Of a Joint Committee in the Legislature of Georgia, on the Cherokee Lands.
THE Joint Committee upon the State of the Republic, to whom was refered [sic] so much of the late Governor's communication, as regards the acquisition of the Georgia lands at present in the occupancy of the Cherokee Indians, and the absolute and jurisdictional right of the State of the same Report:
That they have bestowed upon this momentous subject, the most mature and deliberate consideration; and although some of the positions which they feel warranted in occupying, may at first view, appear bold and novel, at yet they cherish the hope, that by adverting to the well ascertained, and long established laws of nations, those positions will be found abundanty [sic] supported.
We are aware that our repeated appeals to the General Government upon this subject, so vitally interesting to the people of Georgia, have been looked upon as impertinent and obtrusive; but your committee believe, that the State has been disposed to suffer in silence, so long as the evils under which she labored were sufferable, and that when her claims shall be fairly investigated, and it is seen how unreasonably they have delayed, an enlightened and just community will pronounce the course she has pursued, to have been marked with great moderation and forbearance.
We propose in the discharge of our present duty, to enquire first, into the nature and present situation of our claim upon the General Government; and second, to investigate the nature and extent our title to the territory in question, considered abstractedly from our claim upon the General Government.
By the 4th section of the articles of agreement and cession, entered into on the 24th of April, 1802, between the Commissioners of the United States on the one part, and the Commissioners of the State of Georgia on the other part, it was expressly stipulated and agreed, that the United States should at their own expense, extinguish for the use of Georgia as early as the same could be peaceably obtained on reasonable terms, the Indian title to all the lands within the State of Georgia.
It will be hardly be contended, that this was a mere naked promise, and therefore to be violated at pleasure by the United States, for the contract imports upon its face a most ample and sufficient considerations.
We are not ignorant of the fact, that the General Government having the power in her own hands, is disposed to put her own construction upon this promise, and to make herself the sole and exclusive judge of what may be considered 'reasonable terms;' but we respectfully contend, that if she design to keep up even the show of justice, she will suffer this to be controlled by the same rule of construction applicable to all other contracts--that is to say, that the words used, shall be understood in that sense which is best calculated to effectuate the true intention of the contracting parties.
The reciprocal objects intended to be accomplished by the United States and Georgia, by the contract in question, were few and simple. They intended that Georgia should cede to the United States a vast extent of territory therein described; that the United States should at their own expense, and upon their own responsibility, extinguish for the use of Georgia whatever claim or title the Indians might have to the lands lying within her limits; and that this should be done 'as early' as it could be upon peaceable and reasonable terms.
We consider it certain from the terms of the contract itself, and particularly from the consideration which was paid, that it was the intention of both parties that the Indian title should certainly, at some time or other be extinguished. The time was left indefinite and uncertain--not because it was contemplated that any circumstance should occur, or state of things exist, that should deprive Georgia of those lands; but, because this State reposed such unbounded confidence in the justice and good faith of the General Government as induced her confidently to believe, that no opportunity would be permitted to escape, and that no fair and honorable exertion would be withheld for the speedy and punctual fulfilment [sic] of the promise.
We admit that after much anxiety and delay, Georgia is about to reap the full benefit of the contract in question, so far as it regards her lands situate within the Creek Nation of Indians--But the manner in which this has been accomplished, compels us to say, that we are less indebted to the General Government for the result, than to the exertions of our late able and patriotic Governor. Although Georgia is about to obtain the last foot of Creek lands to which she is entitled, yet it must be remembered that there is still a considerable portion of Cherokee lands to which she has precisely the same title, in relation to which the general government is under the same obligation, ' which nevertheless still remains in the possession of the Indians. By what motive or reason the general pertinaciously [sic] ' unjustly refusing entirely to redeem her pledged faith to Georgia, we are unable to perceive. The whole civilized world knows, that Georgia acted a gallant ' distinguished part during the revolutionary war, in achieving our liberty and independence; and our sister States will do us time, Georgia has not withheld her treasure or her sword from the defence of our common country, and national rights. We mention these things, not by way of boasting, or out of vainglory; but, to show that Georgia has violated none of the obligations by which she was bound to her sister States, and therefore, that there is the less justice in their violating their obligations to her.
