and Indians' Advocate
Wednesday, March 3, 1830
Vol. II, no. 46
Page 1, col. 1b-5b
From the Connecticut Observer.
We are indebted to a member of the Georgia delegation in Congress, for a copy of Remarks on Indian Reform, by Rev. Isaac McCoy, a Baptist Missionary among the Potawatamics in Michigan. Second edition,- New York, 1829. When we sat down to the perusal of this pamphlet, we had no acquaintance with its contents, except from the parts quoted by the writer in the last North American Review on the `Removal of the Indians'. From those extracts, and from the Reviewer's high commendations of Mr. McCoy, we expected to find on every page, facts opposed to the statements of William Penn, and to others who have written in favor of the Cherokees. But we were much disappointed. Mr. McCoy does indeed agree with the Reviewer in the policy of removing the Indians across the Mississippi,- for the great object of his pamphlet is to advocate this measure. It seems to be a favorite scheme with him. But on almost every other point concerning Indians, he differs as much from the Reviewer as William Penn does. He contends strenuously that the Indians have a legal right to the soil of their country.- a right much better than any which the whites can claim. The reviewer labors hard and long, to show that the Indians are so fixed in their attachment to their old habits and institutions, that it is impossible to civilize them. Mr. McCoy, on the other hand, says repeatedly that`it has been greatly the misfortune of the Indians that their white neighbors have generally supposed them to be inflexibly attached to their huntings, and wild customs'. `There is, says he, scarcely a heathen nation upon earth, of which we might not, with more propriety, suppose that such attachments were inflexible.' `We now know that if Indians are favorably situated for improvement, they will improve themselves.' Let it be remembered that this is the testimony of one, who, the Reviewer says, is an able & dispassionate laborer in the great field of aboriginal improvement, and has a right to speak on this subject. The Reviewer attempts to show that the failure of past efforts to improve the Indians, arises from their inherent character. Mr. McCoy on the contrary, contends that it is owing entirely to the treatment of white men towards them.- and he adduces the Cherokees as triumphant proof of his position. Place the Indians, he says, in a land they can call their own, and they will become civilized. Place before them the motives which act on white men, and we shall see a similar result. The Reviewer says that there is not upon the face of the globe, a more wretched race that the Cherokees present. Mr. McCoy, on the contrary, dwells with evident delight on the comfortable condition of the Cherokees. He adduces a great number of statistical facts to show their progress in civilization. And instead of ascribing it to the efforts of government, or to the influence of the half-breeds, as the Reviewer does, he says,`The work of civilization among the Cherokees appears to have been commenced by themselves; and by themselves, without assistance from the whites, carried forward to a very hopeful extent.' He says, `In view of the preceding facts, it is presumed that none will hesitate to admit that the Cherokees are a civilized people. They have among them men of classical education and refined manners. It is not pretended that every individual deserves the appellation of civilized.- neither does every individual whom we claim as a citizen of the United States merit the title." Again, the Reviewer, lumps all Indians together, and writes on the parcel. uncivilized,--unchangeable,--holding with a death grasp in their old institutions.-- But Mr. McCoy says, `Can anything in nature be more plain and convincing, than the striking contrast between the miserable wretches on small reservations, or those on our frontiers and those flourishing counties, towns, and villages which are inhabited by the Cherokees?'
On the whole, we cease to wonder that the Reviewer, after introducing his witness with high commendations, making use of that part of his testimony, which made for his own side, should suddenly turn about, and endeavor to disparage the other part of his testimony. William Penn himself--no-- of the missionaries among the Cherokees-not even the Cherokee Phoenix, have testified more pointedly against the Reviewer, in all the essential points of the case, than Mr. McCoy has done.
We would ask those who deny that the Cherokees are civilized--who still contend that they are nothing but hunters and wretched vagabonds--and do it on the authority of Mr. M'Coy, to look at one single fact. Mr. McCoy adduces the example of the Cherokees as one of the strongest arguments in proof of the utility of his plan. He says that the policy of government towards the Indians has been wrong. `We are now admonished, in terms clear and distinct, the language of well-known facts, what we ought not to do. The question, therefore, presents itself singly. What ought we to do? Let the history of the Cherokees and their neighbors teach us. Unless we colonize these people, and place them in circumstances similar to those of the Cherokees, they will inevitably perish.' Again, in his chapter `On the removal of the Indians to the Colony' which he had proposed he says-
"The circumstances of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks, east of the Mississippi River, merit a distinct consideration in this place. Most other tribes are incapable of assuming the attitude of a party in making arrangements for their future residence. With these it is otherwise. The Cherokees particularly have shown themselves capable of framing a judicious constitution of civil government, and a wholesome code of laws. They have come out boldly, and declared their legal right to the country they at present occupy east of the Mississippi. All this is well. We are gratified to discover among them so much manliness and good sense. Hence, we infer the readiness with which they will exchange countries, as soon as they shall perceive that it will be for their interest so to do."
We do not now claim that the testimony of Mr. M. is to be relied on; but we do claim- and justice claim, that those who use his name to persuade others that the Cherokees are a wretched race, and that nothing but removal can save them from extinction, should state his opinions and statements fairly. This they dare not do--with the qualification that he is not fully entitled to credit on this point. And if the qualification is correct, how can they in conscience or in honesty make use of his statements and opinion, and name, against the Cherokees.
