Cherokee Phoenix


Published May, 21, 1828

Page 4 Column 1b-5a


Speech of Mr. Woods.


I will now, Mr. Chairman, examine into the situation of the Country which the Indians now possess within the limits of the several States; and into the advantages which they enjoy in their present homes. The Indian lands lying within our borders is that portion of their original possessions, which they have never sold or transfered [sic] to us, or to any other Government. We are told by one of our sovereign States, while urging upon us her claims to the Indian Country within her limits,' it belongs to her, and that she must and she will have it; that we are bound, at all hazards and without regard to terms, to procure it.' (See doc. 102, page 12.) Sir, the same argument may be urged, or rather the same language may be used by all the other States, within the limits of which there is any Indian territory. It was by virtue of the same sovereign right, that the Pope, in the name of St. Peter, gave to Spain all the Countries which Columbus discovered. It is the right which power gives, and not justice. Shall we be told that Congress is to disregard the right of the Indians. That the lands on which they now reside shall be taken from them 'without regard to terms?' That it is the interest-the determination-the settled policy of the United States 'at all hazards,' to drive them from their Country and homes? I hope not, sir; for the honor of my country. I hope not. I may be told that I am unacquainted with the true interests of the Indians, and that they are in the most wretched and miserable situation where they now reside. I will, Mr. Chairman, refer you to the information given to us by the Indian Department, and by the Agents of our Government. The facts stated by these Agents, and in the documents to which I will refer, have been frequently reiterated, ' if untrue, would long since have been fully disproved. The whole number of the four largest nations within the limits of the States is stated at more than fifty-four thousand. The Creeks, 20,000; the Cherokees 9,000; Choctaws, 21,000; and the Chickasaws, 3,625.

It appears, from more recent information, that the number is probably much greater, and is rapidly increasing. These Indians enjoy all the advantages which our own citizens in our new States and settlements possess, except the political rights and privileges of which we deprive them. If they are degraded and wretched, I believe it is occasioned by our injustice and oppression. Let us, by extending to them political rights and privileges, and by the influence of education, remove the cause of their moral degradation, and they will soon stand on as high an elevation as occupied by ourselves. To prove that these Indians are not in the wretched and degraded situation which is stated by many, I will turn the attention of the committee to the document which accompanied the bill formerly reported by the committee on Indian affairs- In this document the Secretary of War informs us, that 'schools have been established, by the aid of private as well as public donations, for the instruction of their youths. They have been persuaded to abandon the chase-to locate themselves, and become cultivators of the soil. Implements of husbandry and domestic animals have been presented to them, and all of these things have been done, accompanied with professions of disinterested solicitude for their happiness. Yielding to these temptations, some of them have reclaimed the forest, planted orchards, and erected houses, not only for their abode, but for the administration of justice, and for religious worship. And when they have so done, you send your agent to tell them they must surrender their country to the white man, and recommit themselves to some new desert, and substitute, as the means of their subsistence, and precarious chase for the certainty of cultivation.' 'I will add' continues the Secretary of War, in another part of this communication, that 'the end proposed is the happiness of the Indians; the means of its accomplishment their progressive, and finally, their complete civilization. The obstacles to success are their ignorance, their prejudices, their repugnance to labor, their wandering propensities, and the uncertainties of the future. I would endeaver [sic] to overcome these by schools, by a distribution of land in the individual right, by a permanent social establishment which would require the performance of social duties.' (See Ex. Docs. of 1825-6, Doc. 102.) This, sir, is the language of the Secretary of War, (Mr. Barbour,) a language which does equal honor to the head and heart of that distinguished statesman.

