Cherokee Phoenix


Published October, 8, 1830

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From the Spirit of the Pilgrims.


ACTUM EST DE REPUBLICA! The contemplated perfidy is accomplished; the Constitution has been violated by its appointed guardians, and whatever may be its consequences to the Indians, a page of the darkest guilt is already written in our country's history. The passage of the Indian Bill has disgraced us as a people, has wounded our national honor, and exposed us to the merited reproach of all civilized communities in the world. If we go on in this way, we shall become a by-word to the nations. It will no longer be Punica futes, that point the moral of the school-boy, and tips the arrow of the public satirist with gall. The memory of the wicked shall rot;- but the memory of a faithless nation cannot mingle itself with perishable elements; can never stagnate in the forgetness of contempt. Ours will be embalmed unless we prevent it by a timely interposition, in curses that can never lose their energy or weary the tongue which utters them.

The world may now see what reliance can be placed upon the faith of a republic. Had we been dealing with a European community, instead of an Indian tribe, who would have dared mention the claims of selfishness, or the clamors of party, against the solemn obligation of treaties?-- The frown of the eastern continent alone would have intimidated the most reckless politician. But a nation that will cheat an inferior, will also, should a fair opportunity occur, overreach and violate justice with a higher power; nor can any confidence be placed, either in an individual or a community of individuals, proved to have acted, on a great and important occasion, rather as a furious partisan, or an unprincipled marauder, then from a sense of duty, or a knowledge of the truth. This is not the first time that the American Republic has shown a disposition to trifle with the sacredness of its plighted faith; it was all that the eloquence of an Ames could do, to keep his countrymen, in the memorable winter of 1796 from the guilt and the dreadful consequences of violating the British Treaty.

'Let me not even imagine,' said this illustrious orator, 'that a republican government, sprung, as our own is, from a people enlightened and uncorrupted, a government, whose origin is right and whose daily discipline is duty, can, upon a solemn debate, make its option to be faithless; can dare to act, what despots dare not avow: what our own example evinces that the States of Barbary are unsuspected of.'

When the subject of Indian rights began to be agitated in this country, it was regarded by reflecting minds as by far the most important which had occupied the public attention for many years. The apathy manifested throughout the nation as to the possible fate of these interesting communities was looked upon with anxiety, as an indication of the most alarming blindness or insensibility. It seemed to argue a torpor of patriotic feeling, a selfish indifference as to the treatment of a defenseless people, which was cruel and criminal in the highest degree. It argued a melancholy disregard of the sacredness of national faith; a point on which the citizens of a republic should be exquisitely sensitive-on which they could hardly be sensitive to a fault.

On a subject like this, no people can be made to feel deeply without information; unless, indeed, oppression enter their very doors, and come in a palpable form to each man's senses. No question, therefore, involving the rights, the property, and the privileges of a large body of men, ought to be discussed in a republican legislature; till the public mind has first been rightly directed to it and informed respecting it.

The subject of Indian rights was too long delayed, to admit of its being examined before the tribunal of public opinion, till it was on the eve of a final decision in Congress. It should have been foreseen and studied by the people at a period previous to the last election of their representatives, that they might have sent them prepared to vote for the nation, and thus have preserved a question of such vast importance from the possibility of being influenced in its decision by the bitterness of party prejudice. This is done in regard to such bills as the tariff; and why should a mere political business be treated with more solicitude, than that which touches the honor of the nation, and is to influence the lives and liberties, as well as the fortunes of men. In respect to the Indian Bill, sufficient time was not afforded for the people to form and utter their judgment. Memorials were indeed numerous; yet the expression of public feeling was faint, compared with what the exigencies of the case demanded, and with what we should have witnessed, had the true nature of the bill, the character prospects, and rights of the Indians and the wretched sophistry of their enemies, been largely exhibited, and illustrated with familiarity and power.

