Cherokee Phoenix

From the Goshen, N. Y. Patriot

Published January, 8, 1831

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From the Goshen, N. Y. Patriot


We apologize to our readers and to the friends of justice and humanity, for our neglect in not noticing earlier the present interesting controversy respecting the rights of the Aborigines, and we may add, their existence. As the honor and plighted faith of our government, are deeply involved in the issue, and as the condition of these wretched and defenseless children of nature claim, and have, indeed, secured the powerful sympathies of the just, and honorable and intelligent of the American people, the interest felt is too intense for the mind to be wearied, though in the presenting of our views, we should be somewhat prolix.

The first settlers of our country did not find the land unoccupied. The savage indulged in the pleasures and dangers of the chase within prescribed limits, and defined boundaries, while the inmates of his wigwam, cultivated adjacent thereto, to a slight degree, the arts of civilized life.- The earth was tilled with the implements invented by their genius, and its vegetable productions were served up at the same repast with the meat of the Buffalo or Deer. We profess not to be learned in the science of law, but recall this appears to us to constitute possession and occupancy and consequently as indisputable a right of soil and inheritance as lodges in either one of the respectable land holders of our county. If then they were the original owners of the soil injustice and inhumanity can alone forcibly dispossess them of it. Savage communities might interpose the claim of conquest, but it is a part of the morality of that law which exists between, and governs associations of rational, intelligent men, that the stronger shall not oppress or destroy the weaker power. Consequently we know of but two ways to extinguish the Indian title to occupied lands, viz: by purchase of gift without duress or violence. Indeed, until lately, no other way was contemplated or even hinted at. The colonists with the royal charter of their King in their pockets, commissioning them to possess lands within certain defined limits still chose to act in the way that justice and equity dictated, and could not bring their minds to 'do violence to the laws of God as well as the laws of Nations'.

With this understanding of the primitive rights of the Cherokees, bearing in mind that they never can be sacrificed or lost without their connivance or consent we may at once clearly perceive how utterly untenable are the claims of Georgia to the title of the land now held by the tribes within her limits. For if Georgia may arrogate to herself the unjust and cruel power of driving beyond the Mississippi these feebly remnants of a noble and magnanimous race that once peopled this western continent, may not New York in the exercise of similar power compel a portion of the yeomanry within her boundaries to quit the place of their nativity, and the spot of their strongest attachments to seek a precarious livelihood in the sterile and frozen regions of the North? The two acts do not differ in right, degree, or result. And this Georgia herself would have admitted as late as 1827. It is difficult to divine the result which would be produced among our population, by the operation of such an arbitrary and despotic measure. 'The point is reached', the patriot would exclaim, 'when resistance becomes a duty'. No conflicting sentiments would divide us-no loose reasoning distract or mislead.

We say that Georgia has not the shadow of a right or precedent in her unjust and oppressive policy towards the Cherokees; nor until lately has she pretended to it. The founder of the colony did not question the right the Indians to the ownership of the territory, and all his negotiations with them acknowledged in the most positive and unequivocal terms their sole power to grant. Indeed, every subsequent act of the colonists was predicated upon this undeniable basis.--The approval of silent acquiescence of Georgia to every treaty made between the government of the United States and the Cherokees, from the time of the confederacy to the year 1825, also, shows conclusively, that she not only yielded to them the right of possession in fee to the lands which they occupied, but that she in common with the general government regarded them as the Sovereign and Independent Nation, and as not forming a component part of her population.- For the general government has not the power to make treaties or compacts, with any portion of the citizens of a State in the Confederation, nor with the state itself; and the ratification of a treaty is an absolute admission of the Sovereignty and independent existence of the parties. 'Public treaties can only be executed by superior powers, by Sovereigns who contract in the name of the State.' Vattel 296. During the above period about twenty treaties were formed between the federal government and the Indians within the chartered bounds of Georgia; and let it be remembered, that in no single instance did a Senator of that State withhold his assent; indeed, Governor Troup, as late as 1825, by proclamation, commanded obedience to one of these very treaties. How then can Georgia now avow that she is not bound by the transactions of the general government and assert that that is wrong, which she has for the last century repeatedly and solemnly determined is right? The champions of State Rights can best reconcile the inconsistency and absurdity of her cause.

