From the New York Observer.
LETTERS FROM WASHINGTON -- NO. XI. WASHINGTON CITY
Jan. 29, 1831.
Among the visitors at Washington this winter, having interests pending in the breast of Congress, or of the Executive, and some of both -- are to be seen representatives of different tribes of Indians, from the extreme South, from the far West, and from the upper and cold regions of the North West Territory. And they are in may respects an interesting spectacle -- interesting especially, as making a powerful demand upon the sympathies of the nation. But alas! come to Washington for sympathy? and be obliged to depend upon men, and with whom, in the giddy whirl and furious dashing onward of mad policies, the kinder elements of our nature are smothered and strangled the moment they make a demonstration of influence? It is sad, indeed, to see these simple, once confiding, how doubting children of the forest -- the original tenants of this wide domain, holding their title from God, and invoking God their advocate -- waiting here and waiting on the nation for an adjudication of their rights -- and all with little prospect, or hope of relief. Their spoilers are their judges.
The Cherokees are here -- whose cause has long been conspicuous. The Creeks are here on a like errand, though I do not know precisely its form. A Delegation from the Choctaws is expected. The Quapaws are a nation, whom the Government lately bought in the Arkansas Territory, and them a title on the flats of the Red River, which prove untenable by reason of the floods, besides being disputed by the older and wilder tenants, who have threatened extermination to these intruders. Having been driven from the flats in two successive seasons, and lost their crops, and have been reduced to beggary and starvation, and their existence being menaced by the savages, they have come to pray their Great Father to restore them their former possessions; and have received for answer, I am credibly informed, that they may sit down in their former place, until it shall be wanted by their white brethren! Their representatives here are good looking men, and well dressed -- but do not speak English. The representatives of the Southern Indians are most of them educated men, speak pure English, are well accomplished in manners, and I may add, in affairs of State -- having been schooled in policies of Government by experience. They know their rights, and are prepared and resolved to assert them -- I do not mean by the sword -- but before the tribunals of national legislation and national justice. There are few men, who understand better than they do the temper of this nation, of Congress, and of the Executive, in relation to their claims, and few, that can predict policy results on these questions, with most infallible certainly. They understand the temper and views of every member of Congress, and of the respective districts, which they represent. They are men of good character, polite, dignified. They respect themselves, and show all proper respect to others.
The New York tribes, nearly or quite all of them are represented here -- those resident in the State, and those removed to Green Bay. They have sundry petitions pending. But the most important are for the confirmation of their purchases at Green Bay -- originally made (in 1821 and 1822) under the supervision and with the sanction of Government -- but since disturbed by other acts of Government.
You may, perhaps, have noticed the last paragraph of the late Report of the Secretary of War on Indian affairs -- which reads thus: 'The Commissioners appointed to further the execution of the Treaty of Butte des Morts, have discharged the trust confided to them, and have made their report. The misunderstanding between the New York and Green Bay Indians has been examined and adjusted. The report, to be confirmed, only requires your approval, agreeably to the second article of that Treaty.'
I should be very sorry, if the general character of our public official documents for correctness, were to be determined by this specimen. How should it happen, that all the parties interested in the questions submitted to that Commission in August and September last, at Green Bay, should come flocking to Washington this winter, praying for hearing and adjustment of the same questions here, if they had been adjusted there? None at all. Did the Commissioners, in their report, misrepresent the result of their doings? On the contrary -- they expressly recorded the unqualified dissent of all the parties to the resolves and aware of the Commission. How then could it be, that the 'misunderstanding was adjusted?' The fact is -- it was only and not a little aggravated -- and that solely in consequence of the unfortunate character of the instructions, by which the Commissioners were bound -- they being ordered to make an allotment of lands to the New York Indians, not on the basis of the acts and pledges of Government, which had removed and planted them there -- nor of their Deeds of purchase, duly solemnized by the original parties, and ratified by the President of the United States; but the Commissioners were ordered to go up to Green Bay, and count the heads of the New York Indians located on the premises, and of the two great nations the Menominies and the Winnebagoes -- then to take into consideration, that as agriculturists the New York Indians would want only a little patch of land a piece, and that the Menomenies and Winnebagoes, as wild hunters, would require a wide and vast range -- and by this imaginary and undefined rule to make the distribution. In other words: the more improved a man's condition is, in these days, the more certain is he to be robbed of his rights. If the New York Indian had been a wild savage, his chance, in the present instance, had been apparently much better. But the secret lies deeper. The wild Indian can easily be overreached, disposed, and thrown beyond the Mississippi; and the more limited the territorial patch of the domesticated Indian, the less will he be in the way of the white man.
But notwithstanding 'the misunderstanding had been adjusted,' the New York Indians of Green Bay and the Menomenies are here -- praying for a hearing and adjustment of the same questions, said to have been adjusted last August and September. The New York Indians come -- self-moved -- and aggrieved; -- the Menomenies, passively -- moved by others -- to answer certain purposes. And after waiting here all winter for the decision of their great Father, the New york Indians will not unlikely be obliged, besides the evils and pains of uncertainty, to come all the way from Green Bay another year to ask redress of Government. And what their decision will be, after waiting one or two, or three winters more -- no one can predict.
