From the New York Observer.
HISTORY OF THE INDIAN BILL.- No. V.
One memorable declaration of Mr. Forsyth, in his last speech on the bill, has not yet been mentioned. It was to this effect- that the interest of Georgia in the question was very inconsiderable. A statement to the same purpose had appeared in the essays of William Penn; but such an avowal was not expected from a Senator of Georgia. It was supposed throughout the country that Georgia claimed to have great interest at stake.- She certainly had pressed her claim with extraordinary vehemence.-- Those who were intimately acquainted with the Cherokee country, and recollected that Georgia has but three or four whites, and as many blacks, to each square mile of her territory, while Massachusetts has seventy inhabitants to the square mile knew very well, that the interest of Georgia in the Cherokee country was inconsiderable. They often said so, in private conversation; and now, the Senator of Georgia, who acts as her champion, declares in his place, that this representation is true.
Mr. Forsyth exhibited Georgia as a generous vindicator of the rights of the states, and not as the selfish prosecutor of her own rights.
In one of his discursive rambles, during this debate, Mr. Forsyth severely reprehended Professor Hare, of Philadelphia, who had intimated that Georgia could not be in urgent need of more land she was fairly entitled to, inasmuch as New York has seventeen hundred thousand souls, and Pennsylvania twelve hundred thousand, while each of those states has less territory than Georgia actually occupies for three hundred and fifty thousand.
Friday, April 23d, Mr. White rose immediately after Mr. Sprague had delivered his animated protest. On that day, and the succeeding, Mr. White occupied the floor five or six hours, in the closing speech. Nothing new was advanced, unless it were a new joke upon the Presbyterian clergy, which caused a laugh at their expense from the lower class of spectators on the gallery.
The question was taken at 4 o'clock, P.M. Saturday, April 24th.
Mr. Frelinghuysen's first proviso, which would have pledged the government to protect the Indian tribes against all encroachments, till they shall choose to remove, was rejected, 27 to 20. His second proviso, which would have required that the new country should be secured to emigrating Indians by treaty, was rejected, 28 to 19.
Mr. Sprague then moved the following proviso: 'That until the said tribes or nations shall choose to remove, as is by this act contemplated, they shall be protected in their present possessions, and in the enjoyment of all their rights of territory and government, as promised or guarantied to them by treaties with the United States, according to the true intent and meaning of the treaties.
This was rejected, 27 to 20.
Mr. M'Kinley moved the following amendment: 'And upon the payment of such valuation, the improvements so valued and paid for, shall pass to the United States; and possession shall not afterwards be permitted to any of the same tribe.'
The design of this amendment was to facilitate the breaking up of the Indian tribes, by enabling the government to make purchases of individuals, when the Indian nation would not sell. Thus all existing treaties might be undermined and rendered powerless. No fair and upright tribunal, however, would give any force to such a provision.
The amendment was adopted.
Mr. Sanford moved an amendment, with a view to provide for the removal of the Indians in the State of New York, which was rejected, 37 to 10. This decision must have satisfied Mr. S. that there were persons very willing to profit by his vote, who had no intention that he should profit by theirs.
Mr. Forsyth moved an amendment, which confined the operations of the bill to such tribes of Indians as occupy lands owned by the United States,(that is of which the United States have the right of pre-emption,) or lands, the Indian claim to which, the United States are bound to extinguish.
The amendment was adopted.
Mr. Frelinghuysen then moved the following amendment.
'Provided, That before any exchange or removal shall take place, the President of the United States shall nominate, and, by and with the advise and consent of the Senate, appoint three suitable persons and by them cause the country to which it is proposed to remove the Indians to be fully explored, and a report made to the President, and by him to Congress, of the extent of good and arable lands that can be obtained, and of the proportion of woodland in such country, and of its adaptation to the object of this bill and to the wants and habits of the Indian nations.
This amendment was rejected.
The bill then passed to a third reading by a vote of 28 to 19.
This decision was a most humiliating one in the judgment of enlightened and candid men, who have the permanent interests of their country at heart.
The majority in favor of the bill was larger than had been expected by either party. Great surprise was felt by spectators, that so little regard was paid by the present Senate to a list of precedents, extending through forty years.
In a debate on another subject, Mr. Grundy, who voted for the Indian Bill, quoted a simple precedent, on a contested point, and urged it with great earnestness. The precedent, on which he insisted, had been established, after a short discussion, by the casting vote of the leader Adams, when Vice-President of the United States. Yet the decisions of the Senate, made unanimously, and after the most solemn deliberation, and confirmed by every Senate, and by every Senator, from 1789 to 1827, were utterly disregarded. No apology was made for this wide departure from some of the most firmly established principles of government and legislation. The recorded decisions of the first Senate of the United States, (which counted, among its twenty-four members, ten framers of the Constitution,) were disregarded with as little ceremony, as if they had been the crude opinions of bar-room politicians. Though, on another subject, Mr. Grundy said exultingly, in reference to Mr. Madison, whose reasoning he approved, 'Here is my constitutional lawyer;' yet, in reference to rights of the Indians ' the effect of treaties, the most deliberate opinions and the most unequivocal official acts of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, and all the members of the Senate and House of Representatives for thirty-five years, and all the governors and principal men of Georgia, down to 1827, were considered as of no more value than an old newspaper. This is the more astonishing, as all the Indian nations, with which we have a hundred and fifty treaties, are directly interested in an adherence to treaties. What would be thought of a court of law, which should all at once set aside the unvarying decisions of forty years--and all this without manifesting any solicitude to explain the reasons of such a change, or the necessity of it? The conduct of the majority, in passing the Indian Bill, sufficiently evinces, that, although public men may quote the opinions of Washington and Jefferson, with a view to carry a point, or preserve the confidence of a party, yet they do not always pay respect to authority however venerable, nor to principles however sacred.
It is impossible to state, or to imagine, a clearer case, than that of Indian rights. The precedents, the laws, the private opinions of our political sages have been on one side. Not a custom house bond, not a note of hand, can be more free from all doubt and cavil. Yet here was a decision against the Cherokees, on the alleged ground that treaties with them had been mistaken transactions, and were now mere nullities. It is true the law did not say this in express terms; nor even necessarily imply it; but everybody knows that the law is to be interpreted in this manner, because such was the previously declared opinion of the President of the United States and the Secretary of War. The Senate has been considered the conservator of the honor of the United States. Oh! this was a deep and ghastly wound inflicted upon the reputation of the country by those Senators who voted for the Indian Bill; and most bitter will it be lamented through all future time, unless there is public virtue enough in the community to act immediately as a vis medicatrix in healing it.
On the vote of the Senate being declared, the friends of the Indians, both in Congress and out of it, felt exceedingly sad. No language can do justice to their emotions. They viewed the measure as altogether unparalleled in the history of free governments. The smallness of the temptation to such an outrageous breach of faith seemed to render the whole business unaccountable. Bonaparte might be expected to break two or three treaties with Spain and Holland, for the sake of bringing millions of men, and hundreds of millions of money under his control. Here was a great temptation. But we have broken scores of treaties with dependent Indians, and descended to the most pitiful subterfuges and evasions not to augment our national power and resources-not to avoid any danger-but simply to appease a groundless clamor and to make an insignificant acquisition of new lands.
In giving the history of the debate in the House of Representatives, I shall not be so minute as I have been in describing that of the Senate.