THE CHEROKEE PHOENIX, AND INDIANS' ADVOCATE
Saturday, September 18, 1830
Volume 3 No. 19
Page 1 Col. 1b-5a
From the New York Observer
HISTORY OF THE INDIANS BILL.-No. IV
I omitted to mention, at the close of my lst number, that Mr. Forsyth, when he resumed his speech on Thursday, spent some minutes in a studied attack upon Mr. Peel, of the British House of Commons. This was in retaliation, as Mr. Peel has spoken rather reproachfully of Georgia, in one of the discussions of last winter. The printed speech of Mr. Forsyth contains no allusion to this subject.
The debate was continued by Mr. Sprague, Senator from Maine, who spoke on Friday and Saturday, April 16th and 17th. He occupied the floor about five hours in the whole. In the first place, he examined all the arguments of Messrs. White, M'Kinley, and Forsyth. Everything on that side, that could be made to wear the semblance of an argument, he stated fairly and refuted unanswerably. He then traced the history of our intercourse with the Indians, asserted their original and perfect right to their country, and established the validity of the treaties, by which the Cherokees claim our protection against the laws of Georgia. He alluded very happily to the pound of flesh, which Mr. Forsyth had said Georgia will have. He described the process of bribery, which had been recommended by the Secretary of War, and held it up to merited indignation. The whole speech was a very able one; and those parts of it, which related to solemn treaties,--to the foul reproach, which the contemplated measures would bring upon our country, and to the wrath of God, to which as a nation, we should be justly exposed,- were very impressive, and were felt to be so by all parties. When the opinions of all our great statesmen were shown to be in exact accordance with the claims of the Cherokees; when treaties, ratified without a dissenting voice by every Senate, and at every session, since the adoption of the Constitution and sanctioned by every House of Representatives, at every session, were demonstrated to speak the same language; when all these transactions were shown to be honest, upright, and honorable, and a contrary course now proposed for the first time, was described as oppressive to the Indians and disgraceful to ourselves; it seemed impossible that a majority of the Senate should set aside the most solemn acts of their predecessors.
The debate was resumed on Tuesday, April 20th. Mr. Adams, a new member from Mississippi, who did not arrive till near the middle of the session spoke an hour and twenty minutes in favor of the bill. This was the only speech he made, during his short term of service. It has since been printed, at somewhat greater length than when it was delivered, and is now before me.
Mr. Adams began by saying, that he had never before had a seat in a legislative assembly, and must therefore solicit the indulgence of the Senate, while he expressed his views on the subject. He admitted that the opinion of the President, as exhibited in his message, was "contrary to the provisions of the treaties made by the United States, and now existing in full force, with the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws." He admitted, also, that the laws of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi were "in violation of those treaties." These are his very words. But he contended, that the President had decided these treaties to be unconstitutional; and the President, as a distinct department of the government, and having taken an oath to support the Constitution, "is bound to declare any law, or treaty, a nullity, if made contrary to the provisions of the Constitution."
Mr Adams selected several laws from what he considered the codes of the Senecas, the Cherokees, and the Choctaws, and which, he thought, indicated a barbarous state of things. He argued, therefore, that it would be a very absurd use of the power of the United States to defend the right of the Indians to exercise such a legislation. He insisted, that if gentlemen were in earnest, and if the writers of pamphlets were sincere, they should show their sincerity by acting according to their principles. They should call back the Indians, and deliver up to desolation and barbarism, the cultivated regions of the northern states. He considered the lands obtained from the Indians by purchase, as having been really obtained by fraud, which was no better that force. He urged, that the British Crown might legislate over all the territory claimed as within the colonial limits; and that all the old states of the Union had legislated over the Indians. He admitted that the treaties with the Indians were binding on the United States; but said that making compensation was fulfilment (sic).- When the Indian tribes were powerful, and the new settlements dreaded their incursions, he said, the United States and the several states consented to any terms with the Indians, and made no complaints that the legislative rights of the states were disregarded; but when the Indians became weak, and the whites strong, the legislative rights of the states were reasserted. In other words, we will keep our engagements so long as compelled to do so by fear; but as soon as we have the power, we will set aside our most solemn contracts.
