Cherokee Phoenix


Published January, 14, 1832

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The condition and prospects of the aboriginal tribes within the limits of the United States are yet the subject of anxious solicitude to the Government. Circumstances have received within a few years, which have produced important changes in the intercourse between them and us. In some of the States, they have been brought within the operation of the ordinary municipal laws, and their regulations have been abrogated by legislative enactments. This procedure renders most of the provisions of the various acts of Congress inoperative; and a crisis in our Indian affairs has evidently arrived, which calls for the establishment of a system of a policy adapted to the existing state of things, and calculated to fix upon a permanent basis the future destiny of the Indians. Whatever change may be contemplated in their condition or situation, no one will advocate the employment of force or improper influence in effecting it. It is due to the character of the Government and the feelings of the country, not less than to the moral and physical imbecility of this unhappy race, that a spirit of kindness and forbearance should mark the whole course of our intercommunication with them. The great object, after satisfying ourselves what would best ensure their permanent welfare, should be to satisfy them of the integrity of our views, and of the wisdom of course recommended towards them. There is enough in the retrospect for serious reflection on our part, and for unpleasant recollection on theirs, ' it is only by a dispassionate examination of the subject, and by prudent and timely measures; that we can hope to repair the errors of the past by the exertions of the future.

The Indians, who are placed in immediate contact with the settled portions of the United States, have now the alternative presented to them, of remaining in their present positions, or of migrating to the country west of the Mississippi. If they are induced to prefer the former, their political condition becomes a subject of serious consideration. They must either retain all those institutions, which constitute them a peculiar people, both socially and politically, or they must become a portion of that great community which is gathering around them, responsible to its laws and looking to them for its protection.

Can they expect to maintain that quasi independence they have heretofore enjoyed? and, could they maintain it, would the privilege be beneficial to them?

The right to extend their laws over all persons living within their boundaries, has been claimed and exercised by many of the States. The executive of the United States has, on full consideration, decided that there is no power in that Department to interpose any obstacle to the assumption of this authority. As upon this co-ordinate branch of the Government devolves the execution of the laws, and particularly many of the most important provisions in the various acts regulating intercourse with the Indians, it is difficult to conceive how these provisions can be enforced, after the President has determined they have been abrogated by a state of things inconsistent with their obligations.- How prosecutions can be conducted, trespassers removed by military power, and other acts performed, which require the co-operation of the Executive, either in their initiation or progress.

I do not presume to discuss this question. I find it determined, and the settled policy of the Government already in operation. Whatever diversity of opinion there may be upon the subject, those who are most opposed to these views will probably admit, that the question is a doubtful one, complicated in its relations, and pregnant with serious consequences. The claim of exemption from the operation of the State laws, which is presented in favor of the Indians, must rest upon the Constitution of the United States, upon natural right, or upon conventional engagements. If upon the former, it may be doubted whether that instrument contain any grant of authority to the General Government; which necessarily divests the State Legislature of their jurisdiction over any class of people, living within their respective limits. The two provisions, which can alone bear upon the subject, seem to have far different objects to view. If the claim rest upon natural right, it may be doubted whether the condition and institutions of this rude people do not give to the civilized communities around whom they live the right of guardianship over them; and whether this view is not fortified by the practice of all other civilized nations under similar circumstances a practice, which, in its extent and exercise, has varied from time to time,as the relative circumstances of the parties have varied, but of whose limitations the civilized communities have been and must be the judges. And, besides, if the Indian tribes are independent of the State authorities, on account of natural and relative rights of both, these tribes are equally independent of the authorities of the United States. The claim upon this ground, places the parties in the attitude of entire independence; for the question then is not how we have divided our political power between the confederated Government and its members, and to which we have entrusted the exercise of this supervisory authority, but whether the laws of nature give to either any authority upon the subject. But, if the claim rest upon alleged conventional engagements, it may then be doubted whether in all our treaties with the Indian tribes there is any stipulation, incompatible with the exercise of the power of legislation over them. For if there were, the legislative power of Congress, as well as that of the respective States, would be annihilated, and the treaties alone would regulate the intercourse between the parties.- But, on a careful investigation, it will probably be found that in none of our treaties with the Indian tribes, is there any guaranty of political rights incompatible with the exercise of the power of legislation. These instruments are generally either treaties of peace or of cession.

The former restore and secure to the Indians interests of which they were deprived by conquest, and the latter define the boundaries of cessions or reservations and prescribes the terms and consideration, and regulate generally the principles of the new compact. In both, every sound rule of construction requires, that the terms used should be expounded agreeably to the nature of the subject matter and to the relations previously subsisting between the parties.- If general expressions are not controlled by these principles, then the term 'their land,' or elsewhere called, 'their hunting grounds,' instead of meaning what our own negotiators and the Indians themselves understood, that possessory right, which they have heretofore enjoyed, would at once change our whole system of policy, and leave them as free to sell as it would individuals or nations to buy those unappropriated districts, which are rather visited than possessed by the Indians.

