Cherokee Phoenix


Published February, 21, 1828

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Excerpt of a letter from Thomas L.M'Kenney to the Secretary of War, dated.

Nov. 29, 1827.

I have come to the conclusion, (I refer now mainly to the Creeks) and from close and personal observation that no treaty can be concluded with these people as such, and that whatever may be attempted, in this way will be with persons not of the Creek nation, but such as have artfully insinuated themselves into their confidence, and who govern their councils.

From this may be inferred the ignorance and weakness of the Creeks, and the inference is just. Conscious of their own inefficiency to manage for themselves their concerns, they have yielded to this State of dependence on others. But this is not all. They are a wretched people. Poverty and distress are visible everywhere; and these have become entailed upon them by habitual drunkenness. No man who has the feelings of a man can go trough their country and see their total abandonment in this vice, without emotions of the most painful kind. I hold their recovery from it, and from its long train of miseries, while they retain their present relations to the State to be hopeless. No human agency can reform them as a people. It is vain to try. They are a devoted people and destruction just before them. Humanity and justice unite in calling loudly upon the government as a parent promptly to interfere and save them.

They feel the miseries of their condition; and many of them look most imploringly for help. I believe they would submit cheerfully to be guided by the government in regard to any new relation which it might be that proper to establish for them. But those influences, under the direction of which they have placed themselves would counteract the kindest designs unless the measures which may be adopted for bettering their condition shall be accompanied by a power that shall cause those interested people to cease their interfering agencies; and this, in my opinion is within the range of a sound policy, nor will the exercise of it conflict with any one of the great principles upon which rest justice, or mercy, or the freedom of the citizen. It will be found to be:

First- In the preparation of a suitable (and none other would be offered to them) and last home, for these unfortunate people, and

Second- In providing suitable means and support for their transportation, and taking them kindly but firmly by the hand and telling they must go and enjoy it; and

Lastly- In letting those persons who interfere in such matter know, that the object of the government being kind to the Indians, and intended wholly to better their condition, its determination is final, and that no persons will be permitted with impunity to interfere in it. To sustain this last position the presence of a few troops only would be required.

I would have it distinctly understood that a reasonable number of reservations should be granted and that they should be given in fee simple to those who might prefer to remain.

This policy applies in its fullest extend, to the Creeks. I confine it in this extend, to this people not because it is not in a great degree applicable to others, but because I consider the way to be wide open for the Chickasaws and Choctaws; and therefore, no illustrations in reference to them are needed.

In regard to these (the Chickasaws and Choctaws) I believe, it will only be required to make the provision as has been more fully explained in my reports of the 17th and 18th October, marked A. B. and C. and they will go. I believe also, the greater portion of the Cherokees would follow, upon a bare exposition of the plan which has been recommended, the establishment of a suitable system for their transportation, and an invitation to them to go and join their brothers.

I did not, as you are aware, visit the Cherokees. It was my wish to have seen them, and in pursuance of your instructions, made known the views and wishes of the government to them also. My time I found would not hold out; and if it had been longer, I must have arrived in their country at the period when the commissioners were engaged in negotiating for the privilege of uniting, by means of a canal through their country, the waters of Conesage and Highwassee, and I should have deemed it prudent even with time enough to have visited them, not to distract their councils by calling off their attention to any other subject.

Of the Cherokees it is due, that I should speak from my knowledge, obtained, however, otherwise than by personal observations, in terms of high commendation. They have done much for themselves. It has been their food fortune to have had born among them some great men; of these the late Charles Hicks stood pre-eminent. Under his wisdom, which was guided by virtues of a rare quality, these people have been elevated in privileges of every local description, high above their neighbors. They seek to be a people, and to maintain by law and good government, those principles which maintain the security of persons, defend the rights of property, 'c.- They deserve to be respected, and to be helped. But with the kindest regards to them, and with a firm conviction the propriety and truth of the remark, they ought not to be encouraged in forming a constitution and government within a State of the Republic, to exist and operate independently of our laws. The sooner they have the assurance given them, that this cannot be permitted, the better it will be for them. If they will agree to come at once under our laws, and be merged as citizens in our privileges would it be objected against? But if they will not, then no people, of all the Indians within our limits, are better qualified to go into a territory, such as it is proposed to provide for our Indians, and by their superior lights, confer, under the suitable form of government, benefits upon the Indian race. They are wise enough, I think to see this, ' magnanimous enough to undertake it. For my own part, I am solicitous for their happiness and prosperity; and being conscious that their hopes must rest ultimately, upon such a home as the Chickasaws have, with such a display of wisdom, determined to go and provide for themselves. I cannot but believe that a great majority of the Cherokees will consent to join them.

