2. Helen Hunt Jackson, "Georgia's Dishonor"
In the whole history of our Government's dealings with the Indian tribes, there is no record so black as the record of its perfidy to this nation. There will come a time in the remote future when, to the student of American history, it will seem well-nigh incredible. From the beginning of the century they had been steadily advancing in civilization. As far back as 1800 they had begun the manufacture of cotton cloth, and in 1820 there was scarcely a family in that part of the nation living east of the Mississippi but what understood the use of the card and spinning-wheel. every family had its farm under cultivation. The territory was laid off into districts, with a council-house, a judge, and a marshal in each district. A national committee and council were the supreme authority in the nation. Schools were flourishing in all the villages. Printing-presses were at work.
Their territory was larger than the three States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined. It embraced the North-western part of Georgia, the North-east of Alabama, a corner of Tennessee and of North Carolina. They were enthusiastic in their efforts to establish and perfect their own system of jurisprudence. Missions of several sects were established in their country, and a large number of them had professed Christianity, and were living exemplary lives.
There is no instance in all history of a race of people passing in so short a space of time from the barbarous stage to the agricultural and civilized. And it was such a community as this that the State of Georgia, by one high-handed outrage, made outlaws! - passing on the 19th of December, 1829, a law "to annul all laws and ordinances made by the Cherokee nation of Indians"; declaring "all laws, ordinances, orders, and regulations of any kind whatever, made, passed, or enacted by the Cherokee Indians, either in general council or in any other way whatever, or by any authority whatever, null and void, and of no effect, as if the same had never existed; also that no Indian, or descendant of any Indian residing within the Creek or Cherokee nations of Indians, shall be deemed a competent witness in any court of this State to which a white man may be a party."
What had so changed the attitude of Georgia to the Indians within her borders? Simply the fact that the Indians, finding themselves hemmed in on all sides by fast thickening white settlements, had taken a firm stand that they would give up no more land. So long as they would cede and cede, and grant and grant tract after tract, and had millions of acres left to cede and grant, the selfishness of white men took no alarm; but once consolidated into an empire, with fixed and inalienable boundaries, powerful, recognized, and determined, the Cherokee nation would be a thorn in the flesh to her white neighbors. The doom of the Cherokees was sealed on the day when they declared, once and for all, officially as a nation, that they would not sell another foot of land. This they did in an interesting and pathetic message to the United States Senate in 1822.
Georgia, through her governor and her delegates to Congress, had been persistently demanding to have the Cherokees compelled to give up their lands. She insisted that the United States Government should fulfill a provision, made in an old compact of 1802, to extinguish the Indian titles within her limits as soon as it could be peaceably done. This she demanded should be done now, either peaceably or otherwise.
"We cannot but view the design of those letters," says this message, "as an attempt bordering on a hostile disposition toward the Cherokee nation to wrest from them by arbitrary means their just rights and liberties, the security of which is solemnly guaranteed to them by these United States . . . We assert under the fullest authority that all the sentiments expressed in relation to the disposition and determination of the nation never to cede another foot of land, are positively the production and voice of the nation . . . There is not a spot out of the limits of any of the States or Territories thereof, and within the limits of the United States, that they would ever consent to inhabit; because they have unequivocally determined never again to pursue the chase as heretofore, or to engage in wars, unless by the common call of the Government to defend the common rights of the United States . . . The Cherokees have turned their attention to the pursuits of the civilized man: agriculture, manufactures, and the mechanic arts and education are all in successful operation in the nation at this time; and while the Cherokees are peacefully endeavoring to enjoy the blessings of civilization and Christianity on the soil of their rightful inheritance, and while the exertions and labors of various religious societies of these United States are successfully engaged in promulgating to them the words of truth and life from the sacred volume of Holy Writ, and under the patronage of the General Government, they are threatened with removal or extinction . . . We appeal to the magnanimity of the American Congress for justice, and the protection of the rights and liberties and lives of the Cherokee people. We claim it from the United States by the strongest obligation which imposes it on them - by treaties: and we expect it from them under that memorable declaration, 'that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"
The dignified and pathetic remonstrances of the Cherokee chiefs, their firm reiterations of their resolve not to part with their lands, were called by the angry Georgian governor "tricks of vulgar cunning," and "insults from the polluted lips of outcasts and vagabonds"; and he is not afraid, in an official letter to the Secretary of War, to openly threaten the President that, if he upholds the Indians rejection of the overtures for removal, the "consequences are inevitable," and that, in resisting the occupation of the Cherokee lands by the Georgians, he will be obliged to "make war upon, and shed the blood of brothers and friends."