This is the substance of Mr. Adam's speech. Though he had never been a member of a legislative body before, and though he made no other speech during the session, there is one suggestion in his speech, which is to be found nowhere else. It is the discovery, that because the President has sworn to support the Constitution, he may abrogate any treaty, or repeal any law, which he judges to be inconsistent with the Constitution.
On Wednesday, April 21st, Mr. Robbins, Senator from Rhode-Island, delivered a neat and beautiful speech against the bill. He first described the nature of Indian sovereignty showing that these aboriginal tribes had always been sui juris, and had always been admitted to be so and that being sui juris is the true criterion of sovereignty. He inferred, that our treaties with Indians are as binding as any treaties can be; and closed by a solemn and tender appeal in behalf of these deserted and betrayed people.
Speaking of the objection to the new Cherokee government, Mr. Robbins said:
"Ill fated Indians! Barbarism, and attempts at civilization are alike fatal to your rights; but attempts at civilization the more fatal of the two. The jealous of their own rights are the contemuers (sic) of yours; proud and chivalrous states do not think it beneath them to take advantage of your weakness. You have lands which they want, or rather which they desire, for they do not want them; your rights stand in their way, and those proud and chivalrous states do not think it beneath them to destroy your rights by their legislation. Proud and chivalrous states do not think it beneath them to present to your feeble and helpless condition, this alternative- either to abandon your homes, the habitations you have built, the fields you have planted, and all the comforts you have gathered around you; the homes of your fathers, and the sepulchres (sic) of the dead; and go far into the depths of an unknown wilderness, there to abide the destiny which may await you, or to surrender your rights, and submit yourselves to their power, but to expect no participation in their rights.
Mr. Robbins closed with the following paragraph, having mentioned the decree, which had gone forth against the Cherokees.
"The cry of the miserable Indian will not arrest it; the sympathy of this nation in that cry will not arrest it; the sympathy is not credited, or if credited, is despised; and we are told here, and in a tone of defiance, too, that no power shall arrest it. My fears are that no power will arrest it; none certainly will if this bill pass, and without this amendment, for then the Executive will not arrest it. But if executed, and when executed, for one, I will say, that these Indians have been made the victims of power exerted against right; the victims of violated faith, the nation's faith, the victims of violated justice; yes, I call God to witness, of his violated justice"
The speech of Mr. Robbins occupied about three quarters of an hour.
When he sat down Mr. White rose, and said that he wished to make the closing speech on the question. He presumed this privilege would be yielded to him as a matter of courtesy. He would therefore wait till all, who had an inclination to address the Senate, had possessed an opportunity.
Mr. Forsyth then occupied the floor two hours. He spoke with more animation, and somewhat more bitterness than before. He often displayed great ignorance of facts, and was very inaccurate in his statements. He did not again call the Cherokees "poor devils," having been observed to read a remark on that subject in one of the Washington papers. He laid down these doctrines; that it makes no odds whether the government of the United States extinguishes the Indian title by compact, or by the exertion of physical force, the United States being bound to do one or the other; and that the Indians have only the right to be paid for their land, when the interest of the United States requires that they shall be removed. He said he did not justify the conduct of the whites towards the Indians; he only described what the rights are, and insisted that Georgia should have the benefit of them. As between the whites and the Indians, it was altogether a matter of expediency and power. It is too late in the day to talk of abstract rights.- He put the following question with great confidence: Does not every person know, that if Georgia had been determined to have these lands sooner, a pretext for a war might be had, which would justify it in the view of Congress?