There is, however, a portion of our people who cannot plead ignorance in excuse for their apathy, and whose course would not have been altered by the greatest degree of additional light and information. The people of Georgia, or their leading partizans, know well the merits of this case; but there, as in some other parts of the country, the prevalent feeling in regard to the Indians seem to be not merely reckless, but inhuman ' savage. If the toasts at public celebrations are not a totally false indication of the tone of public feeling, then what must be the degradation of morality and honor which could dictate or tolerate such sentiments as some of those delivered at public dinners on the 4th of July in Georgia? The style of expression adopted by some members of Congress from Georgia, in speaking of the Indians, is another proof of the cruel indifference and contempt, if not absolute hatred, with which this portion of our race are regarded in the scale of human existence. The idea of sympathy for their distresses, or anxiety for their fate was scouted, as if it were perfectly ridiculous. The designation of 'poor devils' applied to them by Mr. Forsyth, was an outrage on the moral sense of the whole community; an insult upon the Senate; a contemptible taunt upon the Cherokee Nation, which a child's sense of honor might have taught him to spare; a wanton violation of the delicacy due to the feelings of the Cherokee Chiefs in his hearing. With what a sense of wounded dignity, with what grief of soul, with what ideas in regard to Christian and civilized refinement, must they have departed that day from the halls of Congress!

The discussion of this bill in the Senate and House of Representatives produced appearance not often witnessed in the deliberative proceedings of a national assembly. In the Senate, the American Senate, which ought, of all bodies in the world, to be most illustrious for its dignity and virtue, was witnessed, to an implied, but a direct, disgraceful refusal to maintain inviolate the public faith. There was witnessed the evasion of an appeal, repeatedly urged in the most solemn manner, and intended to obtain a pledge, that nothing in the measures about to be adopted should lie construed as denying the obligation of existing treaties, or operating to suspend their execution. Messrs. Sprague and Frelinghuysen, it will be remembered both offered amendments to the bill, whose total and repeated failure placed the Senate repeatedly in this disgraceful attitude. The last proviso offered by Mr. Frelinghuysen was the following:

'Provided always, That nothing, herein contained shall be so construed, as to authorize the departure from or non-observance of, any treaty, compact, agreement, or stipulation, heretofore entered into and now subsisting between the United States and the Cherokee Indians.'

This was rejected by the Senate, which thus publicly authorized the violation of its own most solemn acts. Mr. Sprague's previously proposed amendment was as follows:

'Provided always, that until the said tribe or nation shall choose to remove, as is by this Act contemplated, they shall be protected in their present possessions, and in the enjoyment of their rights of territory and government, as promised and guarantied to them by treaties with the United States according to the true intent and meaning of such treaties.'

This was rejected by the Senate, thus publicly reiterating the denial of the President to the demand of the Cherokees for protection! We were astonished and grieved when we found that this avowal of a determination to break the plighted faith of the United States excited so little alarm in indignation.

The discussion of the bill in the House of Representatives, was attended with circumstances, if possible, more fatal to the cause of justice, and more discreditable to the character of a legislative assembly. For some time at first, the supporters of the measure seemed anxious; but all at once, their whole manner changed; their air was confident; they gave up the floor to their opponents, scarcely deigning to be present, or listening to them with the utmost indifference, and evincing by their whole deportment, what was known to be true, that they had brought about an arrangement among the members, by which they had secured to themselves a majority, before the hearing of the case.

Our disgrace and guilt as a community are great; and if it be possible, (which we will not believe,) that this measure can ever be executed according to the intention of its authors, this nation will be criminal indeed. In a merely worldly point of view, the plan in question can bring nothing by unmingled odium now, and incalculable expense and injury hereafter. These would grow out of the natural operation of the bill itself. Then too, we must remember the terrific consequences of blotting the national reputation, and breaking down the national spirit, involved in the act of annihilating the public faith. Individually, a liar is the basest creature that walks the earth: can the spirit of a perjured nation be less degraded? Still more, let us remember, this cause must be heard in the chancery of Heaven; and for a nation to incur the vengeance of that court, is an evil which no mind can grasp-no words express.