It may be remarked that all rights secured by treat stipulations are wholly independent of this question of jurisdiction. If the Indians are subject to the legislative authority of the United States, that authority will no doubt be exercised so as not to contravene those rights. If they are subject to the respective States, such too, will be the course of legislation over them. And if, unadvisedly, any right should be impaired, the Indians have the same resort as our own citizens to the tribunals of justice for redress; for the law, while it claims their obedience, provides for their security. The supremacy of the State Governments is neither inconsistent with our obligations to the Indians, nor are these necessarily impaired by it. It may be difficult to define precisely the nature of their possessory right, but no one will contend that it gives them the absolute title of the land with all its attributes; and every one will probably concede that they are entitled to as much as it necessary to their comfortable subsistence. If we have entered into any stipulation with them, of which, however, I am not aware, inconsistent with the limited powers of the Government, or interfering with paramount obligations, the remedy is obvious. Let ample compensation be made to them by the United States, in a spirit of good faith and liberality. The question would be one, not of pecuniary amount, but of national character and national obligations.

That we may neither deceive ourselves nor the Indians it becomes us to examine the actual state of things and to view those as they are, and as they are likely to be. Looking at the circumstances attending this claim of exemption on the one side,and of supremacy on the other, is it probable the Indians can succeed in the establishment of their pretensions? The nature of the question, doubtful, to say the least of it; the opinion of the Executive; the practice of the older States, and the claims of the younger ones; the difficulties which would attend the introduction into our system of a third government, complicated in its relations, and indefinite in its principles; public sentiment, naturally opposed to any reduction of territorial extent or political power; and the obvious difficulties, inseparable from the consideration of such a great political question, with regard to the tribunal and the trial, the judgment and the process; present obstacles which must all be overcome before the claim can be enforced.

But could the tribes, and remnants of tribes, east of the Mississippi succeed in the prosecution of this claim, would the issue be beneficial to them, immediately or remotely?

We have every reason to believe it would not; and this conclusion is founded on the condition and character of the Indians on the result of the efforts, which have been made by them, and for them, to resist the operation of the causes that yet threatens their destruction.

I need not stop to illustrate these positions. They are connected with the views, which will be found in the sequel of this report. And it is not necessary to embarrass a subject already too comprehensive.

A change of residence, therefore, from their present positions to the regions west of the Mississippi presents the only hope of permanent establishment and improvement. That it will be attended with inconveniences and sacrifices, no one can doubt. The associations, which bind the Indians to the land of their forefathers are strong and enduring; and these must be broken by their migration. But they are also broken by our citizens, who every day encounter all the difficulties of similar changes in the pursuit of the means of support. And the experiments, which have been made satisfactorily show, that by proper precautions and liberal appropriations, the removal and establishment of the Indians can be effected with little comparative trouble to them or to us. Why, then, should the policy of this measure be disputed, or its adoption opposed? The whole subject has materially changed, even within a few years; and the imposing considerations it now presents, and which are every day gaining new force, call upon the Government and the country to determine what is require on our part, and what course shall be recommended to the Indians. If they remain, they must decline, and eventually disappear. Such is the result of all experience. If they remove, they may be comfortably established, and their moral and physical condition meliorated. It is certainly better for them to meet the difficulties of removal, with the probability of an adequate and final reward, than yielding to their constitutional apathy, to sit still and perish.

The great moral debt we owe to this unhappy race is universally felt and acknowledged. Diversities of opinion exist respecting the proper mode of discharging this obligation, but its validity is not denied. And there certainly are difficulties which may well call for discussion and consideration.

For more than two centuries we have been placed in contact with the Indians. And if this long period has been fruitless in useful results, it has not been so in experiments having in view their improvement. Able men have been investigating their condition, and good men attempting to improve it. But all these labors have been as unsuccessful in the issue, as many of them were laborious and expensive in their progress.

The work has been aided by Governments and communities, by the obligations of the law, and by sanction of religion. But its history furnishes abundant evidence of entire failure, and everything around us upon the frontiers confirms its truth. The Indians have either receded as our settlements advanced, and united their fragments with some kindred tribe, or they have attempted to establish themselves upon reservations, in the vain hope of resisting the pressure upon them, and of preserving their peculiar institutions. Those who are nearest to us, have generally suffered most severely by the debasing effects of ardent spirits, and by the loss of their own principles of restraint, few of these are, without the acquisition of ours- and almost all of them have disappeared crushed by the onward course of events, or driven before them. Not one instance can be produced in the whole history of the intercourse between the Indians and the white man, where the former have been able, in districts surrounded by the latter, to withstand successfully the progress of those causes which have elevated one of these races and annihilated the other. Such a monument of former successful exertions does not exist.