We cannot but express our regret that Col. M'Kinney should believe that the greater portion of the Cherokees would follow the Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws, in their emigration to, we know not where, when we are confident that this belief is founded upon no evidence whatever. He did not pay us a visit, and of course could not obtain the views of our people in regard to the present policy of the General Government, in its intercourse with the Indians; and we presume that those with when he might have had an interview, never assured him anything of this nature. We have formed our opinion on the subject from personal observation, and would not hesitate to express our belief, that the Cherokee (I think unanimously) are adverse to remove. The public are already aware that we have frequently made known our reluctance to part with our Country, ' betake ourselves to the west of Mississippi. And let it here be stated that this reluctance, on our part, not a thing of late origin, as it has been insinuated. At a conference held in Philadelphia 1792 between Gen. Knox, Secretary of War, ' deputation of the Cherokees, Al-neshe-loo_-yah (or Bloody Fellow) delivered a speech of which the following is an extract, which will show the disposition of the Cherokees on this matter at that early period. The speeches of the Deputation, and the answers of the President and the Secretary of War will be given in future numbers of our paper.

'When I found Governor Blount wanted to purchase our lands, I told him that I love my lands, and would not part with them, that I came there not to treat of selling land, but on public business of friendship between the white and red people. I tell you truly what I said to Governor Blount, and I am come to ask of you, whether he was authorized to purchase our lands?

We remained seven days at the place of treaty, on this business, and Governor Blount still urging us to sell our lands the thought of which made tears come into eyes daily.

On the seventh day, finding Governor Blount still urging the sale of lands, I said to him, I was desirous of going to General Washington and Congress, to see whether I could not obtain better satisfaction; to which Governor Blount replied that he was fully authorized for the purpose, therefore it would be unnecessary for any Indians to go.

I however persevered in my wishes to go to Philadelphia, when Governor Blount asked me, whether I had money to defray the expenses of my journey-this struck me forcibly, and reflecting that our people young and old were in his power, I then told him that if he would not demand so much land of us, we would give him a small piece, without any consideration whatever, if he would let us and our children return to our own country in peace and safety.'

If such were the feelings of a Cherokee Chief, more than thirty years ago, when his countrymen were yet in a rude state, what may not be expected from his successors, whose minds have in some measure been enlightened ' who depend on the products of their lands for their support.

There is no one amongst us, who would have any objection to hear a bare explanation of the plan which Col. M'Kinney has recommended; but we would protest against the employment of coercive measures, as the means of civilizing us. Such measures as will appear evident even to the most superficial observer of human nature, instead of proving beneficial to us, will render all the former attempts for our good completely abortive.

It has been repeatedly and strongly urged by some of our white brethren, among whom appears to be Col. M'Kinney, whose connections with Indian affairs and the General Government, would seem to establish authority on his opinion, that the Cherokees ought not to be permitted to form a Constitution of their own, which they have lately done. It is well known that we always have had the right of passing laws for ourselves, and regulating our affairs, or at least this right has never been as we know, denied us. Why is this cry made now at this late hour? Is it because we have given the name of Constitution to our fundamental principles of Government? If that is the reason, we are willing to dispense with the name, and in its stead substitute Laws. Is it said that our Government 'exists and acts independently of the laws of the United States? Such has always been the case in a great measure, and if we are in any way bound to her (which we do not deny) it will easily be discovered in the several treaties between the General Government and the Cherokees. These treaties we regard with sacred respect as being the bases of our safety, and would upon no consideration whatever, infringe upon them.- When a determination was made for forming a constitution, we believe it was the universal understanding that it should be formed agreeably in the general and state constitutions, the intercourse laws, and the treaties by which the Nation is and has been connected with the United States. If there is any article, section or clause in this Constitution which clashes with all or either of the above instruments the framers of it have unintentionally committed error, and claim rather the indulgence of the public, and deserve its severe censure.

