From the Hudson, (O). Observer ' Telegraph.
TO THE INHABITANTS OF PORTAGE COTNTY.(sic)
A meeting was held in this Township on Monday evening of last week, to consider whether any measures ought to be adopted in regard to the 'Indian question.' Much interest was manifested on the occasion, and a committee was appointed for the purpose of bringing the subject before the inhabitants of the County. The meeting was called and the committee appointed, not because our citizens wish to dictate to others, but because the 'question' was regarded as highly important, and as deeply involving the character of our country, as well as the interests of the Indians, and because it was believed that duty imperiously requires us to act and speak out.
The situation of our country in regard to this question is calculated to awaken every good citizen, who is correctly informed on the subject, to serious consideration and a corresponding course of action. Much has been published calculated to afford correct views of the facts in relation to the case, and the committee esteem it necessary to do little more than present in a condensed form some of these facts which are sustained by the most satisfactory testimony.
At an early period in our national existence, the proper regulation of our intercourse with the Indian tribes residing within the limits of the United States, was regarded as highly important to the interest, both of our own Republic and of these tribes.- When the Constitution of the United States was formed, this delicate concern was wholly entrusted to the general government. Agreeably to this arrangement treaties were formed with various Indian tribes, securing to them the undisturbed possession of their country, and pledging the faith of the nation for their protection.- These treaties described the boundaries of the countries guarantied to the respective tribes, beyond which, no white man was permitted to erect his dwelling, or trade with the natives except by special license. Intruders were to be removed by the authority of the United States. If necessary, it was the duty of the President to employ military force for their expulsion.
The Indians have been repeatedly assured by the several Presidents of the U. States that the treaties formed with them, mean just what they say-are free from all deceptions; that our government is honest; and that we never 'talk to our red brothers with a forked tongue.'
By an uniform course of integrity in regard to the Indians, the national government secured their confidence. When oppressed or injured they applied to their 'great Father' the President, with the fullest confidence that their wrongs would be redressed. Not until recently, have they applied in vain: Their requests were heard and answered. In accordance with subsisting treaties they have lived under their own government and laws. A number of the southwestern tribes have in the course of 10 or 15 years, in a great degree relinquished their roving habits, and applied themselves to agriculture and some of the mechanic arts. Schools have been established, in which many of their children have been instructed. Not a few attend on the preaching of the gospel, and a considerable number are hopefully pious. In one of the tribes a respectable newspaper is published weekly, edited by a native Cherokee; in which tribe, regular courts of justice have been established.
Previously to the last meeting of Congress, the state of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi enacted laws extending their jurisdiction over the several Indian nations within their respective limits; declaring the laws and regulations of the Indians to be null and void; forbidding their execution; and requiring submission and obedience on the part of the Indians to the enactments of the respective State governments. The Legislature of Georgia exacted a law forbidding the admission of an Indian as a witness in a court of justice, in any case in which a white man was a party concerned.
These laws were regarded by the Indians as exceedingly oppressive, and violations of their treaties with the United States. They applied to the President for protection, but were answered, that he could afford them no relief: The Cherokees then petitioned Congress to interpose. Their cause was ably advocated in the Senate, and in the house of Representatives, but the National Legislature rose without adopting any effectual measure for their protection.
Under these circumstances, one of the four tribes, in regard to which we are particularly speaking, disheartened by the treatment recently experienced, have agreed to remove to the West provided a country is furnished them, with which they shall be satisfied; which condition we are told by high authority, they have no expectation can be complied with.
Another tribe has entered into a treaty, to remove on certain conditions, fully persuaded that they cannot sustain the burdens which have been laid on them and which they anticipate.
The other two tribes have refused to enter into treaties to sell their country and to remove. They too highly prize their firesides, their soil, the graves of their fathers, the scenes of their youthful days, their improvements, their schools, their churches, and their religious teachers. They are satisfied that if the government will not redeem the pledges so often repeated, to protect them where they now reside; protection would not be afforded them in any other situation. Their trust is in the Lord; and they are waiting the direction of his providence.
In our view, and this corresponds with the opinion of many of the most distinguished jurists in our country, the government of the United States are under solemn obligation to fulfil their promises to the Indians as contained in the treaties which have been made with them, according to the understanding of the contracting parties. Less than this cannot be done without violating the plighted faith of the nation. It is derogatory to the honor of our country to refuse the fulfillment of promises to the Indians because 'they are weak and we are strong'. Let it be supposed that they are as degraded as their enemies pretend. The greater their degradation the greater will be the disgrace incurred by deceiving and defrauding them.
It is said that our promises to these Indians cannot be performed without injuring individual States! If this is the fact, let reparation be made to the full extent when justice demands. But let our faith not be violated.- Let not a stain be fixed on our fair character which the purest blood cannot purge away-at which the enemies of republics shall be able triumphantly to point the finger of scorn-which will make every friend of truth and of our country blush to own that he is an American citizen.
We regard the government of the United States as obligated to extinguish the Indian title in Georgia, as soon as it can be done peaceably, on reasonable terms, and with the voluntary consent of the rightful owners. But to resort to bribery, threats, and oppression, to effect the object--to attempt the persuading of influential men in these tribes to barter their country for gold, and measures, at which our feelings revolt, and which our judgement condemns.
We might dwell on the sufferings which must inevitably be endured, by urging from their homes, and removing, hundreds of miles through the wilderness, 70,000 human beings of all ages, circumstances, and descriptions of character, and leaving them in a country so destitute of wood and water, as to use the language of the Hon. E. Whittlesey, that 'every person will readily conclude, that a country like this, is incapable of sustaining human beings, whether they are civilized or savage.'
For a moment imagine that three quarters of the families on this Reserve, are forced from their homes and marched hundreds of miles thro' the wilderness, and left to find their subsistence in such a country; and then, if you are able, estimate the amount of suffering which they must experience. The number of Indians in the four tribes of which we are particularly speaking, amounts to about as many souls as are included in three fourths of the families on this Reserve.
We will not dwell on the twenty-five or thirty millions of dollars which must be drawn from the Treasury of the United States to accomplish such a work, as the removal of the Indians. For we consider dollars of little value in comparison with the sufferings of our fellow man, and with the honor and moral character of our country.
We regard our national government as on the brink of a fearful abyss-that abyss is national perjury--violating her solemn pledges. Pledges given not once nor twice, but repeatedly and by all our Presidents until within the last two years. It is asked what have we to do with the conduct of the national government? We answer, Much--very much. The voice of our government is the voice of the people. It is not only a privilege granted by the constitution to petition Congress whenever we regard it necessary; but in many cases it may be an important duty. The business in relation to the Indians will in all probability come before Congress at their present meeting. We know that the members of both Houses were nearly equally divided on this subject at the last session. At such a time let the people express their wishes, and they will have influence. Should the people keep silence; and the Indian business be so managed as to violate the faith of the nation, how will they answer for their negligence, to their conscience, to the desponding Indians, to posterity, and to God? If we keep silence, how shall we answer for our delinquency?
It is a very encouraging circumstance, that our Representative in Congress, has expressed publicly, views on this subject which we deem correct. He could not but be gratified to learn that in a petition to Congress from his constituents, the same opinions are contained which he has advocated:- Let us, fellow citizens, in performing our duty, afford him this gratification.
And while our petitions are presented to the National Legislature, let us offer our daily prayer to Him, in whose hands are the hearts of all men, that our rulers may be guided into the path of righteousness and truth.
Hudson, Dec. 13, 1830.