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President asks for Advise from the Senate

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                  

 

The President, thus entreated, addressed himself to the Senate, and asked their advice. He recapitulated the facts as set forth by General Knox, "that upward of five hundred families are settled on the Cherokee lands," and asks,

"1st. Is it the judgment of the Senate that overtures shall be made to the Cherokees to arrange a new boundary, so as to embrace the settlements made by the white people since the treaty of Hopewell in November 1785.

"2d. If so, shall compensation to the amount of $ annually, or of $ in gross, be made to the Cherokees for the land they shall relinquish, holding the occupiers of the land accountable to the United States for its value.

"3d. Shall the United States stipulate solemnly to guarantee the new boundary which may be arranged."

The Senate thereupon resolved that the President should, at his discretion, cause the Hopewell treaty to be carried out, or make a new one; but, in case a new one was made, the "Senate do advise and consent solemnly to guarantee the same."

Accordingly, in July 1791, a new treaty-the treaty of Holston-was made with the Cherokees, new boundaries established, and $1000 a year promised to the tribe for the lands relinquished.

By the seventh Article of this treaty the United States "solemnly guarantee to the Cherokee nation all their lands not hereby ceded: the eighth Article reiterates the old permission that if any citizen of the United States or other person (not an Indian) shall settle on the Cherokees' lands, the Cherokees may punish him as they please. Article ninth says that no citizen or inhabitant of the United States shall hunt or destroy game on the Cherokee lands, or go into the Cherokee country without a passport from the governor or some other authorized person.

The next year the Cherokees sent an embassy to Philadelphia to ask for an increase of $500 in their annuity. One of the chiefs said that he had told Governor Blunt the year before that he would not consent to selling the lands for $1000 a year. "It would not buy a breech-clout for each of my nation;" which was literally true.

To this additional annuity the Senate consented, and with this the chiefs said they were "perfectly satisfied." But they begged for the ploughs, hoes, cattle, etc., which had been promised in the treaty. They said, "Game is going fast away from among us. We must plant corn and raise cattle, and we want you to assist us."

In 1794 it was necessary to make another treaty, chiefly to declare that the Holston treaty was in "full force and binding." It had not been "fully carried into execution by reason of misunderstandings," it was said. This was very true; white settlers had gone where they pleased, as if it did not exist; Cherokees had murdered them, as they were, by their treaty, explicitly permitted to do. The whites had retaliated by unprovoked attacks on friendly Indians, and the Indians had retaliated again. The exasperated Indians implored Congress to protect them: the still more exasperated whites demanded of Congress to protect them. The Secretary of War writes despairingly, that "The desire of too many frontier white people to seize by force or fraud on the neighboring Indian lands continues to be an unceasing cause of jealousy and hatred on the part of the Indians; and it would appear, upon a calm investigation, that until the Indians can be quieted on this point, and rely with confidence on the protection of their lands by the United States, no well - grounded hope of tranquility can he entertained."

In this miserable manner, unjust equally to the white men and to the Indians, affairs went on for several years, until in 1801 it became absolutely necessary that in some way a definite understanding of boundaries, and an authoritative enforcement of rights on both sides, should be brought about; accordingly, commissioners were sent by the President "to obtain the consent of the Cherokees" to new grants of land and establishment of boundaries. The instructions given to these commissioners are remarkable for their reiterated assertion of the Indians' unquestioned right to do as they please about ceding these lands. Such phrases as these: "Should the Indians refuse to cede to the United States any of the above-designated lands," and "you will endeavor to prevail upon them to cede," and "you will endeavor to procure the consent of the Indians," are proof of the fullness of the recognition the United States Government at that time gave of the Indians' "right of occupancy;" also of the realization on the part of the Government that these Indian nations were powers whose good-will it was of importance to conciliate. "It is of importance," the instructions say, "that the Indian nations generally should be convinced of the certainty in which they may at all times rely upon the friendship of the United States, and that the President will never abandon them or their children;" and, "It will be incumbent on you to introduce the desires of the Government in such a manner as will permit you to drop them, as you may find them ill received, without giving the Indians an opportunity to reply with a decided negative, or raising in them unfriendly and inimical dispositions. You will state none of them in the tone of demands, but in the first instance merely mention them as propositions which you are authorized to make, and their assent to which the Government would consider as new testimonials of their friendship."