That a Senator in the nineteenth century should claim for his state the merit of great forbearance and kindness because a pretext for an exterminating war had not been sought against a little peaceable community living under the most solemn guaranty of friendship which our great republic could give, is what many people were not prepared to witness.
Mr. Forsyth also asked, "Have we not lost a glorious opportunity recently for making an Indian war?" I have his very words. He doubtless referred to the burning of the houses of intruders by the Cherokees last winter, and the barbarous murder of a Cherokee by inhabitants of Georgia.
"If," said Mr. Forsyth, "the Cherokees should be instigated to resistance, their destruction is certain, they will indeed be immortal. They will die in the land of their fathers, weltering in their own blood. But the philanthropist cares nothing about this. He gains his object. The government is made odious."
At the close of the speech, the question came very near being taken by surprise. A large part of the Senators, nearly or quite half, who were expected to vote in favor of the amendment had withdrawn with the full understanding that the question would be debated another day as Mr. White had expressed his wish to speak again. It was with great difficulty that a decision was avoided. The particular circumstances, if described, would occupy too much space in this narration. It is sufficient to say, that the matter was pressed to an extent, which appeared far from being fair and honorable.
At length, however, Mr. Frelinghuysen succeeded in getting the motion for an adjournment put, and the Senate adjourned.
On Thursday, April 22d, Mr. Frelinghuysen replied to the arguments of the friends of the bill, in a powerful and eloquent speech of rather more than an hour. Mr. M'Kinley succeeded, and repeated his argument about state rights, which he did not rended more intelligible than it was before. He spoke three quarters of an hour. Mr. Forsyth again addressed the Senate for about fifty minutes.
He stated that the letter which he had read to the Senate in a former occasion, was written by Mr. Jones, Postmaster at New Haven, with whose permission his name was now mentioned. The letter asserted, that the clergy took a principal part in circulating memorials, &c. and was designed to leave the impression, that the interest felt on the subject was altogether factitious.
Mr. Forsyth acknowledged his responsibility to the world and to heaven. He regretted that the law of Georgia had been passed, "not because it is unjust in itself, (for it is unjust only to a few, 200 to 300 perhaps,) but because it can be made the means of exciting prejudice against the state." These are the exact words which he uttered.
It is a new sort of logic, by which it can be proved that a law is not unjust in itself, because it is unjust to no more than 200 or 300 people. What sort of deference is due to a man's opinions, when his mind runs on at this rate, in a discussion of great public interest and importance? When his notions of justice and morals are in this loose, disjointed and confused state? Suppose Mr. Forsyth, his family and neighbors were outlawed, would it satisfy him to be told that the act of outlawry was not unjust in itself, because it was unjust only to himself and his neighbors, not exceeding 300 in all? Why should John Ross be outlawed any more than John Forsyth, or William Hicks than George M. Troup?
Besides, if it would prove a law not to be unjust, because no more than 300 would suffer unjustly by it, he ought to be sure that the number should be so large as to prove the law unjust in itself. Now the Cherokees contend that there are 3,000 adults in that nation, who would be competent witnesses in Great Britain, and most of the United States.
On Friday, April 23d, Mr. White, who had the floor, gave way to Mr. Sprague.
This gentleman, in an earnest appeal of nearly an hour, commanded the most respectful attention of the Senate. He recapitulated the treaties and enforced their obligations in a masterly manner. The closing of this address was more striking than any passage in his published speech. If the people of the United States could all have heard Mr. Frelinghuysen's speech of yesterday and Mr. Sprague's of today, there would be little danger of Indians being driven from their country.
P. S. Since the commencement of this number, I have ascertained that more of Mr. Forsyth's speech was published than I had supposed. At the close of what appeared in the Telegraph of May 24th, no intimation was given that the speech would be continued; but it would seem that a part was afterwards published in that paper. The attack on Mr. Peel is included in that part. The account of the letter which was too late to be used is much more insolent, as described by Mr. Forsyth in his printed speech, than as I described it in my last number.