Let me now, Mr. Chairman, turn the attention of the committee more directly to the present situation of the several tribes or nations to which I have before referred. What, sir, is the situation of the Cherokee Indians? We are told, in the same document to which I last referred, that, in the Cherokee country, 'horses are plenty and are used for servile purposes. *Numerous flocks of sheep, goats, and swine, cover the valleys and hills. On Tennessee and Ustanalla rivers, Cherokee commerce floats. The climate is delicious and healthy. In the plains and valleys the soil is rich, producing Indian corn, cotton, tobacco, wheat, oats, indigo, sweet and Irish potatoes. Apple and peach orchards are quite common. Butter and cheese are seen on Cherokee tables. There are many public roads in the nation and houses of entertainment are kept by the natives. Numerous and flourishing villages are seen in every part of the country. Industry and commercial enterprise are extending themselves in every part of the country. Nearly all the merchants in the country are native Cherokees. Agricultural pursuits engage the chief attention of the People. The population is rapidly increasing. The census taken this year, (1825) shows that there are 13,563 native citizens; 147 white men and 76 white women are married into the nation; and they have 1,277 African slaves.' are not these People, sir, in the possession of all that we propose to give them-of all their warmest friends promise them, in the new home in which they wish to place the Indians? I ask gentlemen, why we should remove them from this situation? It is our interest and not theirs which prompts us to this measure, and warms our unasked benevolence into action. What is the situation of the Chickasaw tribe? I will turn gentlemen to the report of the Special Agent who has just visited this nation. He informs us, that 'the population of the Chickasaws may be put down at four thousand. They have increased about four hundred within the last five or six years.' He says,' I will suppose the families to average five souls, which will give eight hundred houses. The number of mills, it is believed, does not exceed ten. The workshops, I do not think, exceed fifty. Their orchards are few and limited in extent. Their fences are estimated to cost fifty thousand dollars.' Their stock of all kinds, averaging two horses, two cows, and five hogs and a dozen poultry, to each family, this agent estimates at eighty-four thousand eight hundred dollars, (see Doc. 2 page 179.) It is to remove these People, who are thus increasing, in a ration as rapid as the most flourishing of the United States, from the homes in which they already enjoy so many comforts and advantages, to some happy Elysian fields, that gentlemen have seen their imagination, but which exist no where else, that we are so earnestly solicited to make this appropriation.

The present situation of the Indians, as proved by the documents to which I have referred, is not worse, in regard to the means which they possess of obtaining subsistence, and the ordinary comforts of domestic life, than that of thousands of our hardy and independent yeomen, who are the pioneers of a more dense population. Among our citizens in the new States, we will not find in a population of four thousand; more than eight hundred houses, ten mills, and fifty workshops. Yet, Sir, with all this evidence before, gentlemen insist that these Indians are a wretched and miserable People, who can be preserved in no other way, than by removing them into the wilderness, to seek their subsistence by pursuing the game of the forest. In my opinion, sir, nothing more is necessary to make them prosperous and happy, than to extend to them the rights of a free People.- Make them a portion of the great American family.

Sir, I am in favor of the policy proposed and pursued by the late Secretary of War, (Mr. Calhoun.) The system which he first proposed to Congress, and to the nation, and which had long before been sanctioned by the recommendation of several of our wisest and greatest statesmen, was to extend to them the advantages of civilization, not by driving them from their land into the wilds of the untrodden forest, but by a system of education, which would teach the Indian, ' particularly his children, the pursuits and habits of civilized man, and thus make his present home more valuable to him. In urging this subject upon the consideration of Congress, Mr. Calhoun says,' it will require the enlightened co-operation of the General Government, and of the States within which the Indians may reside. With zealous and enlightened co-operation, it is, however, believed, that all difficulties may be surmounted, and this wretched, but, in many respects, noble race, be ultimately brought within the pale of civilization. Preparatory to so radical a change in our relations towards them, the system of education which has been adopted ought to be put into extensive and active operation. This is the foundation of all our improvements. It ought gradually to be followed by a plain and simple form of government such as have been adopted by the Cherokees. A proper compression of their settlements, and a division of their landed property. By introducing gradually and judiciously these improvements, they will ultimately attain such a state of intelligence, industry, and civilization, as to prepare the way for a complete extension of our laws and authority over them.' (Ex. Docs. of 1821-'2 vol 4, Doc. 59.)

Sir, this is the language and the recommendations of the statesman who lately presided over the War Department with so much distinction. He did not dream of proposing the scheme which is now urged with so much zeal. He wished to provoke no angry collisions in this work of humanity, of justice. Let us banish from our councils the narrow feelings of self-interest, and give to the Indians a right to the soil which they possess- or rather, let us have the magnanimity to acknowledge that they have not that right. Let the Indians be the owners of the soil in fee-let the right of individual property be extended to them-let the strong passion awakened in the human bosom of self-interest, be called into action, and they will no longer be a degraded People. They will stand upon the proud eminence of Americans. They will feel no shame on account of their origin. No, Sir, it will be to them a source of conscious pride. I might support these views by the opinion of many gentlemen well acquainted with the subject. I will refer to one. Mr. Merriwether, of Georgia, formerly a member of this House, remarked to me, that ' the only way to elevate the Indian, is to give him property.' He said, 'give an Indian a slave, and he at once becomes a man.' I say give him property much more valuable- give him the rights of a freeholder and a citizen.