Nevertheless, the Cherokees did reply with "a decided negative." They utterly refused to cede any more lands, or to give their consent to the opening of any more roads through their territory. But it only took four years to bring them to the point where they were ready to acquiesce in the wishes of the Government, and to make once more the effort to secure to themselves an unmolested region, by giving up several large tracts of land and a right of way on several roads. In 1805 they concluded another treaty, ceding territory for which the United States thought it worthwhile to pay $15,000 immediately, and an annuity of $3000.

Ten years later (in 1816) they gave up all their lands in South Carolina, and the United States became surety that South Carolina should pay to them $5000 for the same. In the autumn of the same year they made still another cession of lands to the United States Government, for which they were to have an annuity of $6000 a year for ten years, and $5000 as compensation for the improvements they surrendered.

In 1817 an important treaty was concluded, making still further cessions of lands, and defining the position of a part of the Cherokee nation, which had moved away, with the President's permission, to the Arkansas River in 1809. The eighth Article of this treaty promises that the United States will give to every head of an Indian family residing on the east side of the Mississippi, who may wish to become a citizen, " a reservation of six hundred and forty acres of land, in which they will have a life estate, with a reversion in fee-simple to their children."

What imagination could have foreseen that in less than twenty years the chiefs of this Cherokee nation would be found piteously pleading to be allowed to remain undisturbed on these very lands? In the whole history of our Government's dealings with the Indian tribes, there is no record so black as the record of its perfidy to this nation. There will come a time in the remote future when, to the student of American history, it will seem well-nigh incredible. From the beginning of the century they had been steadily advancing in civilization. As far back as 1800 they had begun the manufacture of cotton cloth, and in 1820 there was scarcely a family in that part of the nation living east of the Mississippi but what understood the use of the card and spinning wheel. Every family had its farm under cultivation. The territory was laid off into districts, with a council-house, a judge, and a marshal in each district. A national committee and council were the supreme authority in the nation. Schools were flourishing in all the villages. Printing presses were at work.

Their territory was larger than the three States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined. It embraced the Northwestern part of Georgia, the Northeast of Alabama, a corner of Tennessee and of North Carolina. They were enthusiastic in their efforts to establish and perfect their own system of jurisprudence. Missions of several sects were established in their country, and a large number of them had professed Christianity, and were living exemplary lives.

There is no instance in all history of a race of people passing in so short a space of time from the barbarous stage to the agricultural and civilized. And it was such a community as this that the State of Georgia, by one high-handed outrage, made outlaws! Passing on the 19th of December 1829, a law "to annul all laws and ordinances made by the Cherokee nation of Indians;" declaring "all laws, ordinances, orders, and regulations of any kind whatever, made, passed, or enacted by the Cherokee Indians, either in general council or in any other way whatever, or by any authority whatever, null and void, and of no effect, as if the same had never existed; also, that no Indian, or descendant of any Indian residing within the Creek or Cherokee nations of Indians, shall be deemed a competent witness in any court of this State to which a white man may be a party."

What had so changed the attitude of Georgia to the Indians within her borders? Simply the fact that the Indians, finding themselves hemmed in on all sides by fast thickening white settlements, had taken a firm stand that they would give up no more land. So long as they would cede and cede, and grant and grant tract after tract, and had millions of acres still left to cede and grant, the selfishness of white men took no alarm;
but once consolidated into an empire, with fixed and inalienable boundaries, powerful, recognized, and determined, the Cherokee nation would be a thorn in the flesh to her white neighbors. The doom of the Cherokees was sealed on the day when they declared, once for all, officially as a nation, that they would not sell another foot of land. This they did in an interesting and pathetic message to the United States Senate in 1822.
Georgia, through her governor and her delegates to Congress, had been persistently demanding to have the Cherokees compelled to give up their lands. She insisted that the United States Government should fulfill a provision, made in an old compact of 1802, to extinguish the Indian titles within her limits as soon as it could. be peaceably done. This she demanded should be done now, either peaceably or otherwise.