. . . Never did mountaineers cling more desperately to their homes than did the Cherokees. The State of Georgia put the whole nation in duress, but they still chose to stay. Year by year high-handed oppressions increased and multiplied; military law reigned everywhere; Cherokee lands were surveyed, and put up to be drawn by lottery; missionaries were arrested and sent to prison for preaching to Cherokees; Cherokees were sentence to death by Georgia juries, and hung by Georgia executioners. Appeal after appeal to the President and to Congress for protection produced only reiterated confessions of the Government's inability to protect them - reiterated proposals to them to accept a price for their country and move away. Nevertheless, they clung to it. A few hundreds went, but the body of the nation still protested and entreated. There is nothing in history more touching than the cries of this people to the Government of the United States to fulfill its promises to them. And their cause was not without eloquent advocates. when the bill for their removal was before Congress, Frelinghuysen, Sprague, Robbins, Storrs, Ellsworth, Evans, Huntington, Johns, Bates, Crockett, Everett, Test - all spoke warmly against it; and, to the credit of Congress be it said, the bill passed the Senate by only one majority.
The Rev. Jeremiah Evarts published a series of papers in the National Intelligencer under the signature of William Penn, in which he gave masterly analysis and summing up of the case. recapitulated the sixteen treaties which the Government had made with the Cherokees, all guaranteeing to them their lands, and declaring that the Government had "arrived at the bank of the Rubicon," where it must decide if it would not save the country from the charge of bad faith. Many of his eloquent sentences read in the light of the present times like prophecies. He says, "in a quarter of a century the pressure upon the Indians will be much greater from the boundless prairies; which must ultimately be subdued and inhabited, than it would ever have been from the borders of the present Cherokee country"; and asks, pertinently, "to what confidence would such an engagement be entitled, done at the very moment that treaties with the Indians are declared not to be binding, and for the very reason that existing treaties are not strong enough to bind the United States." Remonstrances poured in upon Congress, petitions and memorials from religious societies, from little country villages, all imploring the Government to keep its faith to these people.
The Cherokees' own newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, was filled at this time with the records of the nation's suffering and despair.
"The State of Georgia has taken a strong hand against us, and the United States must either defend us and our rights or leave us to our foe. In the latter case she will violate her promise of protection, and we cannot in future depend upon any guarantee to us, either here or beyond the Mississippi."
"If the United States shall withdraw their solemn pledges of protection, utterly disregard their plighted faith, deprive us of the right of self-government, and wrest from us our land, then, in the deep anguish of our misfortunes, we may justly say there is no place of security for us, no confidence left that the United States will be more just and faithful toward us in the barren prairies of the West than when we occupied the soil inherited from the Great Author of our existence."
As a last resort the Cherokees carried their case before the Supreme Court, and implored that body to restrain the State of Georgia from her unjust interference with their rights. The reports of the case of the Cherokee Nation vs. the State of Georgia fill a volume by themselves, and are of vital importance to the history of Indian affairs. The majority of the judges decided that an Indian tribe could not be considered as a foreign nation, and therefore could not bring the suit. Judge Thompson and Judge Story dissented from this opinion, and held that the Cherokee tribe did constitute a foreign nation, and that the State of Georgia ought to be enjoined from execution of its unjust laws. The opinion of Chancellor Kent coincided with that of Judges Thompson and Story. Chancellor Kent gave it as his opinion that the cases in which the Supreme Court had jurisdiction would "reach and embrace every controversy that can arise between the Cherokees and the State of Georgia or its officers under the execution of the act of Georgia."
But all this did not help the Cherokees; neither did the fact
of the manifest sympathy of the whole court with their wrongs. The technical legal
decision had been rendered against them, and this delivered them over to the tender
mercies of Georgia: no power in the land could help them. Fierce factions now
began to be formed in the nation, one for and one against the surrender of their lands.
Many were ready still to remain and suffer till death rather than give them up; but
wiser counsels prevailed, and in the last days of the year 1835 a treaty was concluded
with the United States by twenty of the Cherokee chiefs and headmen, who thereby, in
behalf of their nation, relinquished all the lands claimed or possessed by them east of
the Mississippi River.