When this subject was first agitated we looked upon it as another of the frothy ebullitions of that revolutionizing spirit which has for the last five years maddened the people of the South- as a mischievous notion concocted in the strain of some Southern Hotspur, that could harm no one by its senseless author; and accordingly felt no alarm. Although Troup 'had exhausted the argument' and drawn his sword, still we were not terrified, for we supposed him quite a clever fellow, and made every charitable allowance for his absurd exhibition of temper, expecting when the mercury sunk to freezing point, to hear better things from him. But alas! The season of mirth has gone by. Absurd as the claims of Georgia are, she has found friends--she has the power and in defiance of justice, conscience, faith has begun her rapacious exterminating policy. The work of plunder and destruction already goes on. The son of the once lordly proprietor of this vast dominion, is sinking in the West, to be succeeded by eternal night. Avarice and cupidity, have whetted the sword of the civilized man and it is deeply crimsoned with the blood of his brethren.

Under these manifold grievances, what quarter may the poor Cherokees implore protection? Time was when they would have scorned an alliance with or sought shelter from the hostility of any power. But the bow is broken and the acts of peace and civilization have unnerved the strong arms of their proud warriors. They trusted in the solemn guarantees of our government, and buried the hatchet. When the rulers of this Union pledged to them, the undisturbed enjoyment of all their lands within the limits of the U. States., they relied confidently upon the honor and faith of their civilized brethren, and supposed 'that their territory was to remain inviolate, unless they freely consented to part with it'. But it is otherwise. The general government has directed its special agent to say to them, 'that whenever the State of Georgia thinks proper to enter the territory of the Nation to survey it, the President cannot interfere or prevent her, and that the citizens of Georgia would then draw for the land agreeably to their laws; or in other words, that they would take it by force without any opposition from the general government'. The treaties of Hopewell; 1785, of Holston, July 2, 1791, the one negotiated by Gen Jackson in 1817, and that by Mr. Calhoun in 1819, by which peace was made, boundaries fixed and permanent relations established, the Cherokees taken under the protection of the United States and no other Sovereign; intrusion upon their lands forbidden under heavy penalties,--and in which it is declared that the Indians as a body wish to remain on the land of their fathers with a view to their national preservation and are consequently promised permanent protection; are to be dispensed with, or set aside by the stronger party, merely to gratify the avarice of the Georgians, and thereby continue support to the present administration, from an unruly member of the confederation. 'Nations' says Vattel, 'and their conductors ought to keep their promises and their treaties invariably .- He who violates his treaties, violates at the same time the law of nations; for he despises the faith of treaties that faith which the law of nations declares sacred, and does all in his power to render it vain. Doubly guilty, he does an injury to his ally, he does an injury to all nations, and wounds the whole human race.'

Knowing the strong predilections entertained by the President for the South, and the deep interest felt by the Cabinet in Southern measures and doings, we anticipated that a unity of feeling, if not of action might be effected between Georgia and the Administration, but we hardly thought that a majority of Congress would sanction an act so high-handed and treacherous. Yet so it is. The sum of $500,000 of the people's money has been voted, to help in the work of injustice and inhumanity. The will of a large portion of the American people is defeated- their sympathies are abused-their money squandered-the national character is insulted-the national faith violated. The Indian appealing to the honor of our government is insultingly told, 'ye are but the tenants at will of Georgia-she wants your lands, and will have them-ye are weak and audacious, and should not think of opposing the omnipotent will of your white brethren. Depart to the Rocky Mountains, we will guarantee protection, until the settlers of the country we now assign to you, shall ask your further expulsion to the West.' It is idle for the administration presses to attempt to exculpate the general government from blame in this matter. The government is alone responsible to the people, and when the a day of retribution arrives, it will learn, that the poor, insulted Cherokee's appeal to the hearts of the virtuous and honorable of this nation has not been made in vain.