Cherokee Phoenix


Published March, 24, 1830

Page 1 Column 1b-4a


An address by the Rev. Calvin Colton before the Lyceum, Amherst, Mass. delivered Jan. 5, 1830.


It is said, moreover, and from high authority; That the Indians are organizing independent forms of government, in the bosom of Confederate States, in violation of the Constitution of the United States.

We are glad to hear that the Indians are making improvements. We believe it. Some of them, especially the nation of Cherokees, have reduced to habitual and general practice of the most useful and most important arts of civilization. They are now actually creating a literature of their own-throwing their language into books. They have men of education ' refinement, fit for any society, that our country can boast of ' who would do honor to any nation. They have schools and Christian ordinances in the midst of them. They are every day becoming more and more in love with learning and with the Christian religion. In a word, their rapid advancement and successful attainments in the arts of civilization and refinement, in learning, and in religion,--in the organization and actual operation of a regular civil government, modelled after our own forms, -- have settled at least one question: That that they are capable of civilization--the denial of which has heretofore operated greatly to their disadvantage. And what benevolent and kind heart would not rejoice and congratulate the world on the success of this most interesting and important experiment?

But, forsooth, this improvement of the poor Indian is a violation of the fundamental principles of our general government!--and an invasion of the rights of the State governments!-Go, and tell the Indian. If he must be told that all our Government meant by the promise of protection, was so to invade him, as to force him to live and die a savage, and thus ensure the extinction of his race! The general government of the States afraid of the Indians!-really afraid, and alarmed! because they have made some little improvement-and because, at the recommendation of Mr. Jefferson, one of the Presidents of the United States, they have reduced their self-government to a form! Whatever may be the Constitution of the United States, and the confederacies--one thing is certain: They all come after the rights of the Indian.

But the Constitution of the United States, Art. 6, read thus: 'All treaties made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land. And the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the laws or constitution of any state to the contrary not withstanding.' And will any one presume to say that the treaties made and existing between the United States and the Indian nations, do not come under this great and fundamental law of the land?-And is not every State bound by this law--'its own laws, or constitution to the contrary notwithstanding?'

But it is said, the Constitution of the United States also declares: 'No new state shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state.' True. But an Indian nation, governing itself, is not a 'State' in the sense of a member of the Confederacy which every one knows is the sense of the constitution. And farther it is not a new state-but a government, which existed before and when the constitution was made and adopted, and has existed ever since, and therefore cannot be contemplated, nor excluded by that rule. It remains, therefore, under the protection of treaties, and of the constitution.

Although I do not choose to say, that the new notion of a new state, in the bosom of other states, as applied to the recent improvement of the Indians in their government-is all a pretext--the violent working up of an apology to disinherit the Indians-yet I will say, and every body will believe me, that no one really fears the Indians, or is alarmed at their improvements. And if any man should confess such alarms, he would deserve well to be told: It is base and wicked. But there is neither ground nor indication of such fear, from any quarter. No one believes, that the Indians ever thought, much less intended to do anything that should be complained of by the whites-in the improvement they have made. They expected to be congratulated by all good feeling. (as indeed we trust they are) inasmuch as all has been done under the special protection of our general government and the open and direct recommendation of the President of the United States. If they have offended, let it be shown, and they will doubtless correct themselves. Their offence, surely, cannot consist in governing themselves, under such restrictions as have been mutually agreed upon. In this they have been promised protection forever. Nor should we suppose it could consist in reducing their government to such forms, as might correspond with their state of improvement. What then is their offence? Why, we want their land. They are in the way. And we must have a pretext for ejecting them. And behold!-there is an infraction of the constitution, just discovered! They are setting up an independent government!

There are doubtless peculiarities, and even anomalies, in the relations of the Indian nations to our government-such of them as have put themselves and been received under its protection. And it would be well perhaps for the proper authorities to define those relations-assuming as a basis the treaties and agreements made between them and the government. That the Indians are in the strict and unqualified sense independent, none can pretend. They have voluntarily relinquished certain prerogatives of independence for the advantages of protection. But all the common attributes of sovereignty in a people, which they have not thus relinquished, are theirs, not only by original right, but by a special securities of treaty. And one of these rights, beyond all question, is that of self-government. But it will of course be understood, that they are bound to govern themselves in conformity to the Constitution and laws of the United States. I confess I cannot see how that in the progress of improvement, the reduction of their government to form should subject them to the penalty of having it taken away. They have always governed themselves. The government of the United States have solemnly guarantied them this privilege. And now they only govern themselves. What is their offence? Why- this is it: We want their lands.

The Indians setting up an independent government? Making insurrection? Bidding defiance to the nation? Invading the rights of state sovereignties,'c, 'c.? Whenever this nation can in conscience accuse them of these misdemeanors, then let them make war upon their existence. There would be at least a pretext. But I take upon me to say--that the Indian among us is the most unoffending and submissive creature in the world. Hear him speak in reply to government, advising by their agent to sell their lands,and go away--first, in dignified tone, asserting his right, and then expressing his anxiety and submission: 'We do not wish to sell our land and remove. This land our great Father above gave us! We stand on it. We stood on it before the white men came to the edge of the American land. We sit on it still. It belongs to no one in any place but to ourselves. Our land is not borrowed land. White men came and sat down here and there, and all around us. When they have wished to buy land of us, we have had good counsels together. The white men always said: 'The land is yours-it is yours. We have always been true friends to the American people. We have not spoiled the least thing belonging to an American. Although it has been thus-now a very different talk is sent to us. We are told that, the white man is about to bring his laws over us. We are distressed. We the chief and the beloved men of this nation are distressed. Our hands are not strong. We are small people. We do not know much. The white man has strong arms, many warriors, and much knowledge. He is about to lay his laws upon us. We are distressed.'

'Col. Ward knows, that we have just begun to build new houses, and make new fields, and to purchase iron, and to set up blacksmiths' shops. We have begun to make axes, hoes, and ploughs. We have some schools. We have begun to learn, and we have also begun to embrace the Gospel. We are like an infant, just begun to walk. So it is with us! We have just begun to rise and go. And our great Father, who sits in the white house, looking this way, says to us:--Unless you go yonder (to the West) the white man will bring his laws over you. We do not say, that his words are lies. We think they are true, and we respect them as sacred. But we are distressed. O that our great father would love us. O that Col. Ward would love us. O that the white man would love us.'

'The American people say, that they love liberty. They talk much about it. They boast of their own liberty. Why will they take it from the red man? Here we have lived and here we wish to live. But whatever the white man wishes to do with us, he will do. If he will us to stay here-we shall stay. If he will us to go-we shall go.'

O who would not take this man into his arms, and love him with tears? Who would not pledge his fortune and life for such a spirit?--Who would not sympathize with such a persecuted, unoffending, submissive, childlike people?