Cherokee Phoenix


Published February, 17, 1830

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From The National Intelligencer.



I have now arrived at my closing number in which I propose to examine the plan for the removal of the Indians beyond the Mississippi.

This plan, so far as its principles have been developed and sanctioned by the government is as follows:-

Congress will set apart a tract of country west of the Arkansas territory, perhaps 150 miles long and 100 miles broad and will guarantee it as the perpetual residence of Indians. Upon this tract will be collected numerous tribes now resident in different states and territories. The land will be divided among tribes and individuals as Congress shall direct. The Indians thus collected will be governed by the white rulers; that is, by agents of the United States; till the time shall arrive when they can be safely trusted with the government of themselves. At present they are to be treated as children and guarded with truly paternal solicitude. The United States will bear the expense of the removal; and will furnish implements of agriculture, the mechanical arts, schools, and other means of civilization. Intruders will be excluded. Ardent spirits will not be allowed to pass the line of demarkation. And as a consequence of all these kind and precautionary measures, it is supposed that the Indians will rise rapidly in various respects: that they will be contented and happy in their new condition, and that the government will merit and receive the appellation of benefactors. This is the plan; and the following considerations appear to my mind in the light of objections to it.

1. It is a suspicious circumstance, that the wishes and supposed interests of the whites, and not the benefit of Indians, afford all the impulse under which Georgia and her advocates appear to act. The Indians are in the way of the whites; they must be removed for the gratification of the whites; and this is at the bottom of the plan. But if the Cherokees had been cheerfully admitted, by the inhabitants of Georgia, to possess an undoubted right to the permanent occupation of their country: and if this admission were made in terms of kindness and with a view to good neighborhood, according to Mr. Jefferson's promise embodied in a treaty: if such had been the state of things, we should have heard nothing of the present scheme. Is it likely that a plan conceived in existing circumstances and the sole view of yielding to unrighteous and unreasonable claims can be beneficial in its operation upon the Indians? A very intelligent member of Congress from the West declared to the writer of these numbers that the design of the parties most interested was to destroy the Indians and not to save them. I do not vouch for the accuracy of this opinion: but it is an opinion not confined to one or two, or twenty, of our public men. At any rate there is no uncharitableness in saying that Georgia is actuated by a desire to get the lands of the Cherokees, for she openly avows it. As little as can it be doubted, that the plan in question is suited to accomplish her desires. It is not common for a party deeply interested to devise the most kind and benevolent way of treating another party, whose interests lie in a different direction.

2. The plan is to be distrusted because its advocates talk much of future generosity- and kindness: but say nothing of the present obligations of honor, truth, and justice. What should we say in private life to a man who refused to pay his bond under hand and seal--a bond which he did not dispute, and which he had acknowledged before witnesses a hundred times over only yet should ostentatiously proffer himself disposed to make a great many handsome presents to the obligee if the obligee would only be discreet as to deliver up the bond? Would it not be pertinent to say, 'Sir, be just before you are generous; first pay your bond, and talk of presents afterwards.'

Let the Government of the United States follow the advice given by Chancellor Kent to the State of New York. Let our publick functionaries say to the Cherokees: 'The United States are bound to you. The stipulations are plain; and you have a perfect right to demand their literal fulfillment. Act your own judgment. Consult your own interests. Be assured we shall never violate treaties.' If this language were always used; if acknowledged obligations were kept in front of every overture; there would be less suspicion attending advice, professedly given for the good of the Indians. It is not my province to question the motives of individuals who advise the Cherokees to remove. No doubt many of these advisers are sincere. Some of them are officious, and should beware how they obtrude their opinions in a case of which they are profoundly ignorant, and in manner calculated only to weaken the righteous cause. All advisers of every class, should begin their advice with an explicit admission of present obligations.

3. The plan in question appears to me entirely visionary. There has been no experience among men to sustain it. Indeed, theoretical plans of government, even though supposed to be founded on experience gained in different circumstances, have uniformly and utterly failed. So wise and able a man as Mr. Locke was totally incompetent as the experiment proved to form a government for an American Colony. But what sort of a community is to be formed here? Indians of different tribes, speaking different languages, in different states of civilization, are to be crowded together under one government. They have all hitherto lived under the influence of their hereditary customs, improved, in some cases, by commencing civilization; but they are now to be crowded together, under a government unlike any other that ever was seen. Whether Congress is to be employed in digesting a municipal code for these congregated Indians and in mending it from session to session, or whether the President of the United States is to be the sole legislator, or whether the business is to be delegated to a civil or military prefect, we are not told. What is to be the tenure of land; what the title to individual property; what the rules of descent; what the modes of conveyance; what the redress for grievances; these and a thousand other things are entirely unsettled. Indeed, it is no easy matter to settle them. Such a man as Mr. Livingston may form a code for Louisiana, though it requires uncommon talents to do it. But ten such men as he could not form a code for a heterogeneous mixture of Indians.