But, sir, we are told that the Indians are oppressed by the encroachments of the white population which surrounds them; that they are trampled on and oppressed by our own citizens. This, sir, is a poor encomium on our People- a wretched compliment to the nation. While we are talking about our justice, our generosity-our feelings of humanity for the Indians- in the same breath we say, that our citizens- that the American People- with ruthless violence and injustice, are trampling the weak remnant of these once powerful nations into the dust. If we cannot protect them within the limits of our State Governments, insight of our courts of justice, and within reach of the arm of the laws, we cannot protect them when placed beyond the reach of our laws, and our of the limits of any organized civil government. Sir, this system, spun of wild theories, is all a dream- it is an Utopian scheme. If you cannot here stay the oppressing hand of avarice, where will you remove them to be beyond its grasp? Where you propose to plant them, will not our soldiers be placed over them? will not our People surround them there? Those who now prey upon them as vultures, will follow them to their new abode. There is no place fit for the residence of any civilized People, East of the Rocky Mountains, which has not been visited by the American citizens. A few years ago, had the proposition been made to plant the Indian tribes in a remote colony, the spot most likely to have been selected would have been Northwest of Ohio River, or, perhaps, just West of the Allegany [sic] Mountains. I ask gentlemen to reflect of the consequences of this measure. It appears to me to be a scheme by which the extension of our settlements and States is to be limited and restrained, unless you leave the Indians exposed to all the uncertainty, to all the evils, of which you now complain. Their situation will be worse than it now is. In proportion to the distance to which you remove your territorial Government from the seat of the General Government, and from the supervising care, you necessarily increase the abuses to which it will be liable.- You may hide the oppression of these People from the nation by this measure, but you will not thereby relieve the poor Indians from its weight and consequences.

It is said, sir, that the Indians while in our vicinity, learn only our vices, and that they cannot be civilized here. I ask gentlemen what they will gain by removing them, when the evil is not in the Territory which they inhabit-not in their local situation-but in the relation in which they stand to us? Their condition cannot be improved by the establishment of a military despotism over them. If man can rise to a high state of improvement under these circumstances, where he is taken from half cultivated fields and where he had become partially civilized, and placed in a wilderness, I confess, sir, that I do not understand the human character. Instead of rising in civilization, he will sink beneath the despotism which make him little less than your slave, or he will return again to the chase, and take refuge from your power and oppression in the more remote depths of the forest.- I do not, sir, wish to preserve the Indian race in distinct tribes, or as a separate People. I would as soon propose to plant in our country a colony from the Highlands of Scotland, and to provide that they should always continue to wear the Tartan plaid, and to speak the Highland dialect, as to preserve the Indians among us a distinct People.

Mr. Chairman, this is the only step necessary for the consummation of that system of fraud and insincerity- of treachery and baseness-which have characterized our treaties and intercourse with the Indians. I speak fearlessly sir; this is the consummation of the vile policy which we have hitherto pursued. Whatever faithless promises we have made-whatever guaranties we have given-they have been, for the promotion of our interest, all broken and disregarded. I will not trespass upon the feelings of this committee by travelling into the evidence contained in this volume of treaties, to prove the truth of my assertions. We may talk with all the sympathies of humanity about providing a home- 'a permanent home' for the poor wandering Indian. Yes, sir, it will be 'a last home' and one from which, when he shall reach its bourne, we will no longer be troubled with his complaints. The sensibility of gentlemen will be no more wounded by the tales of Indian suffering and misery, or their benevolence taxed by the claims of justice and humanity urged in behalf of these People.

* The two sentences which immediately follow and the one which declares, that 'numerous and flourishing villages are seen in every part of the Country' cannot be considered strictly correct. They were written by a young Cherokee who had been absent from his Country for a few years.- On his return the astonishing progress of his Countrymen in the arts of civilized life made such an impression on his mind, as to lead him to the commission of extravagant expressions.




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