These remarks apply to the efforts, which have heretofore been made, and whose history and failure are known to us. But the subject has been lately revived with additional interest, and is now prosecuted with great zeal and exertion; whether equal effect, time must show. That most of those engaged in this labor are actuated by pure and disinterested motives, I do not question. And, if in this estimate of success, they place too high a value upon appearances, the error is natural to persons zealously engaged in a task calculated to enlist their sympathies and awaken their feelings and has been common to all, who have preceded them in this labor of philanthropy, and who from time to time, have indulged in anticipations of the most signal success, only to be succeeded by disappointment and despondency.

That these exertions have recently been productive of some advantage, may well be admitted. A few have probably been reclaimed from abandoned habits, and some, perhaps, have really appreciated the inestimable value of the doctrines which have been taught them. I can speak from personal observation only of the northern and northwestern tribes. Among them, I am apprehensive the benefits will be found but few and temporary. Of the condition of the Cherokees, who are said to have made greater advances then any of their kindred race, I must judge from such information as I have been able to procure. Owing to the prevalence of slavery and other peculiar causes among them, a number of the half-breeds and their connections and perhaps a few others, have acquired property, and with it some education and formation. But I believe the great mass of the tribe is living in ignorance and poverty, subject to the influence of the principal men, and submitting to a state of things, with which they are dissatisfied, and which offers them no rational prospect of stability and improvement.

The failure, which has attended the efforts heretofore made, and which will probably attend all conducted upon similar principles may be attributed part to the inherent difficulty of the undertaking resulting from characteristics peculiar to the Indians, and partly from the mode in which the operations have been conducted.

Without entering into a question which opens a wide field for inquiry, it is sufficient to observe that our primitive people, as well in their habits and opinions as in mountable to any considerable ' immediate change, indolent in his habits, the Indian is opposed to labor; in providing, or care in preserving. Taught from infancy to reverence his own traditions and institutions, he is satisfied of their value, and dreads the anger of the Great Spirit, if he should depart from the customs of his fathers. Devoted to the use of ardent spirit, he abandons himself to its indulgences without restraint. War and hunting are his only occupations. He can endure without complaining the extremity of human suffering, and if he cannot overcome the evils of his situation, he submits to them without repining. He attributes all the misfortunes of his race to the white man, and looks with suspicion upon [See fourth page]

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the offers of assistance that are made to him. These traits of character, though not universal, are yet general; and the practical difficulty they present, in changing the condition of such a people, is to satisfy them to our sincerity and the value of the aid we offer; to hold out to them motives for exertion, to call into action some powerful feeling, which shall counteract the tendency of previous impressions. It is under such circumstances and with these difficulties in view, that the Government has been called upon to determine what arrangements shall be made for the permanent establishment of the Indians. Shall they be advised to remain or remove? If the former, their fate is written in the annals of their race; if the latter, we may yet hope to see them renovated in character and condition by our example and instruction, and by their exertions.

But to accomplish this, they must first be placed beyond the reach of our settlements, with such checks upon their disposition to hostilities as may be found necessary, and with such aid, moral, intellectual, and pecuniary as may teach them the value of our improvements, and the reality of our friendship. With these salutary precautions, much should then be left to themselves, to follow such occupations in the forest or the field as they may choose, without too much interference. Time and prosperity must be the great agents in their melioration. Nor have we any reason to doubt but that such a condition would be attended with its full share of happiness; nor that their exertions would be stimulated by the security of their position, and by the new prospects before them. By encouraging the severalty of the soil, sufficient tracts might be assigned to all disposed to cultivate them; and, by timely assistance, the younger class might be brought to seek in their farms a less precarious subsistence then is furnished by the chase. Their physical comforts being increased, and the desire of acquisition brought into action, a moral stimulus would be felt by the youthful portion of the community. New wants would appear, and new means of gratifying them; and the great work of improvement would thus commence and commencing would go on.

