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John Ross and the Cherokee Indians
Chapter VI - Georgia's Hostility to the Cherokees


The Cherokee delegation, composed of John Ross, Major Ridge, George Lowrey and Elijah Hicks, set out to Washington promptly on the adjournment of Council. They travelled on horseback carrying whatever was necessary to the journey in saddlebags strapped to their saddles. The trip up to the capital at this time of year was not an easy one. But as they rode over wind-swept ridges and through snow-covered valleys, or, at night, sat by the fire of the wayside "public stop," they never tired of discussing the questions of the day, particularly those which concerned the welfare of their own nation. For several years they had been associated together in the Cherokee Council, knew each other well, and trusted each other implicitly. They were all men of affairs also, and although one of them could not read nor write in English, he had acquired much useful information and was keen and astute in managing the political affairs of his people.' Ross was doubtless the best educated one of the four. Besides his two years' experience in the Academy at Maryville he had read many valuable books which he found in his father's library, and his letters prove that he wrote very clearly, though his style was somewhat formal and stilted. As to personal appearance, they all possessed the independent, dignified bearing which has always distinguished Cherokee men reared in the mountains, and their natural politeness and courtesy marked them as gentlemen, in spite of the fact that their forbears, a generation or two before, had been considered savages.

Arriving in Washington the middle of January the delegation learned, to their disappointment, that they could not confer personally with the President, but that any business which they wished to transact with the executive must pass through the War Office. When they presented their credentials to Secretary Calhoun he sounded the keynote of the Federal policy by asking them if they had come to make a further cession of land. Their answer was in the form of a memorial in which they earnestly urged that their nation was laboring under peculiar disadvantages arising from the repeated appropriations of Congress to hold treaties with them; such action retarded national improvement by unsettling the minds and prospects of the citizens. They repeated their determination to part with no more land, as the limits fixed by the treaty of 1819 left them territory barely adequate to their comfort and convenience; the Cherokees were rapidly increasing in population, rendering it the duty of the nation to preserve, unimpaired to posterity, the lands of their ancestors. For these reasons, they asked that some other arrangement be made whereby Georgia's demand for land might be satisfied.

The Secretary of War, in reply, laid great stress upon the Georgia compact and upon the zealous desire of the President to carry it out, a distinct society or nation within the limits of a state being "incompatible with our system".3 He then set forth in glowing terms the benefits that would result to the Cherokees from an exchange of their country for one beyond the annoying encroachments of civilization. The delegation reminded him that the United States was under compact to extinguish the Indian claims only on peaceable and reasonable terms; as for incompatibility with the system of the United States, the Indians were the original inhabitants of the country, and were not willing to allow the sovereignty of any state within the boundaries of their domain; they had never promised to cede their lands to the Federal Government, but it had guaranteed the land to them; they were net yet sufficiently civilized to cease being an independent community and become a territory or state within the Union; removal would at least retard their advancement in civilization since it would take them some time to adjust themselves to new environments. The Indians had justice and logic on their side and argued the points of the case so cogently that even the astute Secretary of War was unable to refute them. At the suggestion of the President copies of the correspondence were sent to the Georgia delegation in Congress and to George M. Troup, governor of the state. Troup was an extreme state's rights man who represented the rich planter population. He had been elected governor of Georgia with the avowed policy of ridding the state of Indian occupancy.

The Georgia congressmen protested against the diplomatic courtesy shown the Indian delegates, and complained that the civilizing policy of the United States tended to fasten the Indians more firmly on the soil. The hot-headed governor, after censuring the weak and dilatory policy of the Federal Government towards the Indians in the past, and accusing the white men in the Cherokee Nation of influencing them against removal, declared that the fee simple of the lands lay in Georgia and that the Indians were tenants at her will; Georgia demanded the removal of these tenants who must be given to understand that the United States, at the expense of bloodshed, must assist Georgia to occupy her lands. President Monroe, in his message March, 1824, defended the course which the national executive had pursued towards the Indians. He advocated removal beyond the Mississippi but not by force, and expressed the opinion that the Indian title was not affected by the Georgia compact, the expression, "at the expense of the United States as long as the same can be done on reasonable terms," being full proof of the distinct understanding of both parties to the compact The Indians had a right, he thought, to the territory, in the disposal of which they were to be considered as free agents.

A select committee from the House of Representatives, of which John Forsythe was chairman, reported on this message April 15, after expressing the opinion that the guarantee of lands before 1802 granted occupancy title only, and resolved that if peaceable acquisition were not now possible the Indians must be removed by force, or the United States obtain from Georgia consent to some other plan; otherwise she might be put in the position of either seeing the Cherokees annihilated or defending them against United States citizens.

Governor Troup was provoked to a fresh outburst of wrath by the President's message and by the discussion in Congress, but when a fresh appropriation was made the last of May to extinguish Indian land titles in Georgia he quieted down for a time, confining his views on state rights and the Indian question to the state legslature. Here, however, he hotly declared that "a state of things so unnatural and fruitful of evils as an independent government of a semi barbarous people, existing within the limits of a state, could not long continue, and wise counsel must direct it, that relations which could not be maintained in peace, should be dissolved before an occasion should occur to break that peace." In his message of 1825 he recommended the legislature to adopt energetic measures for ridding the Cherokee Nation of all white people excepting only such as were necessarily employed by the United States to regulate commerce with the tribe. He also recommended the legislature to extend the laws of Georgia over that nation. The Cherokees, however, held fast to their contention for national rights, and when Georgia attempted to send surveyors through their nation, to lay out the course of a canal, the Council refused to permit it. "No individual state shall be allowed to make internal improvements within the sovereign limits of the Cherokee Nation," was resolved by the Council of 1826. This exasperated Governor Troup, who, however, was foed to bide his time, his attention, at this time being more particularly directed towards the removal of the Creeks and Seminoles.

Thus far, it would teem the Cherokees had gained the best of the controversy. With firmness and determination they had maintained their rights to the soil and the sovereignty of their nation; the delegation at Washington had won many friends for their cause in Congress. But the Cherokees did not permit themselves to be betrayed by overconfidence in the security of their position. They were keenly conscious that the ability to maintain this position depended upon their own alertness and resourcefulness. To the national ambition for advancement was now added a more powerful incentive, that of self-preservation.


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