If this embarrassment were removed, and a perfect code of aboriginal law were formed, how shall suitable administrators be found? Is it probable that the agents and sub agents of the United States will unite on the qualifications of Seton and Howard? Would it be strange if some of them were indolent, unskilled, partial, and dissolute? and if the majority were much more intent on the emoluments of office, than on promoting the happiness of the Indians. One of the present Indian agents, a very respectable ' intelligent man assured me, that the plan for the removal of the Indians was altogether chimerical, and if pursued, would end in their destruction. He may be mistaken; but his personal experience in relation to the subject is much greater than that of any person who has been engaged in forming or recommending the plan.

4. The four southwestern tribes are unwilling to remove. They ought not to be confounded with the northern Indians, as they are in very different circumstances. The Cherokees and Choctaws are rapidly improving their condition. The Chickasaws have begun to follow in the same course. These tribes, with the Creeks, are attached to their native soil and very reluctant to leave it. Of this the evidence is most abundant. No persons acquainted with the actual state of things can deny, that the feelings of the great mass of these people, apart from extraneous influence are decidedly and strongly opposed to a removal. Some of them, when pressed upon the subject, may remain silent. Others, knowing how little argument avails against power, may faintly answer, that they will go if they must ' if a suitable place can be found for them.- At the very moment, when they are saying this, they will add their conviction, that no suitable place can be found. In a word, these tribes will not remove, unless by compulsion, or in the apprehension of force to be used hereafter.

5. The Indians assert that there is not a sufficient quantity of good land, in the contemplated tract, to accommodate half their present numbers; to say nothing of the other tribes to be thrust into their company. Even the agents of the United States, who have been employed with a special view to make the scheme popular, admit that there is a deficiency of wood and water. Without wood for fences, and buildings,- and for shelter against the furious northwestern blasts of winter, the Indians cannot be comfortable. Without running streams, they can never keep live stock; nor could they easily dig wells and cisterns for the use of their families. The vast prairies of the West will ultimately be inhabited. But it would require all the wealth, the enterprise, and the energy, of Anglo-Americans, to make a prosperous settlement upon them. Now, if the judgement of travellers is to be relied on, will such a settlement be made, till the pressure of population renders it necessary. The most impartial accounts of the Country, to the west of Missouri and Arkansas unite in representing it as a boundless prairie, with narrow strips of forest trees, on the margin of rivers. The good land, including all that could be brought into use by partially civilized men, is stated to be comparatively small.

6. Government cannot fulfil its promises to emigrating Indians. It is incomparably easier to keep intruders from the Cherokees where they now are, than it will be to exclude them from the new country. The present neighbors of the Cherokees are, to a considerable extent, men of some property, respectable agriculturists who would not think of any encroachment, if the sentence of the law were pronouced firmly in favour (sic) of the occupants of the soil. Stealing from the Indian is by no means so common as it was fifteen years ago. One reason is, that the worst class of white settlers has migrated farther West. They are stated, even now, to hover around the emigrant Creeks, like vultures. It may be laid down as as a maxim that so long as Indians possess anything which is an object of cupidity to the whites, they will be exposed to frauds of interested speculators or the intrusion of idle and worthless vagrants; and the farther removed the Indians are from the notice of the Government, the greater will be the exposure to the arts or the violence of selfish and unprincipled men.

Twenty years hence, Texas, whether it shall belong to the United States or not, will have been settled by descendants of Anglo-Americans. The State of Missouri will then be populous. 'There will be great roads through the Indian country, and caravans will be passing and repassing in many directions. The emigrant Indians will be denationalized, and will have no common bond of union. Will it be possible, in such circumstances, to enforce the laws against intruders?

7. If the Indians remove from their native soil, it is not possible that they should receive a satisfactory guaranty of a new country. If a guaranty is professedly made by a compact called a treaty, it will be done at the very moment that treaties with Indians are declared not to be binding, and for the very reason that existing treaties are not strong enough to bind the United States. To what confidence would such an engagement be entitled?

It is now pretended that President Washington, and the Senate of 1790 had no power to guaranty to Indians the lands on which they were born, and to which they were then able to contend vigorously at the muzzle of our guns. Who can pledge himself, that it will not be contended, ten years hence, that President Jackson, and the Senate of 1830, had no constitutional power to set apart territory for the permanent residence of the Indians? Will it not then be asked, Where is the clause in the Constitution which authorized the establishment of a new and anomalous government in the heart of North America? The Constitution looked forward to the admission of new States into the Union; but does it say anything about Indian States? Will the men of 1840 and 1850 be more tender of the reputation of President Jackson than the men of the present day are of the reputation of President Washington? Will they not say, that the pretended treaty of 1830 ( if a treaty should now be made) was an acat of sheer usurpation? That it was known to be such at the time, and was never intended to be kept? That every man of sense in the country considered the removal of 1830 to be one of the few steps necessary to the utter extermination of the Indians? That the Indians were avowedly considered as children, and the word treaty was used as a plaything to amuse them, and to pacify grown- up children among the whites.

