Could Aliens Buy America?

We Americans live in a beautiful country.  Here in Southern New England we have rolling hills covered in deciduous trees, dotted with middle class homes and large estates.  There are abundant fish in our clean(ish) rivers, places to hike and bike, and sandy beaches with gentle waves.  Further north we have the evergreen-carpeted Adirondack, Green, and White Mountain ranges.  To the west we have nearly every type of topography and geographic features on Earth, all in one country.  We are lucky to live in such a place.

The Beauty of Connecticut
The Beauty of Connecticut

Sometimes I think about how this all came to be.  There were other people living here before our European forefathers established this country.  For the most part, these aboriginal inhabitants did not believe in the concept of land ownership the way we think of it, although they did respect territorial boundaries.  They did not believe in the rule of law, as imposed by a federal government.  Everything was more localized.  Rules applied to your extended family or what we often refer to as a "tribe".  Your land was shared with members of the family and owned by the whole community.  What did these people think when pale-faced men with muskets spoke with them about acquiring some of this land?

Much is said about how the White Man "stole" this land from the Indians.  Yes, that happened; in many places people were forced to pack up and move, under harsh conditions.  With the exception of the Dutch, if a European felt they "discovered" some land they tended to plant a flag on it and it then belonged to them.  But not everyone, everywhere, was like that.  Here in New England, in the earliest days of Colonial America, there were deals.  Land was purchased.  Treaties were signed.  There was an attempt at doing things the right way, whatever that meant.

In my state of Connecticut, there is great pride in the story of the founding of the town of Ridgefield.  Local history expert, Jack Sanders, spoke with me about some men from down the hill in Norwalk and Milford, now known as "The Proprietors."  These men came up to the village of Ramapo and negotiated with a Sachem, Chief Katonah (a.k.a Catoonah).  They paid the Sachem 100 Pounds Sterling for 20,000 acres of his people's land to create my town, Ridgefield.

This got me thinking - what if aliens came down and offered one of our leaders some sum of money to buy some land?

Could Aliens Buy America?

It seems impossible, at first glimpse.  But roll with me on this one.  Sanders tells me there is no historical documentation in the official town records of how Katonah's Ramapoo people felt about their Sachem's sale of their land.  New England Pre-history Archaeologist Lynn-Marie Wieland was able to shed some light on this for me.

Wieland tells me, by the late 1600's the Indians of New England had been completely decimated by disease.  Those who survived had a reckoning of their situation.  They embarked on a long process of consolidating their land holdings.  By this point they had learned the White Man's concept of land ownership and would often sell portions of their lands.  They sat on so much land and there were so few people left on it, it must have seemed like a no-brainer to cut their losses and get some money or goods (guns, coats, tools, etc.) for it. 

Sometimes, Wieland says, they would sell the same piece of land over and over.  I suppose, if you do not believe in our concept of land ownership in the first place this might seem like a funny joke to play on people - kind of like selling someone the Brooklyn Bridge.  More likely though, Wieland says, while the Indians knew they had sold the land, their concept of the deals was more like they were renting the land to the White Man and if the buyers did not continually occupy and improve the land, the Indians would simply reclaim it.

There is no record of how Katonah dispersed his 100 Pounds amongst his people, if at all.  However, history tells us that keeping the money for himself would have been considered unthinkable.  Wieland explains, "among hunter/gatherers, the person most admired is the one who shares his wealth with his community."  The funds were probably distributed in an equitable manner, although no one knows for sure.  Katonah could have kept more for himself or he could have given some hush money to dissenters.  While the cultures of many Indian people were very different from those of their new European neighbors, people are people.  The funds could have been distributed in any manner Katonah saw fit.

Little is recorded indicating whether or not Katonah was even endowed with the authority to make the sale.  However, the deal was signed by several others of his people, along with a few other outside witnesses (John W. DeForest, 1851. History of the Indians of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850, Connecticut Historical Society) and Wieland says it was probably authorized by every adult male in Katonah's community.

Chief Katonah was offered, what to him must have seemed like a fortune, to pack up and go elsewhere.  And there was plenty of land available over in what would eventually become the town of Katonah, New York.  (You see what he did, there?)  So why not?