We shall remark on only one more statement in the pamphlet. Mr. McCoy represents the country west of the territory of Arkansas which is proposed as the permanent residence of the Indians, somewhat more favorably that others do. Still he says, `We admit that there is a scarcity of timber generally throughout the district we have described.'--Without impeaching the veracity of Mr. McCoy, it may be observed, that in the circumstances in which he visited the country, it is not strange if all its advantages appeared in their full magnitude, as its disadvantages should either escape notice or be underrated. To say nothing of the known wishes of government to get rid of the troubles caused by the residence of the Indians on the east of the Mississippi, other feelings may have imperceptibly influenced his judgment. Previous to his exploring tour in 1828, he had published his views on the subject of the removal of the Indians. He regards his plan as the only one which could save the northern tribes from extinction, and would be best for all the tribes. No other part of the country, but this, was free from insuperable difficulties. If this region should prove unfit for their residence, the whole scheme would fail. Now it would be nothing strange, if in these circumstances, he should judge more favorably of the country as a residence for the Indians than facts would warrant.
We give a few extracts to show the opinion of Mr. McCoy, respecting the right of the Indians to their land.- Those who say that the Indians are nothing but savage hunters and erratic tribes, who have no idea of a title to the soil of their country, may see what is the opinion of a man who, we have been told on high authority `has a right to speak on this subject.'
"Believing that the doctrine which influenced Europeans on their discovery of America, and which has been entailed on us, is unsound, and has ever been a fruitful source of calamities to the natives, and the unnecessary occasion of much perplexity to the United States, I solicit the reader's attention to a brief consideration of the subject.
What claim in the soil, could the people of the U. States or any other people, prefer to an impartial tribunal, which the natives could not plead with equal, or additional propriety? The Indians are the Aborigines of the country. We have not discovered an uninhabited region but a peopled country. Let us suppose the Chinese at this day to be ignorant of the country of the United States, a company of ships arrive at Jamestown and set up a claim to the whole United States' territories. Would we readily admit that the law of nations made it theirs by the right of discovery?-- They take possession; but when retiring before a people of an entirely separate interest from ours, and of a superior strength, could we suppose that on the great day of retribution, they would be free from all accusations of injustice towards us; and that they would "then appear in the whiteness of innocence?" Prefer your plea, and the Indian adopts against us with peculiar propriety.
But they are savages. The names we have given to the Indians are merely arbitrary, and are made to signify nothing more, than that their manners and customs differ from ours; and in our estimation are less desirable. Let us suppose invaders of our rights, urging the same plea, and our question is answered. We found the natives living in those modes of life which they, as a people, chose for themselves; and we should be found by our invaders in the exercise of the same liberty. Surely the round of nature cannot furnish an argument to justify the taking away of a people's country, merely because the inhabitants have their peculiar modes of living when too, these modes of life, which differ from those of other nations, are the result of their own free choice, and have never disturbed the peace of others.
Indians not mere hunters.- But they are merely hunters," and what is the right of a huntsman to the of rest of a thousand miles, over which he has accidentally ranged in quest of prey?"
This is not quite the fact. The Indians are huntsmen; and so have always been to a certain extent, a large population on the frontier settlements. The Indians never lived entirely by hunting; and a portion of subsistence of white settlers has almost invariably been taken by the chase. But nobody ever thought that this circumstance affected the legality of their titles to land.
It is not true that the Indians were merely "huntsmen, accidentally passing over forests of a thousand miles." They were people at home and furnished imperishable monuments of the antiquity of their residence. Here they had lived longer than the existence of the oaks in whose shades they reclined-from time immemorial.
Their country was divided among the several tribes; and if the bounds of each was not fixed with an exactitude equal to that which marks the boundaries of our several States and Territories: yet it was with a precision which they deemed sufficient, and which we admit, met the exigencies of their situation, equally as well as our lines meet the circumstances of ours. War among themselves, whether on account of a disputed territory, or some other thing, was nothing new in the history of nations. It becomes us to feel for their misfortunes; but not on account thereof, to frame a pretext for possessing ourselves of their country. What law of nations has prescribed the amount of land a people must cultivate in proportion to each individual; the portion of food they must take from the waters, or the woods; and the distances they may, and may not travel in pursuit of their occupations, in order to render them eligible to the possession of territory and to character?
Indians not erratic.- As an apology for our conduct, we have been told that these were "erratic nations," incapable, by the smallness of their number of peopling the whole country." Now I would ask for some evidence to support this assertion. Where is the nation, or tribe that is erratic in a national capacity? Precisely, the reverse is the fact. It is well known that each tribe is peculiarly attached to its own district, that few individuals are found who do not cling to the land of their ancestors and hover over their tombs, until forced to retire by means not to be resisted. Let us be pointed to one single tribe that was, or is erratic, and so much of the matter at issue is conceded. But it is fearlessly asserted that no such tribe has ever been known to exist on our continent.
Indians have an idea of title to the soil.-Again it has been asserted that "the Indians have no idea of a title to the soil itself." This is an assumption without the shadow of evidence, indeed, it is at variance with the recurrence of positive and well known facts. It has been the misfortune of the Indian that he was incapable of recording on parchment his views of this subject, or of publishing them to the world, and pleading his own cause. But ask the Commissioners of the United States who have encountered so many difficulties in negotiating with the natives for cessions of their lands, and they will tell you, the assumption is untenable. Look to the whole course of Indian conduct relative to the case ever since the settlements of the whites on the continent, and an united voice, as of many waters, will tell you. Or, visit the Indians in their tents and they will tell you themselves, and that too, in expressions of grief and despair, that, unless your heart be cased in adamant, will make you both sigh and weep. Indians are actually sitting by me while I pen this paragraph: I cannot be mistaken.