But in spite of its present result, the discussion of this question in Congress must prove, unless all honor and humanity in the country be extinct, eminently advantageous to the interests of the Indians. It could hardly be otherwise, so long as opportunity of free discussion was not prevented. No course could be more fatal to the Indians, than silence on the part of their friends, either in Congress or out of it. Truth, justice and benevolence, are on their side; the power of argument, and the power of Christian feeling, any discussion therefore though ever so limited, if respectable talents are engaged must be favorable to the Cherokees. Accordingly; if this interesting people are saved, it will be in a great measure, through the defence their cause has received on the floor of Congress, though that defence was inadequate to arrest the progress of the Indian Bill, borne onward as it was by the concentrated energy of an inflexible political party.

The investigation acts upon public feeling ' public feeling thus corrected, reacts more powerfully upon Congress. There is not a pin left to hang a doubt upon. The case of the Cherokees has been defended with such irresistible power of argument, that any man in his senses, who has but glanced at the public prints of the last six months, must feel ashamed to open his mouth in favor of their oppressors, or in support of the miserable sophistry, patched up for its excuse. We do not believe that a question ever cam into Congress, where the argument, the eloquence, and the truth were so exclusively on one side. The speeches of the supporters of this iniquitous bill were as lame and poverty-stricken, as could well be imagined. Whatever of declamation they exhibited was disgraceful for its inhumanity of feeling, and its recklessness of truth; and every thing that looked like argument received from their opponents a complete annihilation. Notwithstanding the final result of the discussion, and the fact, that the resolution of the party had been made up before it commenced, and not upon any grounds of reason or humanity; there never was a nobler triumph of truth over falsehood. It would doubtless have been favorable to the cause of the Cherokees, if some one or two of the speeches against them had been printed in the coming volume. The miserable abortions would have operated as powerfully by their own moral deformity, lameness in argument, and ragged beggarly appearance, to produce a conviction of the truth, as the best reasoning on the other side.

This discussion is of great benefit to the Indians, by making known their present character and condition. The proofs of their civilization and Christianity were before few and scattered like the leaves of the Sybil. We refer not now to the information obtained directly from Missionaries; there was enough of this to satisfy any candid mind; but it bore not the world seal. It was the best authority, but from mere prejudice, was often discredited:- in its teeth and eyes, men persisted in asserting that the Indians were all savages! It is an absolute fact, that many in the community hardly knew that such a people as the Cherokees existed; and which this truth was with good deal of pains discovered, an ideal picture of their state came with it like that which we form of the condition of the earliest Aborigines. No reasoning, no statements of the truth, though backed by the testimony of the most unimpeachable witnesses, could uproot these prejudices from the minds in some instances, even of enlightened and charitable men. The sanction of respectable Senators and Representatives in Congress will, however, work wonders. When it was found that such men as Mr. Sprague, Mr. Everett, and others believed in the doctrine of Indian improvement, there was no longer any want of converts. It began to be suspected that the Cherokees were not absolutely wild; and that even Missionaries could speak the truth. In the light shed upon this subject, slander and sophistry, as were palmed upon the public in the North American Review, appear in their proper nakedness. It has come to pass, moreover, that a man may exert himself in favor of this oppressed race, and yet not be suspected of fanaticism, or branded with the title of a meddling enthusiast. The most shameless presses are sparing of such epithets, when they fall upon able Senators of the United States, as well as on the respected author of the Essays of Wm. Penn. We were gratified when we saw Mr. Everett, with the true dignity of an honorable mind, expressing on the floor of Congress his own respect for the motives and character of that gentleman.

Had the activity of the friends of Indian rights in Congress been instantly succeeded by a corresponding activity, on the part of their friends throughout the country, the result would have been incalculably more favorable. Delay, and supineness have marked their efforts. It is the fate of almost every measure adopted in behalf of the Indians, to have been suggested and executed too late.- When the final passage of the Indian Bill was made known, the papers abandoned the subject; for a while there was a slight excitement, ---but it soon died away; a few speeches were published in a few journals, but most editors were too busy with the insignificant trifles of the moment, to allow themselves to bestow much attention on this momentous subject. Scarcely a newspaper has performed its duty; and now the topic is almost forgotten. A steamboat disaster still awaken more sympathy and talk, than the alarming occurrences that are every week taking place to terrify, coerce, and enrage the Cherokees. Yet the Cherokee Phoenix contains, in every number, sufficient matter to awaken the public mind, if it could but gain attentive readers. It is but lately that, in reading that paper, we met with the following fact. It has been extensively circulated, but it will do no harm to repeat it here.