I have been surprised to discover, how Indian affairs are acted upon here at Washington, and even adjudicated, without competent information. Take for instance the getting up of the instructions for the Commission to Green Bay. The proper officer, not being himself possessed of the necessary information, (this supposition being the only sufficient apology,) puts in requisition a hand, which had not only been upon the premises, but concerned in the very mischief required to be ratified; and which of course could hardly be expected to execute an instrument to expose, reprobate, and disannul its own acts. Consequently the Commission entirely failed. And the responsible officer, being called to report upon the case, and still ignorant, imagines, that all is well, and well done -- and reports 'the misunderstanding as adjusted.' But upon the very heels of this report, as if to mock and belie it, come pouring down from Green Bay about twenty Indians, with a possee comitatus of Government agency, whose language in this matter, is: 'No, Sir -- this concern is very far from being adjusted.' Mistakes of this sort are altogether the most charitable view, which could be taken of the facts. But they are said mistakes for the poor Indians.
There is to be sure a little awkwardness in being obliged so soon to come down from the high complacency and bright aspect of the concluding paragraph of the Report from the War Department, and undertake this business de nove. There are, however such strong tendencies of the current of opinion from the members of either house of Congress, from the State of New York, who are in the confidence of the present Government -- bearing upon and urging a reconsideration and adjustment of this matter, that it is difficult to give it the go by. The President can have no interest in prejudicing the rights of the New York Indians at Green Bay -- and his feelings, left to himself when acquainted with the case, would doubtless lead him to the proper results. But the misfortune is -- that the President is too apt to resign questions of this sort to the Secretary of War -- who always feels qualified to decide them by intuition -- abstractly -- under the charm of one single, naked rule viz: You must go beyond Mississippi. To beat this out of his head, would require to beat his head off his shoulders. The spirit, which dictated the letter from Franklin, Tenn. of the 26th July last, is rather too dominant. By the by: there is one argument in the letter, rather unfortunate for some of our citizens, viz; 'The lordly dignity of man -- which leaves women to be hewers and drawers -- is peculiar to savage life.' The author saw Seneca women working in the field at their settlement near Buffalo. Ergo; The Senecas are savages. How may citizens in the United States are proved savages by the same rule! The wives and daughters of white men in some large districts of our country, it is well known, not only toil in the field; but stand behind the chairs of the men at table, and resume not to eat, till their lords have risen. Ergo: they are savages -- and ought, doubtless, to go beyond the Mississippi.
To appreciate the decree of civilization and refinement (for refinement, even in high degrees, is not uncommon) to which many of our Indians, who have been located in the bosom of the white, have attained -- it is necessary to compare them with the wild men of the forest. Let a man go to Green Bay, and look at the New York Indians there, and the natives of those regions, with whom they are surrounded. And there is not so much difference between the highest circles, the most cultivated character in the State of New York, and the lowest most wretched of her Indians here, as well as the Cherokees and Creeks, are well dressed gentlemen, of good manners -- themselves good society for any sensible man -- sitting at the public tables throughout the City undistinguished from the common mass except it be in superior delicacy of feeling. And yet the public functionary, on whom their doom very much depends, has solemnly declared, in an official document, edited for their [blank]. . .Georgia the Indian lands [blank]. . .comfort and edification -- and in proof of their irreclaimable savage nature, as also in apology for ejecting them from their peaceable tenantry -- he has declared: that 'the wild turkey, though you shall take the egg, and hatch it in your barnyard, will not forget his nature, but will seek the tallest forest tree for his roosting place.' And he adds: 'Of this there are abundant evidences!' -- viz. that a wild turkey's egg will hatch a wild turkey.
Menomenies here are, indeed, somewhat like 'wild turkeys' -- or some other wild animals of a baser sort. They 'roost' indeed for the present in a very fine parlor at Gadsby's. But they look very much like having an inclination to 'seek the tallest forest tree' in preference. Heaven forbid, that I should make sport with the law condition of those poor men. And heaven pardon me -- that I have found it necessary to speak with apparent levity, even for a moment, for a benevolent purpose -- and to show the contrast between the cultivated and the wild Indian. For the Secretary of War has again solemnly declared, that 'the Almighty hand has stamped upon every creature a particular genius!' meaning, as the argument shows -- that the Indian can never be improved in his condition. And, therefore he ought to go beyond the Mississippi. Again he says: 'It is Utopian though to think of civilizing Indians. Nature must first be changed.'
Having fallen by accident upon this famous letter from Franklin, I can but notice the categorical and unfeeling manner, under which the poor Indians seem to be dismissed, with a final overture. They are virtually told in that letter,Congress has made provision for your removal beyond the Mississippi. I now offer you that provision -- on the condition that it be now accepted. Otherwise, it will be considered as forfeited, and will be withholder. And you will also be delivered over to the power of that states where you are -- and you must help yourselves. Weep my country; -- and all her children be ashamed! If indeed they are savages, why not bear with them a little longer? Where is patient? where is kindness? Where is dignity? And besides -- when the authority for such a conditional overture? It is, indeed, assuming a great deal to say: The President will do no more -- Congress will no more -- take this or nothing -- and if you refuse it, the only alternative is -- to be abandoned by the Government -- to be thrown beyond protection. The organ of the will of Government, sent on a mission of kindness to a class of dejected and helpless dependents, himself assuming the prerogatives of legislation -- and dealing out threats to enforce submission to his own will!