. To carry out the conditions made with our ancestors would defeat the very purpose of the gift, and Parliament has turned over bequest after bequest, and there is no more conservative body than the English Parliament. It has reinterpreted the conditions, and has put the funds into the hands of the university to administer according to the conditions of today and according to the real meaning of the testator. That, it seems to me, is statesmanship and honoring the truth in the largest possible sense.

President Gates. That is straight talk. We have got to face that thing and to do the honestly best thing for the people who have been our wards.

A formal resolution of thanks was presented on behalf of the business committee by Mr. Foster as follows:

The Lake Mohonk Indian Conference, at the close of its nineteenth annual gathering, gratefully acknowledges its obligations to its hosts, Mr. and Mrs. A. K. Smiley and Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Smiley. Through a long succession of beautiful Octobers the favored members of this conference have been permitted to climb these mountains, to enjoy the generous hospitality of this house, to meet one another in delightful Christian fellowship, to discuss with earnestness, but unfailing kindness of spirit, great philanthropic questions, and to see, as the years have done, one after another of the aims of the conference attained and the measures advocated by it pass into the law of the land. All this we owe to the high purpose and large plans of Mr. A. K. Smiley, heartily seconded by Mrs. Smiley, the gracious lady whose presence at late conferences is deeply missed, and to Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Smiley, whose attention to the details of this gathering contributes so much to its success.

We recognize that the personality of these friends pervades this conference and gives it its character; and if the conference has, as we believe, accomplished some-thing for the good of the Indian and our land, it is due in large degree to the wise forethought, the self-forgetful effort, the tact, and the Christian courage of our hosts.

We are grateful to them, not only for the abundant hospitality they have extended us, but for the opportunity of usefulness they have given us, and for the influences we have here received in the development of our own lives and character.

Rev. Donald S. Mackay, D. D., of New York, seconded the resolution in a few words, and was followed by Dr. Theodore L. Cuyler. Of all these speeches, space has been found only for abstracts of Dr. Mackay’s and Dr. Cuyler’s.

Dr. Donald Sage Mackay. This conference has been to me a wonderful revelation. Everyone, in these days of pampered luxury, enjoys the experience of a new sensation. It was to me a new sensation when we came out of the darkness the other evening, under the gloom and shadow of Sky Top, and saw the sparkling lights upon the lake. ” Here,” we said, “is a Venice on the top of a hill.” When we came to the door and felt the cordial hand grasp of our host, whom I had never seen, but of whom I had heard so much, his welcome was characteristic of the warmth and cheer of this beautiful spot. Our host is one of the men, all too rarely met with, who knows how to say the right thing in the right way.

Another revelation has come to me with the conference itself. I did not know, to my shame be it said, that there was still a living issue in the Indian question. I had thought that that question had been solved long ago, and that this conference was only a kindly way of giving us a happy holiday. Well, we have had the holiday, but with it we have had also a vast amount of information and inspiration in addition. It has all been wonderful to me.

We have heard much of the colonial policy of Great Britain and of France, and some of us have been justly proud of the way in which Great Britain has carried on her vast colonial empire. But when have you ever heard of a nation inaugurating a policy for its new colonies under circumstances such as those which have brought us together to this place, when men of light and leading have been devoting themselves to devising educational, social, and economic schemes for furthering the progress of these new colonies that have come under the flag? When, for instance, did you ever hear of Great Britain sending for the Egyptians, to teach and train them in the arts and ways of culture, as we have sent for these young Cuban teachers to be trained in the educational system of America? When, in fact, did you ever hear of any nation holding such a conference as this, devoting itself to a thoughtful and exhaustive study of the new problems, which an enlarging territory has created?

We go back to our homes as friends of the Indian some of us, perhaps, to pose as enemies of another kind of Indian in New York city with a deeper sense of our duties as citizens, realizing that after all it is on devotion to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose love has blessed this nation so signally in the past, whose presence is the beacon star of our nation’s way in the future; it is on devotion to Him that rests the hope of our nation and the honor of its flag.

It is with great pleasure that I second the resolution.



MLA Source Citation:

Board Of Indian Commissioners. Thirty-Third Annual Report Of The Board Of Indian Commissioners. Government Printing Office. 1901. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 23 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/president-james-m-taylor-vassar-college.htm - Last updated on Aug 9th, 2013


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