'Mr. Gray, a Cherokee, owed a small sum of money to a citizen of Georgia, who wished to obtain payment by law. An officer appeared with a writ, but being unable to obtain property belonging to Gray, and finding another Indian in the neighborhood, possessed some cattle, he seized them, and soon made return of the writ, before a magistrate's court. The owner of the cattle thus stolen, appeared and stated the fact, but as the evidence of an Indian is, by the Georgia law, inadmissible against a white man, and indeed he cannot be received as a witness in any case, his property was sold before his eyes, and under the authority of the court, for the payment of his neighbor's debt.'

These things are not done in a corner, but in open day, in this very republic, where we boast the security of our freedom, and the perfection of our laws. If we formed our opinions in the slightest degree upon preconceived notions of the Indian character, we should not be surprised to learn by the next mail from the South, that the Cherokees had risen, with the determination to die by the sword, rather than endure any longer the merciless tyranny of such state legislation. But they possess a patience which is truly affecting; a submissiveness that no other Christian nation would have shown. 'We could bear reproach,' said Mr. Storrs, 'from the proud ' insolent; but there is eloquence in the humility with which these people plead their wrongs. We feel our gilt in the very submissiveness with which they reproach us.' Amidst all that they endure, there is wisdom, energy, and greatness of mind in their proceedings. We are mistaken if their dignified and spirited proclamation to the people of the United States does not produce a powerful impression.

This is a case of such complicated absurdity and wickedness on the part of our government, that the wise framers of the Constitution, with all their extreme care, seem never to have had it suggested to their imagination. A cruel policy towards the Indians was the last thing which those noble patriots would have thought of. But we look upon it as though it contained nothing to disturb our security, nothing to demand our intervention. A whole people, free, from the remotest period, but feeble through the overshadowing growth of our strength, have cast themselves upon our government for protection; ' we have sworn protection, by forms as solemn as any with which language can bind a nation. Enslaved upon their own soil, and reduced to political beggary and disorganization, by the tyranny of a neighboring state, they appeal to the executive for the performance of our oath; and he tells them that the Constitution will not hear him out in their defence; assured and pledged though it be, in treaties piled upon treaties, some of them executed by his own hand, and defined to be the supreme law of the land, 'any thing in the laws of any state notwithstanding.' Disappointed in this appeal, they carry it by a solemn delegation before the United States in Congress assembled, and it is supposed by all the eloquence and power of argument of which the truth is capable; yet here the national engagements are not only refused to be sustained, but a bill is passed enabling the President to co-operate with the tyranny of Georgia, in expelling them from their lands, their rights and everything on earth dear to them. The time passes on; a gang of intruders rush in, and terrify and trample upon their people; their persons are imprisoned; their lives at the mercy of any ruffian who chooses to murder; they are interrupted while in the exercise of their lawful industry, and forced away at the point of the bayonet; all is confusion, terror, insecurity, dismay. Again the President comes before them at this trying conjuncture, with the proposition for their removal, and the declaration, that he can offer no legal protection. The very troops that were stationed to keep peace in their borders are withdrawn, and commanded to aid in executing the civil processes of Georgia; and the defenseless Cherokees are thus totally deserted to the mercy of a state, whose statutes in this case may well be said to be written in blood; to the operation of laws, by which they are annihilated as a community, and enslaved as individuals; to the rush, finally, of an army of miserly and impatient gold-diggers.

