From the Missionary Herald.
Messrs Worcester and Butler's reasons for their course in relation to the proceedings of the State of Georgia.
In the Herald for March, at p. 100, an account was given of the transactions connected with the discharge of Messrs. Worcester and Butler from the Georgia Penitentiary. A letter has since been received from them giving their own views in relation to these and previous transactions, which justice to them, and the subject requires should be published. It was written in February last, and is as follows:
It has seemed to us that it might not be amiss to address a letter to you, with leave to make it public if it be thought expedient, giving a summary view of the grounds on which we have acted from the beginning to the end of the late controversy between ourselves and the state of Georgia.
We were residing among the Cherokees for the purpose of communicating to them the knowledge of the way of salvation, in obedience to the command of our Redeemer to preach the gospel to every creature. This object we were aiming to accomplish by means of public preaching and exhortation, by the publication of the written word of God, and other religious books in the native language, and through the medium of schools. In this residence and these labors,we had the sanction of the Government of the United States, and of the Cherokee Nation.
While we were peaceably engaged in these labors, a law was enacted by the state of Georgia, asserting jurisdiction over the territory where we resided, and forbidding the residence of white men after a specified date, unless they should have taken an oath to support the Constitution and laws of the state, and to demean themselves uprightly as citizens thereof, under penalty for four years confinement in the penitentiary. This oath the following considerations forbade us to take.
The oath required would have been understood on all hands, not only as including, but as particularly intending, an obligation to support the jurisdiction of the state over the Cherokee people; since the recognition of this jurisdiction was the immediate design of the requirement.
We had always considered the Cherokees as possessing both a natural and conventional right to govern themselves, subject only to such limitations of sovereignty as were expressed in existing treaties between them and the United States.
As we understood this right of self government to be secured to the Cherokees by their treaties with the General Government, and oath to support those laws which deprived them of this right would have been inconsistent with an understanding which existed between ourselves and the General Government, that we should respect those treaties as the supreme law of the land.
We supposed ourselves required by the word of God to respect the rightfully constituted authorities of the place where we resided. This principle would require us to acknowledge, either the jurisdiction of Georgia, or that of the Cherokees, whichever was the rightfully constituted authority; for both claimed jurisdiction as to the same matters, and both claims, therefore, could not be acknowledged. Supposing that the Cherokee government was of rightful authority, and oath inconsistent with the recognition of that authority would have been a violation of the injunction to regard the powers that be. We are the more particular on this point, because, by a petito principii, the requirements of scripture to which we refer, have often been urged as demanding of us that allegiance to the state of Georgia, which the oath would have recognized. Scripture could not require us to recognize at the same time two conflicting authorities.
The extension of the jurisdiction of the state over the Cherokees we regard as unjust and oppressive; and we could not swear to uphold that injustice and oppression.
Believing that the lawful jurisdiction of the state did not extend to the territory where we resided, and having never lived under its jurisdiction, we did not suppose ourselves to be citizens of the state. An oath to demean ourselves uprightly as citizens would be an acknowledgment under oath that we were such-a virtual declaration upon oath of what we did not believe to be true, and therefore perjury. This utterly precluded the possibility of our taking the oath.
In these circumstances and with these views, our only alternative was, either to be banished from our homes, and from the field of our interesting and important labors, or to suffer temporary imprisonment, and appeal to the justice of our country in defence of our constitutional rights, in defence of the cause of religion as involved in the privilege of publishing to all men the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in defence of the rights of a much injured people.
We will next state the reasons by which we were induced to adopt the latter alternative.
We had no doubt of our civil right to refuse obedience to the law in question, appealing to the Supreme Court of the United States to sustain us in that refusal. We regarded the law as manifestly unconstitutional, and therefore no law; and we could not see to what purpose the Constitution should forbid the enactment of such and such laws, if when those laws are enacted, any individual, who suffers by them, may not rightfully appeal to the judicial tribunals against their operations.
We did not see that our character as missionaries either exonerated us from the obligations or divested us of the rights of American citizens.
Not only our rights as citizens, but our rights as missionaries were infringed. It is said, indeed, that we were not forbidden to preach the gospel in the disputed territory. True-but every one must perceive that the prohibition of the residence of missionaries within a given territory is a great RESTRAINT upon preaching the gospel there. The law did prohibit the residence of missionaries, except upon terms to which no missionary who was then laboring in the territory in question, with a single exception, could conscientiously accede. If submitted to it was to break up several important missionary stations. It was greatly to hinder the preaching of the gospel. It was to put an almost entire stop to one important branch of missionary labor, viz, that of training up of youth under the influence of the gospel by means of mission schools. And another most important branch, in which one of us was engaged, the translating and publishing the written word of God, could not, under existing circumstances, be successfully prosecuted, except at a place within the prohibited territory. This labor must be interrupted by removal.
And the law not only did operate, but it was designed to operate, as an interruption to missionary labors. We do not make this statement without grounds. We have good reason for believing that the expulsion of missionaries was the particular object of the law. This opposition to missionaries was grounded in part upon the mistaken apprehension that we were endeavoring to persuade the Cherokees not to remove. But this was not all. The authorities of the state had charged it upon the Government of the United States, as a violation of the compact with Georgia, that they had caused the Cherokees to be instructed, because their progress in knowledge and in civilization had the effect to attach them to their home, and render them unwilling to part with those lands, which the United States were conditionally bound to purchase for the use of the state. The authorities of the state were therefore opposed to the instruction of the Indians within her chartered limits, and wished to expel the missionaries because they communicated that instruction. We did not consider the desire of the state to obtain the lands of the Cherokees as a sufficient reason why they should be left to perish through ignorance; and, believing that the laws of our country were on our side, we were disposed to contend for the right of continuing among them our labors for their temporal, and especially their eternal welfare.
The rights of thousands were involved with our own. We have already said that we regard the extension of the jurisdiction of the state over the Cherokees as a most unjust and oppressive. We believed that the design of their extension was to force the Cherokees away from the soil which was their own, and which, so long as they were disposed, they had a perfect right to retain. The effect upon the Cherokees, we believed, would be ruinous. And as their rights and ours were involved in the same question, we felt that, in maintaining our own, we were maintaining theirs also. The constitutional question involved appeared to us so plain, that we could not expect any other than a decision in our favor, when our cause should come before the Supreme Court; and we could not but hope that, when that court should have sustained by its decision the rights of the Cherokees, those rights would be defended by every department of the national government, and this unhappy people be saved from the oppression under which they groaned. We fell (sic), therefore, that Christian philanthropy demanded a temporary sacrifice of our personal liberty, in order to obtain a decision of so much importance to thousands of our fellow men.
(Concluded in our next.)