Cherokee Phoenix

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Published December, 26, 1830

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Five column format

From the Virginia Patriot.


John Ross (principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation) submitted a letter to the late convention of the General Council, from the Secretary of War which is said to contain the sentiments of the President concerning the removal of the Cherokees, and the course intended to be pursued towards them in future, in case they do not remove.

For want of room, we cannot publish the letter in full, and will only make a few extracts from such parts of it as strike us most forcibly, and comment as we go along.

The Secretary asserts that there is no cruelty or inhumanity in requiring the Cherokees to emigrate, or submit to the laws of Georgia, and only reason which he can assign is that they have a choice. We cheerfully admit that they have an alternative, but that by no means removes the imputation of cruelty. We are compelled to differ widely with the Secretary as to the character of the alternative. We maintain the measures of the government have imposed on the Cherokee, a necessity of choosing one of two

evils. The Secretary admits that the government of Georgia is not suited in its application to the manners, habit and dispositions, the wants and necessities of the Cherokees; because they are so different from those of the former, and consequently, the Cherokees cannot be happy under such a government. But there is another still stronger reason which the Secretary seems to have overlooked: the unequal terms which are imposed on the Cherokees. The prohibition to representation in Legislature, which figures the laws by which they are to be governed, and an inability to give evidence in a court of justice, where a white man is a party. In the language of Ross (the chief magistrate of the nation) 'by the laws of Georgia, the lives, liberty and property of the Cherokees are left exposed to the mercy of the assassin, the tyrant and the robber, provided the foul deed can but escape the eye of an honest white man.' A compulsion to submit to laws of Georgia, would be to the Cherokees an evil almost insupportable, yet the Secretary of War contends that there is no inhumanity in requiting the Indians to submit to this evil, or to remove from the land of their birth -- the scenes of their infancy and the homes of their riper years -- their improved possessions, and the forests rendered familiar by the chase; to seek a strange land among barbarians, whose language and character are to them unknown. And is this freedom? It is an election to be sure. So has he an election who has a choice between death and the penitentiary. Suppose the Cherokees should prefer removal to slavery, their emigration would be none the less constrained ' compulsory. They look upon emigration as an evil, notwithstanding the seductive inducements held out to them by government to remove, and they, as an independent nation must be allowed to decide on this question for themselves.

But the Secretary of War maintains that it is right we should remove the Indians, because they are unsusceptible of civilization. Waiving our objections to the fallacy of his conclusion, though his premises were admissible, let us hear his reasoning in support of the opinion, that the Indians are incapable of civilization. Here it is:

'It is at least but a Utopian thought to think of civilizing Indians. Nature must be first changed. One or two generations at least must pass away under a rigid culture, before these people can be much benefitted by science and education. The wild turkey, though you shall take the egg and hatch it in your barnyard, will not forget his nature, but at maturity will seek the tallest forest tree, at night fall, for his roosting place. Of this there are abundant evidences. And what does it prove, but that the 'leopard cannot change his spots, nor the Ethiopian his skin.' An Almighty hand has stamped upon every creature a particular genius, propensity and leading traits of character. The polish of education may improve, but cannot change, for the imperishable seal is there; bars and dungeons, penitentiaries and death itself have been found insufficient, even in civilized society, to restrain man from crime, and constrain him to the necessity of moral and virtuous action. How then are we to look for, or expect it, in a community made of savage and illiterate people. Theory and fancy may prate of such a result; but, before reality gives impress to it, years must roll by and a new and improved order of things arise. Then, and not till then, may hope, in her visions, dream of success in reforming and improving the red man of the forest. Their improvement is certainly greatly to be desired, but for the present, it must be given up into the hands of care and time. At any rate, it should not be essayed at the expense of the Constitution, which secures and promises to every State of the Union a republican form of government within her prescribed limits.

We shall at this time make no further comments. We are willing that this argument shall pass for what it is worth.