Ridgefield today on left, Wappinger village of Ramapo in 1665 on right.  
Katonah, NY is just west of Cross River.
Much of Rt. 7 from Massachusetts to the Long Island Sound 
was once the Berkshire Path, an Indian foot path.
This begs the question.  If someone of dubious authority can sell the land out from under his people, to "alien" settlers, just 300 years ago, could it happen again?  I say, "dubious authority" because before Europeans came here there were no deeds certifying land ownership.  There were no surveys or maps.  The Indians were able to sell their land because Europeans said so.  We brought our concept of land ownership over here and imposed it upon them.  So could something like that happen again?  Could people from another place come here, make a deal with an authority figure, and boot us off our land?  I think so.

But wait, you say, we have laws against that.  Yes, we have laws against that.  But aliens may not.  I believe that when Chief Katonah stood before his people, laden with silver, at least one of these folks must have stood up and said, in his best John Mulaney voice, "Excuse me, um... Chief... you did wha...?"  There had to be some people who disagreed with the sale.  This is beautiful country.  Some people must have said, "Well, I ain't goin'!" 

You did wha...?
Wieland says yes indeed, some people did stay.  Whether it was because they did not support the sale, or not, is unknown.  Katonah was listed on the deed as being from New York so most of the family or tribe may have already left by then.  But I am imagining a conversation in one home that went something like this:

Husband: Land is sold.  We should start packin' up.
Wife: Why, is someone moving here?  To this very spot?
Husband: Um, this spot?  I don't know.
Wife: OK then, we'll stay until they tell us to leave.
Husband: Well, we should really...
Wife: We'll stay until they tell us to leave!
Husband: Yes, dear.

For the folks who stayed in the new town of Ridgefield after the rest of their Ramapoo people moved west, they would have found that things changed for them pretty quickly.  Suddenly, there were once familiar places which now had fences around them, barring entry.  Old paths were widened to allow horse-drawn carriages to pass while other paths were blocked by houses or fences.  If you came across berries or wild fruit trees you may not be permitted to pick them because they were on someone else's private property.  Hunting was restricted.  "What have they done to my land!" they would have thought.

The Ramapoo who stayed would have found themselves living under the legal jurisdiction of an alien power they did not recognize as theirs.  But like it or not, they were forced to abide by this new rule of law.  What, you do not like it?  Perhaps you would like to put on these shackles and visit the Magistrate with me.  Or perhaps you would like to speak into the barrel of my musket.  I can get the constable or even a militia to help me, if needed.

Could it happen again?

Let us bypass the question of, "Could Aliens Buy America?" and keep it more simple.  Could aliens buy my house?  Why not?  As long as the check clears.  My neighbors would probably be pissed.  They would be like, "Aliens!  There goes the neighborhood."

For Sale signs would go up all over the place.  Pretty soon, more aliens would move in.  Eventually this would become an alien neighborhood.  At least, this is the pattern which has been repeated over and over again when one ethnic group starts to move into another ethnically homogeneous neighborhood, all across America.

Why would it be different if aliens moved here?  Sure, at first it would be novel to live next door to the alien family.  The conversations over the hedgerow would be interesting and thought-provoking.  But once they started to cook their strange-smelling foods, park their old beat-up spaceships on cinder blocks in the back yard, and blast their alien music at all hours of the night, people would bolt.  I am not making this up, it happens time after time, not with aliens, but there is no reason to believe it would be different with them.  People are people.

 The Indians of old Ridgefield

The Indians who sold Ridgefield to the Proprietors are sometimes referred to locally as the Lanape.  Wieland says decedents of these people prefer to be called Ramapoo.  They belonged to the Wappinger Indians who were related to the Lanape.

In total, there were nine transactions which together created the current town as we know it.  Some people stayed in the town, sometimes re-selling the same land more than once.  Others moved on to Katonah, NY with their Sachem.  Others relocated in between, to Lake Kitchawan.

Wikipedia reports that some of these people moved even further west and settled in what are now the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey.  Though, Wieland indicated this may not be true.