We are very fearful that the policy and measurers of the General Government, in civilizing the Indians, is about to take a new turn. Instead of encouraging them to embrace the useful arts, education and religion in the land of their forefathers, which has formerly been done to the honor of WASHINGTON, JEFFERSON, and others, they are gravely told that their case is hopeless, whilst they retain their present relation to the States. We have always thought that we were related to the General Government, and not to the states; and let it be remembered that our relation with the United States has been one of the most efficient causes in bringing to pass the improvement amongst us, which Col. M'Kinney, in the above extract, has publicly acknowledged. To show the policy which the General Government formerly employed towards the Indians, and the interest she took in their welfare, we present to our readers the following speech of Thomas Jefferson, one of the Presidents of the United States, delivered Jan. 9, 1809, to a deputation of the Upper Towns. We give the speech entire, so that there may not be any imputation of favoring ourselves.- We beg that the same kind spirit which this speech breathes, may be extended to us and to our children.


My Children, Deputies of the Cherokee Upper Towns,

I have maturely considered the speeches you have delivered me, and will now give you answers to the several matters they contain.

You inform me of your anxious desires to engage in the industrious pursuits of agriculture and civilized life; that finding it impracticable to induce the nation at large to join in this, you wish a line of separation to be established between the upper and Lower Towns, so as to include all the waters of the Hiwassee in your part; and that having thus contracted our society within narrower limits, you propose, within those to begin the establishment of fixed laws and of regular government. You say that the Lower Towns are satisfied with the division you propose and on these several matters you ask my advice and aid.

With respect to the line of division between yourselves and the lower towns, it must rest on the joint consent of both parties. The one you propose appears moderate, reasonable and well defined; we are willing to recognize those on each side of that line as distinct societies and if our aid should be necessary to mark it more plainly that nature has done, you shall have it. I think with you that on this reduced scale, it will be more easy for you to introduce the regular administration of laws.

In proceeding to the establishment of laws, you wish to adopt them from ours, and such only for the present as suits your present condition; chiefly indeed those for the punishment of crimes and the protection of property. But who is to determine which of our laws suit your condition, and shall be enforce with you? All of you being equally free, no one has a right to say what shall be law for the others.- Our way is to put these questions to the vote, and to consider that as law for which the majority votes-the fool has as great a right to express his opinion by vote as the wise, because he is equally free, and equally master of himself. But as it would be inconvenient for all our men to meet in one place, would it not be better for every town to do as we do--that is to say: Choose by the vote of the majority of the town, and if the country people nearer to that then to any other town, one, two, three, or more according to the size of the town, of those whom each voter thinks the wisest and honest men of their place, and let these meet together and agree which of our laws suit them. But these men know nothing of our laws. How than can they know which to adopt? Let them associate in their council our beloved men living with them, Col. Meigs, and he will tell them what our law is on any point they desire. He will inform them also of our methods of doing business in our councils, so as to preserve order and obtain the vote of ever member fairly. This council can make a law for giving to every head of a family separate parcel of land, which, when he has built upon and improved it, shall belong to him, and his descendants forever, and which the nation itself shall have no right to sell from under his feet. They will determine too, what punishment shall be inflicted for every crime. In our states generally, we punish murder by death, and all other crimes by solitary confinement in prison.

When you shall have adopted laws, who are to execute them? Perhaps it may be best to permit every town and the settlers in its neighborhood attached to it, to select some of their best men by a majority of its voters to be judges in all differences, and to execute the law according to their own judgment. Your council of representatives, will decide on this or such other mode as may best suit you. I suggest these things, my children, for the consideration of the Upper Towns of your nation, to be decided on as they think best, and I sincerely wish you may succeed in your laudable endeavors to save the remains of your nation, by adopting industrious occupations and a government of regular law. In this you may always rely on the council and assistance of the government of the United States. Deliver these words to your people in my name, and assure them of my friendship.


January 9th, 1809.