If the designs is (sic) not to be accomplished by a treaty, but by an act of Congress, the question recurs, Whence did Congress derive the constitutional power to make an Indian State, 150 miles long and 100 miles broad, in the heart of this continent? Besides, if Congress has the constitutional power to pass such an act, but it not the power of repealing the act? Then is not also the power of making a new State of whites, encircling this Indian community, and entitled to exercise the same power over the Indians which the States of Alabama and Mississippi now claim the right of exercising over the four southwestern tribes? Will it be said that the contemplated Indian community will have been first established, and received its guaranty and that therefore Congress cannot inclose the Indians in a new State? Let it be remembered, that the Creeks and Cherokees received their guaranty about thirty years before the State of Alabama came into existence; and yet that State claims the Indians within its chartered limits as being under its proper jurisdiction; and has already begun to enforce the claim. Let not the Government trifle with the word guaranty. If the Indians are removed, let it be said, in an open and manly tone, that they are removed because we have the power to remove them, and there is a political reason for doing it, and that they will be removed again whenever the whites demand their removal in a style sufficiently clamorous and imperious to make trouble for the Government.

8. The constrained migration of 60,000 men, women and children most of them in circumstances of deep poverty, must be attended with much suffering.

9. Indians of different tribes speaking different languages, and all in state of vexation and discouragement would live on bad terms with each other, and quarrels would be inevitable.

10. Another removal will soon be necessary. If the emigrants become poor, and are transformed into vagabonds, it will be evidence enough that no benevolent treatment can save them, and it will be said they may as well be driven beyond the Rocky Mountains at once. If they live comfortably, it will prove, that five times as many white people might live comfortably in their places. Twenty-five years hence there will probable be 4,000,000 of our population West of the Mississippi, and fifty years hence not less than 15,000,000. By that time, the pressure upon the Indians will be much greater from the boundless prairies which must ultimately be subdued and inhabited, than it would ever have been from the borders of the present Cherokee country.

11. If existence treaties are not observed, the Indians can have no confidence in the United States.- They will consider themselves as paupers and medicants, reduced in that condition by acts of gross oppression, and then taken by the Government and stowed away in a crowded workhouse.

12. The moment a treaty for the removal is signed by any tribe of Indians, on the basis of the contemplated plan, that moment such tribe is denationalized; for the essence of the plan is, that all the tribes shall come under one government, which is to be administered by whites. There will be no party to complain, even if the pretended treaty should be totally disregarded. A dead and mournful silence will reign; for the Indian communities will have been blotted out forever. Individuals will remain to feel that they are vassals, and to sink unheeded to despondency, despair, and extinction.

But, the memory of these transactions will not be forgotten. A bitter roll will be unfolded, on which Mourning, Lamentation, and Woe to the People of the United States will be seen written in characters, which no eye can refuse to see.

Government has now arrived at the bank of the Rubicon. If our rulers now stop, they may save the country from the charge of bad faith. If they proceed, it will be known by all men, that in a plain case, without any plausible plea of necessity, ' for very weak ' unsatisfactory reasons, the great and boasting Republic of the United States of North America, incurred the guilt of violating treaties; and that this guilt was incurred, when the subject was fairly before the eyes of the American community, and had attracted more attention than any other public measure since the close of the last war.

In one of the sublimest portions of Divine Revelation the following words are written:-

Curse be he, that removeth his neighbor's landmark: ' all the people shall say, Amen.

Cursed be he, that maketh the blind to wander out of the way: and all the people shall say, Amen.

Cursed be he, that perverteth the judgement of the stranger, fatherless and widow: and all the people shall say, Amen.

Is it possible--that our national rulers shall be willing to expose themselves and their country to these curses of Almighty God? Curses uttered to a people in circumstances not altogether unlike our own? Curses reduced to writing by the inspired lawgiver, for the terror and warring of all nations, and receiving the united and hearty Amen of all people to whom they have been made known?

It is now proposed to remove the landmarks, in every sense; to disregard territorial boundaries, definitely fixed, and for many years respected; to disregard a most obvious principle of natural justice, in accordance with which the possessor of property is to hold it, till some one claims it, who has a better right; to forget the doctrine of the law of nations, that engagements with dependent allies are as rigidly to be observed as stipulations between communities of equal power and sovereignty; to shut our ears to the voice of our own sages of the law, who say, that Indians have a right to retain possession of their land and to use it according to their discretion antecedently to any positive compacts; and finally to dishonour (sic) Washington the Father of his country-to stultify the Senate of the U. States during a period of thirty-seven years- to burn 150 documents, as yet preserved in the archives of State, under the denomination of treaties with Indians-and tear out sheets from every volume of our national statute book and scatter them to the winds.

Nothing of this kind has ever yet been done, certainly not on a large scale, by Anglo-Americans. To us as a nation, it will be a new thing under the sun. We have never yet acted upon the principle of seizing the Lands of peaceable Indians, and compelling them to remove. We have never yet declared treaties with them to be mere waste paper.

Let it be taken for granted, then, that law will prevail. 'Of law' says the judicious Hooker, in strains, which have been admired for their beauty and eloquence ever since they were written,- 'Of law there can be no less acknowledged, than her seat is the bosom of God; her voice the harmony of the world. All things in heaven and earth do her homage; the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power. Both angels and men, and creatures of what condition soever, each in different sort and order, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the author of their peace and joy.'