"We cannot but view the design of those letters," says this message, "as an attempt bordering on a hostile disposition toward the Cherokee nation to wrest from them by arbitrary means their just rights and liberties, the security of which is solemnly guaranteed to them by these United States. We assert under the fullest authority that all the sentiments expressed in relation to the disposition and determination of the nation never to cede another foot of land, are positively the production and voice of the nation. There is not a spot out of the limits of any of the States or Territories thereof, and within the limits of the United States, that they would ever consent to inhabit; because they have unequivocally determined never again to pursue the chase as heretofore, or to engage in wars, unless by the common call of the Government to defend the common rights of the United States. The Cherokees have turned their attention to the pursuits of the civilized man: agriculture, manufactures, and the mechanic arts and education are all in successful operation in the nation at this time; and while the Cherokees are peacefully endeavoring to enjoy the blessings of civilization and Christianity on the soil of their rightful inheritance, and while the exertions and labors of various religious societies of these United States are successfully engaged in promulgating to them the words of truth and life from the sacred volume of Holy Writ, and under the patronage of the General Government, they are threatened with removal or extinction. We appeal to the magnanimity of the American Congress for justice, and the protection of he rights and liberties and lives of the Cherokee people. We claim it from the United States by the strongest obligation Lich imposes it on them by treaties: and we expect it from them under that memorable declaration, `that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"

The dignified and pathetic remonstrance of the Cherokee chiefs, their firm reiterations of their resolve not to part with their lands, were called by the angry Georgian governor "tricks of vulgar cunning," and "insults from the polluted lips of outcasts and vagabonds;" and he is not afraid, in an official letter to the Secretary of War, to openly threaten the President that, if he upholds the Indians in their rejection of the overtures for removal, the "consequences are inevitable," and that, in resisting the occupation of the Cherokee lands by the Georgians, he will be obliged to "make war upon, and shed the blood of brothers and friends."

To these Cherokees Mr. Jefferson had written, at one time during his administration, "I sincerely wish you may succeed in your laudable endeavors to save the remnant of your nation by adopting industrious occupations, and a government of regular law. In this you may always rely on the counsel and assistance of the 'United States."

In 1791 he had written to General Knox, defining the United States' position in the matter of Indian lands: "Government should firmly maintain this ground, that the Indians have a right to the occupation of their lands independent of the States within whose chartered lines they happen to be; that until they cede them by treaty, or other transaction equivalent to treaty, no act of a State can give a right to such lands.

The Government is determined to exert all its energy for the patronage and protection of the rights of the Indians."

And the year before General Washington had said to the Six Nations:

"In future you cannot be defrauded of your lands. No State or person can purchase your lands unless at some public treaty held under the authority of the United States. The General Government will never consent to your being defrauded; but it will protect you in all your just rights. You possess the right to sell, and the right of refusing to sell your lands. The United States will be true and faithful to their engagements."

What could Cherokee men and women have thought when, only thirty years later, they found this United States Government upholding the State of Georgia in her monstrous pretensions of right to the whole of their country, and in her infamous cruelties of oppression toward them, when they found this United States Government sending its agents to seduce and bribe their chiefs to bargain away their country; even stooping to leave on the public records of official instructions to a commissioner such phrases as these: "Appeal to the chiefs and influential men-not together, but apart, at their own houses;" "make offers to them of extensive reservations in fee-simple, and other rewards, to obtain their acquiescence;" "the more careful you are to secure from even the chiefs the official character you bear, the better;" "enlarge on the advantage of their condition in the West: there the Government would protect them." This the Secretary of War called " moving on them in the line of their prejudices."