To its aid, the truths of religion, together with a knowledge of the simpler mechanic arts and the rudiments of science, should then be brought; but if our dependence be first placed upon these, we must fail, as all others have failed, who have gone before us in this field of labor. And we have already fallen into this error of adapting our efforts to a state of society, which is probably yet remote among the Indians, in withdrawing so many of the young men from their friends, and educating them at our schools. They are taught various branches of learning, and at some of these institutions, a partial knowledge of the mechanic arts, and of the principles of agriculture. But after this course of instruction is completed what are these young men to do? If they remain among the whites, they find themselves the members of a peculiar caste, and look round them in vain for employment, and encouragement; if they return to their countrymen, their acquirements are useless; these are neither understood nor valued; ' with the exception of a few articles of iron, which they procure from the traders; the common work of our mechanics is useless to them. I repeat, what is a young man, who has been thus educated, to do? He has no means of support, no instruments of agriculture, no domestic animals, no improved farm. Taken in early life from his own people, he is no hunter; he cannot find in the chase the means of support, or exchange; and that, under such circumstances, he should abandon himself to a life of intemperance can scarcely excite our surprise, however, it must our regret. I have been earnestly asked by these young men, how they were to live; and I have felt that a satisfactory answer was beyond my reach. To the government only can they look for relief, and if this should be furnished, though in a moderate degree, they might still become useful and respectable; their example would be encouraging to others, and they would form the best instructors for their brethren.

The general details of a plan for the permanent establishment of the Indians west of the Mississippi, and for their proper security, would require much deliberation; but there are some fundamental principles, obviously arising out of the nature of the subject, which when once adopted, would constitute the best foundation for our exertions, ' the hopes of the Indians.

1. A solemn declaration, similar to that already inserted in some of the treaties, that the country assigned to the Indians shall be theirs as long as they or their descendants may occupy it, and a corresponding determination that our settlements shall not spread over it; and every effort should be used to satisfy the Indians of our sincerity and of their security. Without this indispensable preliminary, and without full confidence on their part in our intentions,and in our abilities to give these effect, their change of position would bring no change of circumstances.

2. A determination to exclude all ardent spirits from their new country. This will no doubt be difficult, but a system of surveillance upon the borders, and proper police and penalties, will do much towards the extermination of an evil, which, where it exists to any considerable extent, is equally destructive of their present comfort and their future happiness.

3. The employment of an adequate force in their immediate vicinity, and a fixed determination to suppress, at all hazards, the slightest attempt at hostilities among themselves.

So long as a passion for war, fostered and encouraged, as it is, b their opinions and habits, is allowed free scope for exercise, it will prove the master spirit, controlling, if not absorbing all other considerations. And if checking this evil some examples should become necessary, they would be sacrifices to humanity, and not to severity.

4. Encouragement to the severalty of property, and such provision for its security as their regulations do not afford, and as may be necessary to its enjoyment.

5. Assistance to all who may require it in opening of farms, and in procuring domestic animals and instruments of agriculture.

6. Leaving them in the enjoyment of their peculiar institutions as far as may be compatible with their own society and ours, and with the great objects of their prosperity and improvement.

7. The eventual employment of persons competent to instruct them, as far ' as fast as their progress may require, and in such manner as may be most useful to them.

Arrangements have been made upon fair and equitable terms with the Shawnees and Senecas of Lewistown with the Shawnees of Wapaghkonetta, and with the Oitowas of Blanchard's Fork, and the Maumee, all within the State of Ohio, for the cession of their reservation in that State, and for their emigration to the region assigned for the permanent residence of the Indians. A similar arrangement was made with the Senecas in the early part of the year, and they are already upon their journey to their new country. A deputation from the Wyandots has gone to examine the district offered to them; and the general outlines of an arrangements for a cession have been agreed upon, to be formally executed, if the report of the exploring party should prove satisfactory.

It has been suggested that a considerable portion of the Cherokees in Georgia are desirous of availing themselves of the provision of the treaty, May 6th, 1828, for their removal. With a view to ascertain this fact, and to afford them the aid offered by that treaty, if they are inclined to accept it, a system of operations has been adopted, and persons appointed to carry it into effect. Sufficient time to form a judgement of the result of this measure has not yet elapsed.

But in all the efforts, which may be made, the subject will be fully and fairly explained to the Indians, and they will be left to judge for themselves. The agents are prohibited from the exertion of any improper influence, but are directed to communicate to the Indians the views of the President, and his decided convictions, that their speedy removal can only preserve them from the serious evils which environ them. It is to be hoped that they will accept this salutary advice, and proceed to join their countrymen on the district appropriated for their permanent residence.

If the seeds of improvement are sown among them, as many good men assert and believe, they will ripen into an abundant harvest-profitable to themselves in the enjoyment, and to all the members of this dispersed family in the example.

The details of an outrage committed by a part of Fox Indians upon a number of Menomonies at Prairie du Chien, while encamped under the protection of our flag, will be found in the report of the officer having charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The alleged motive for this want of aggression was some previous injury of a similar nature, stated to have been committed by the Menomonies; upon the Fox Indians--a justification, which can never be wanting, where neither time nor treaties, as in this case, are permitted to cancel the offence.

Very Respectfully, sir, I have the honor to be,

Your obedient servant,