What is to be done? Had the slightest attempt at such insufferable aggressions been made upon the whites, what indignation would have ensued! And shall we be less jealous of the freedom of a people voluntarily dependent upon us, ' in all respects independent of every other community? If the President absolutely refuses to perform his duty in such cases, we are fast striding towards despotism. Are the Cherokees to be suffered to remain month after month in the power of a state, which has abrogated their institutions, annihilated their political existence, and made them private slaves? Are they to be left exposed to all manner of rapine and murder, without the possibility of effectual resistance on their part, and without a single refuge to which they may flee for safety? And this too, while they have brought an action; entered a complaint against their oppressors, in the Supreme Judicial Court of the Republic? Why, we should treat the veriest gang of robbers with more lenity. While reserved for trial, they would at least be under the protection of the laws; and, though the violators of all law, they would experience its power in preserving them from popular outrage, and in the enjoyment of a fair, safe, impartial trial. Here are the Cherokees, convicted of no crime, but in the attitude of a defenseless, injured plaintiff; subjected, all the while the trial is pending to a daily and hourly renewal of outrages enough to drive them mad: and asserted by the Executive of this Government to be beyond the protection of the law!

We ask then again, what in this crisis, is to be done? If there are no means of bringing the Executive to a sense of duty, and of compelling the execution of our intercourse laws, then must this unfortunate people remain here in the nineteenth century exposed to the slavery of laws, which would have disgraced the darkness of the middle ages; to the tyranny of a state, which, in this respect, is a despotism. Then must this state of things continue, till the tardy decision of justice from the Supreme Court shall have arrived-arrived, perhaps too late to be of any effectual benefit. We confess that such seems to be the melancholy necessity--we can think of no other alternative, unless the protestation of the people of the United States against these illegal proceedings should be so forcible as to bring the Executive Government to the immediate performance of the trust committed to its charge. And of this there can be no hope, so long as the present apathy on the subject continues. We tremble for the possible result of such uninterrupted oppression on the minds and feelings of the Indians; but we trust in God, that their truly Christian patience and humility will not be worn out. If it should, and they should be goaded to a sanguinary struggle, it would be the day of Heaven's wrath on their oppressors, as well as the signal for their own extermination. But they possess wisdom and forbearance, as well as a keen sense of their wrongs. Meanwhile, our citizens must be more fully enlightened in regard to this whole subject, and prepared to sustain the decision of the court, and to see that justice be done to the Indians, whatever may be the present exertions of their enemies.

The late singular order of the President, that the Cherokee annuity should be paid, not to the treasurer of the nation, as heretofore, but to individuals,** ought to arrest the attention of the most careless and open their eyes on the true character of such proceedings. It is one consequence of the extreme ignorance which has prevailed throughout the country in regard to this whole business, that the great majority of our citizens have not known whether the President and the state of Georgia, may not all this while be acting in perfect accordance with the Constitution. In his order respecting the payment of the annuity, he has violated the Treaty of Hopewell; for he commands payment to be made, in a mode directly contrary to that prescribed by the treaty. - Amidst so many treaties, torn into shreds, and scattered to the winds, perhaps and additional violation is of little importance.

The motives, which have led to this act, it is not difficult to divine. It is part of a plan of cooperation with Georgia, and evidently intended to cripple the Cherokees in their resources; to destroy their means of defence, and of support to their newspaper and national establishment, and to serve as a practical proof of the construction,which the United States Government are disposed to put upon the denationalizing laws of Georgia. No measure yet adopted is of so alarming a nature, both to the Cherokees and the people of the United States. In ever aspect, it indicates a combined determination on the part of our Executive and of Georgia to terrify the Indians into submission, and if possible, to compel them to a surrender of their rights, and an abandonment of their cause in despair, before it can be brought again into Congress, or decided in the Supreme Court of the United States. In this view, the measure is indeed dangerous; it becomes us to take care, lest a result be hastily brought about in this business, which justice, honor, and benevolence alike forbid, and which the people of the Republic would most bitterly deplore.

* The speeches against this Bill are now in press in this city, [Boston] ' will shortly be published in a neat duodecimo volume.

** Average the annuity on the Cherokee individuals, and the proportion would be about forty-six cents a piece!