Once a certain area became an enclave of alien people, they might be inclined to buy up the whole darned town.  Indeed, if I could afford it, I would not mind owning this town.  It is a nice town.  If you had the ability to travel from there to here, perhaps hundreds of light-years or more, would you come with an empty wallet?  Probably not.  More likely, you would come with some form of currency which the native people would accept and then you would start bargain hunting.

Not too long ago, it was possible for a Westerner to travel to a developing country and pay a paltry sum for all types of native wares, with both parties of the transaction believing they got a great deal.  Indeed, the other day one of my students in a business course I teach told me he recently went home to his native Egypt and pulled out an American one hundred dollar bill in a marketplace.  Shop-keepers closed off the markets so he could shop, undisturbed.  Certainly the same would be true of any transaction conducted with aliens.  They would come with today's equivalent of 100 Pounds Sterling and buy up our land - perhaps the whole town.

After securing a foothold here, aliens would then be free to start making their own rules.  One would think they might adopt our democratic ways and hold a referendum which the people would vote on.  But why would they have to do that when they could simply say, "This is our town, we make our own rules."  That is what the people of Ridgefield did when they bought this land from the Ramapoo.  They did not care what existing rules the Ramapoo had.  They did not care what the Ramapoo's system of rule-making was.  They bought the land and they were going to impose their Common Law system on all people living in it.

It was not just the local town laws which applied either, 300 years ago.  Anyone living in the colony of Connecticut would have been subject to the laws of its governor.  Europeans did not ask the Indians if they wanted this land to be called Connecticut and if they wanted to live under its colonial laws.  They just drew a boundary on a map and said to the Governor, "This is the colony of Connecticut.  Go govern it."  Many of the local Indians and the coastal Algonquians to the east would not discover they were living in someone else's country, under someone else's laws, for decades.

Perhaps, somewhere on another planet, leaders have drawn lines on a map around all of New England and said to one of their people, "This is New Glaxon.  Go rule it."  We could, right at this moment, be living under the jurisdiction of an alien power and not even know it.  Perhaps they have drawn a line around all of North America.

That being the case, what would then stop an alien power from doing what Europeans did to Indians?  I am not saying they would come here and force us off our land and commit genocide - not at first, anyway.  They might just come and try to buy the land, either house by house, or entire towns, states, even countries.  Along the way, we might be exposed to their alien diseases, just like the Indians.

Forget about our existing laws, because aliens would not necessarily recognize them - Europeans did not recognize Indian rules, why would aliens recognize ours?  With that in mind, an alien emissary could feasibly walk into the White House and offer our president, say, one trillion dollars (perhaps in some other currency but still the equivalent of a trillion dollars).  Would the president sell us out for a trillion bucks?  The speculative answer to that question probably depends on which side of the political aisle you stand on.  But suppose he did.

The president of the United States is not endowed with the authority to sell our country to aliens.  There is no land deed that I know of which bestows ownership of the entire country onto any one person.  Also the people living here would not stand for it.  But he could still take the money, either willingly or under duress.  Perhaps they will make him an offer he couldn't refuse.

I made him an offer he couldn't refuse
Or perhaps aliens would first come and (inadvertently or purposely) infect us with alien diseases we cannot fight off, leaving our population decimated and our economy in shambles - like Europeans did to the Indians!  Would our leader want to put in the hard work to rebuild a ruined country, infiltrated and overrun with amok aliens, or would he prefer to cut his losses, take the cash, and move on to greener pastures, like Chief Katonah did.  Depends on the president.

Just to legitimize the deal, the president might offer each of his cabinet members a billion dollars to also sign the deal.  The heads of the opposition party each get five billion, to look the other way.  They all then relocate to the Bahamas or various other hospitable places, and name those places after themselves, à la Katonah, New York.

Once that alien document was signed by all the heads of the country, once the deed to our land was in their long spindly hands, aliens would have the ability to say the deal abides by the terms of their legal system (which unbeknownst to us had been superimposed over our legal system when their maps had been overlaid on our maps).  

At that point, all humans in the country would fall under the rule of the new governor.  What, you do not like it?  Perhaps you would like to put on these shackles and visit the Magistrate with me.  Or perhaps you would like to speak into the barrel of my death ray.  I can get the constable or even a fleet of killer spaceships to help me, if needed.

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