It will be remembered, that the articles of agreement and cession were entered into in 1802, and that they imposed upon the United States the obligation of procuring the relinquishment of the Indians title so soon as the same could be done 'peaceably' and upon 'reasonable terms.' Immediately upon the ratification of these articles, it became the duty of the general government to improve every opportunity that might present itself,, and with all her influence and energies faithfully applied, to have sought diligently for opportunities to effect such relinquishment. She did not do so.--But on the contrary, manifested so much indifference, and for so long a time, that Georgia became dissatisfied, and took occasion respectfully to call the attention of the general government to this subject--a liberty that she has several times since found it necessary to exercise--but which has either been treated with silent contempt, or has subjected her to reproach and calumny. That the United States have violated most palpably their contract with Georgia, we think is made evident, when it is remembered, that since the ratification of the articles of agreement and cession, the Indians have been removed entirely from Ohio, Kentucky, North and South-Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and almost all Arkansas; and that since that time, five or six times as much land as belonged to Georgia, and was in the possession of the Indians, has been acquired in Alabama for the use of the United States, and that too, upon 'peaceable terms,' besides large cessions in Mississippi, Illinois, Michigan, and Florida. And it is a fact so notorious, that we presume no one will venture to dispute it, that upon the termination of the late war with Great Britain and the Indians, the United States had it completely in their power to procure for the use of Georgia, every foot of land to which she was entitled; not only upon 'peaceable and reasonable terms,' but upon just such terms as they might have pleased to prescribe--But this was not done.--On the contrary, the United States by negotiation, effected for their own use and aggrandisement [sic], large cessions of territory, and so circumscribed their limits, as greatly to diminish the prospect of their willingness to make further sessions, either for the benefit of Georgia, or for any other purpose. And since that time, it has been the constant and favorite policy of the United States, not to hold out inducements to the Indians to yield up the possession of the Georgia lands; but to so add to their comforts, and so instruct them in the business of husbandry as to attach them so firmly to their country and to their homes, as almost to destroy the last ray of hope that they would ever consent to part with the Georgia lands. It is now alledged [sic], we understand, that it is impossible for the United States to obtain the lands in question for the use of Georgia, upon 'peaceable and reasonable terms,' and therefore, that they are under no obligation obtain them at all. By whom and in what way we beg to enquire, has this impossibility been produced? Surely by the United States, and by their policy, and that too against the consent and remonstrance of Georgia--And is it possible, that the general government will consent in this way to benefit herself, and to take advantage of her own acts, and that too to the injury and oppression of one of her own members? For the dignity and honor of our common country, we earnestly hope not. But should this plea be urged, it cannot upon principle prevail; because the United States were bound to obtain for the use of Georgia the lands in question 'as early' as it could be done upon reasonable and peaceable terms. If they could not have been obtained sooner, we all know, and our sister States will not deny it, that they could have been obtained upon the terms prescribed at the end of the late war. The United States then had an opportunity of complying with their contract with Georgia--they let that opportunity pass--it was their own wilful neglect; and in failing to obtain the lands at that time, the contract according to its very terms was broken; and they thereupon became legally and equitably bound, (and they yet remain so bound) to Georgia, to procure for her the lands in controversy, no matter how much treasure or blood may be expended in their procurement. But although the general government is under this obligation, and from which she cannot honorably release herself in any other way than by complying with it, yet judging from our past experience, we can scarcely venture to hope, that she will redress our injuries and establish our rights. We are apprised that this subject engaged the attention of the last Legislature, that the resolutions which they adopted were submitted to the President of the United States; and we are glad that in reply, he condescended to express to our Senators in Congress a 'wish to gratify the State,' but we are sorry that he added 'negotiation' (with the Indians) 'was hopeless, and that he could not consent to apply force.' We are at liberty to understand this answer no otherwise, than as a distinct and formal determination, to take no step either of a pacific or war-like nature, to obtain for and secure to Georgia, her long delayed rights. We have waited upon and trusted to the justice and liberality of the United States for the fourth of a century, and the result to us is disappointment, insult and injury.
(To Be Continued)