In a report submitted to the War Department in 1825 by Thomas L. McKenney is a glowing description of the Cherokee country and nation at that time: "The country is well watered; abundant springs of pure water are found in every part; a range of majestic and lofty mountains stretch themselves across it. The northern part is hilly and mountainous; in the southern and western parts there are extensive and fertile plains, covered partly with tall trees, through which beautiful streams of water glide. These plains furnish immense pasturage, and numberless herds of cattle are dispersed over them; horses are plenty; numerous flocks of sheep, goats, and swine cover the valleys and the hills. On Tennessee, Ustanula, and Canasagi rivers Cherokee commerce floats. The climate is delicious and healthy; the winters are mild; the spring clothes the ground with the richest scenery; flowers of exquisite beauty and variegated hues meet and fascinate the eye in every direction. In the plains and valleys the soil is generally rich, producing Indian corn, cotton, tobacco, wheat, oats, indigo, and sweet and Irish potatoes. The natives carry on considerable trade with the adjoining States; sonic of them export cotton in boats down the Tennessee to the Mississippi, and down that river to New Orleans. Apple and peach orchards are quite common, and gardens are cultivated, and much attention paid to them. Butter and cheese are seen on Cherokee tables. There are many public roads in the nation, and houses of entertainment kept by natives. Numerous and flourishing villages are seen in every section of the country. Cotton and woolen cloths are manufactured: blankets of various dimensions, manufactured by Cherokee hands, are very common. Almost every family in the nation grows cotton for its own consumption. Industry and commercial enterprise are extending themselves in every part. Nearly all the merchants in the nation are native Cherokees. Agricultural pursuits engage the chief attention of the people. Different branches in mechanics are pursued. The population is rapidly increasing. White men in the nation enjoy all the immunities and privileges of the Cherokee people,
except that they are not eligible to public offices. The Christian religion is the religion of the nation. Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and Moravians are the most numerous sects. Some of the most influential characters are members of the Church, and live consistently with their professions. The whole nation is penetrated with gratitude for the aid it has received from the United States Government, and from different religious societies. Schools are increasing every year; learning is encouraged and rewarded; the young class acquire the English, and those of mature age the Cherokee system of learning. Our relations with all nations are of the most friendly character. We are out of debt, and our public revenue is in a flourishing condition. Besides the amount arising from imports, perpetual annuity is due from the United States in consideration of lands ceded in former periods. Our system of government, founded on republican principles by which justice is equally distributed, secures the respect of the people. New Town, pleasantly situated in the centre of the nation, and at the junction of the Canasagi and Gusuwati, two beautiful streams, is the seat of government. The legislative power is vested in what is denominated in native dialect Tsalagi Tinilawige, consisting of a national committee and council. Members of both branches are chosen by and from the people for a limited period. In New Town a printing press is soon to be established; also a national library and museum. An immense concourse of people frequent the seat of government when the Tsalagi Tinilawige is in session, which takes place once a year.

"The success which has attended the philological researches of one in the nation whose system of education has met with universal approbation among the Cherokees certainly entitles him to great consideration, and to rank with the benefactors of man. His name is Guess, and he is a native and unlettered Cherokee; but, like Cadmus, he has given to his people the alphabet of their language. It is composed of eighty-six characters, by which in a few days the older Indians, who had despaired of deriving an education by means of the schools, and who are not included in the existing school system, may read and correspond."

Never did mountaineers cling more desperately to their homes than did the Cherokees. The State of Georgia put the whole nation in duress, but still they chose to stay. Year by year high-handed oppressions increased and multiplied; military law reigned everywhere; Cherokee lands were surveyed, and put up to be drawn by lottery; missionaries were arrested and sent to prison for preaching to Cherokees; Cherokees were sentenced to death by Georgia juries, and hung by Georgia executioners. Appeal after appeal to the President and to Congress for protection produced only reiterated confessions of the Government's inability to protect them-reiterated proposals to them to accept a price for their country and move away. Nevertheless they clung to it. A few hundreds went, but the body of the nation still protested and entreated. There is nothing in history more touching than the cries of this people to the Government of the United States to fulfill its promises to them. And their cause was not without eloquent advocates. When the bill for their removal was before Congress, Frelinghuysen, Sprague, Robbins, Storrs, Ellsworth, Evans, Huntington, Johns, Bates, Crockett, Everett, Test, all spoke warmly against it; and, to the credit of Congress be it said, the bill passed the Senate by only one majority.

The Rev. Jeremiah Evarts published a series of papers in the National Intelligencer under the signature of William Penn, in which he gave a masterly analysis and summing up of the case, recapitulated the sixteen treaties which the Government had made with the Cherokees, all guaranteeing to them their lands, and declared that the Government had "arrived at the bank of the Rubicon," where it must decide if it would or would not save the country from the charge of bad faith. Many of his eloquent sentences read in the light of the present time like prophecies. He says, "in a quarter of a century the pressure upon the Indians will be much greater from the boundless prairies, which must ultimately be subdued and inhabited, than it would ever have been from the borders of the present Cherokee country;" and asks, pertinently, "to what confidence would such an engagement be entitled, done at the very moment that treaties with Indians are declared not to be binding, and for the very reason that existing treaties are not strong enough to bind the United States." Remonstrance poured in upon Congress, petitions and memorials from religious societies, from little country villages, all imploring the Government to keep its faith to these people.

The Cherokees' own newspaper, The Phoenix, was filled at this time with the records of the nation's suffering and despair.


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A Century of Dishonor, By Helen Hunt Jackson, New York, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1885

A Century of Dishonor

 

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