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John Ross and the Cherokee Indians
Chapter IX - Factional Strife


The Cherokees, already sorely tried, were yet to undergo a more severe test. Their nation had been harassed by distractions from without. It now came to suffer dissentions within the body politic.

In 1828 Whitepath, a full-blood of the conservative type, had beaded a rebellion against the new government and against the Christian religion which was at this time winning many converts. The Cherokee government succeeded in putting it down without serious trouble or bloodshed, and the leaders became reconciled to the new order of things, Whitepath becoming a member of Council under the constitution. A few irreconcilables remained, however, to become the nucleus of a party favorable to emigration. William Hicks joined them when be became estranged and embittered by his political defeat, and used what influence he possessed in adding recruits to the malcontents. This discontented group fell a ready prey to the machinations of designing white men. Benjamin F. Curry, sent by the Federal Government at the dictation of Georgia, to open enrolling agencies in the Cherokee Nation, together with his assistants, all Georgians, had lost no time in making friends of them. Another factor was added to the situation the same year when Wilson Lumpkin succeeded to the governorship of Georgia, with the fixed determination to force removal. Thoroughly familiar with the Indian situation, having spent the winter of 1825-26 in the Cherokee Nation as a member of the board of public works, when he visited and conversed with all the prominent men of the tribe, he had already laid the foundation for the influence he was prepared to wield for removal. Federal and state officials joined forces, halting at no means or method to accomplish their purpose. By resorting to bribery and intrigue the most disgraceful, and manipulations the most subtle, they succeeded in detaching some of the most prominent and some of the strongest men of the Cherokee Nation from their own government and building up a faction favorable to removal. The factional breach, once started, kept growing broader, and the removal project grew correspondingly brighter.

Georgia had anticipated important results from her law forbidding the Cherokees to hold assemblies within her limits. Omission of the Council to assemble was expected completely to demoralize the Cherokee government which was preparing to appoint a new delegation to Washington, and leave its citizens at the mercy of the Federal Government and the state. An attempt to meet would be considered by Georgia an infringement of her law, and would give the Georgia Guard an excuse for arresting and haling to prison the leaders of the Cherokees. Chiefs Ross and Hicks were in favor of holding the regular session of the Council at New Echota, regardless of consequences. They were overruled, however, in a preliminary meeting of the Council, the argument prevailing that they would inevitably be attacked by the Georgia Guard and, as the people would not see their chiefs and representatives dragged away ignominously without resistance, the consequences would be disastrous. Chatooga, Alabama, an old camp meeting ground, was chosen as the meeting place of the General Council of 1831. Here rude sheds were made by laying rough boards on poles supported by forked stakes driven into the ground, while logs arranged in rows furnished benches for council and judges, as well as for the great crowd of people, who, according to ancient custom, were in attendance. Chatooga proved too remote from the main body of the tribe, however, and Red Clay in southern Tennessee, was chosen as the place of the next meeting. This continued to be the capital as long as the Cherokees remained in the East.

The terms for which the chiefs and members of the legislature were elected expired at the close of the first session of the Council held at Red Clay. According to the constitution, a new election would take place the following summer, before the next meeting of Council. Inasmuch as the confusion caused by the Georgia laws prevented elections in the regular manner, the Council referred the question to the people. They called a convention forthwith on the council ground and representatives from the different districts were chosen from among those present. This convention passed a resolution continuing in office "the present national executive, legislative and judicial officials, the same being the people's last choice." Until elections could be held constitutionally, vacancies were to be filled by the principal chief, subject to the approval of the upper house.

The action of the convention was far from gratifying to the Ridges and their friends who were beginning to lose favor with the Cherokee Council on account of rumors of disaffection and leanings toward removal. Friendly association with removal agents gave color to thee reports, and John Ridge was impeached by the Council on complaints filed by his own district, on the ground that he no longer represented the opinion of the district. Major Ridge and David Vann were next impeached for advancing policies contrary to those of the majority. No trial was ever held, it being the chief's policy to avoid arousing antagonism, and all three resigned. Elias Boudinot resigned from the editorship of the Phoenix, in 1832, because Mr. Ross discouraged a free discussion of the removal policy, and with the Ridges and Vans went over to the opposition, which had gained a sufficient following by 1835 to organize a party with Wm. Hicks as principal chief and John McIntosh second chief. A legislature was appointed and steps were taken to supplant the existing government. Dissenters arose in their own ranks, however, and a large number of them emigrated. Among those left behind were the Ridges, Boudino't, Vann and Andrew Ross.

The two Ridges and Boudinot, because of their superior ability and influence, soon became recognized as leaders of the opposition party, both by the Cherokees and the Cherokees and the Federal authorities. Of Major Ridge and his nephew, Elias Boudinot, some account has been given in preceding chapters. John Ridge, educated in New England, was a young man of great promise, handsome, brilliant and ambitious. After completing his education he returned with his Connecticut bride to the Cherokee Nation to enter, with all the ardor and enthusiasm of confident youth, into the political and social life of the tribe. His superior education, his eloquence, his distinguished appearance, enhanced by his taste for handsome apparel in which his father's wealth permitted him to indulge, his fondness for distinction and power, all characteristics of the young men of the ruling class throughout the south, gave him the reputation of being the most promising young man of the Cheroked Nation. When in 1832 he and Elias Boudinot made a tour of the east, addressing enthusiastic audiences in New York and Boston on the condition of their people, all who heard him were impressed with his gentlemanly bearing and stirring eloquence.

Young Ridge naturally desired and expected some day to occupy the highest position which his government had to offer. His political career began auspiciously when he became a member of the National Committee, of which his father was president, his popularity and reputation for tribal patriotism reaching its zenith when he brought to bear all his influence for the renewal of a law, the provisions of which had been drafted by his father, making it a death penalty for any person or group of persons to sell Cherokee land without the consent of the Council. As long as there was any hope of attaining the chieftainship, the way to which was temporarily blocked by the superior Influence of a man, In some respects, seemingly inferior to him, Ridge was content to bide his time. But when the Council of 1831 made John Ross chief executive indefinitely, Ridge saw his chances of political advancement utterly blocked unless the uncertainty of the times should work some change more advantageous to his prospects. Little by little an estrangement grew up between Ross and Ridge with his coterie of friends and admirers, which government and state agents eagerly seized upon. The Ridges hitherto had consistently opposed emigration. Now they began to look upon it more favorably. Readjustment in a new country might give them the political opportunity which would be denied them indefinitely in the east.

But the motives that prompted them were not altogether selfish and personal. They were men of honor and patriotism, conscious of the possibilities of the misuse of power concentrated in the hands of one man with strong political backing, with unlimited tenure of office and the control of the purse strings. To be sure the purse was now empty, but it would not always be so; when the annuities were paid the money could be used greatly to the advantage and profit of those in control of the government. Some of these men of the opposition party were undoubtedly high-minded, far-sighted men who, honestly convinced that their people could never be restored to peace and happiness in the east, and seeing the futility of further resisting the Federal Government, took what appealed to them as the only way out of the difficulty. They now came out boldly against the Ross party and worked openly for removal.

Thus, before it had been launched three years, the very existence of the Cherokee republic was being threatened from within and without. No one appreciated its situation more keenly than the captain of the small craft of state who, bent all his energy to the task of quelling the mutiny on board while weathering the tempest steadily growing darker and fiercer without, threatening to overwhelm him and his people in shipwreck and ruin.

Appealing to his people, as well as to a higher power than his own or theirs, he issued a proclamation recommending July nineteenth, to be observed as a day of fasting and prayer throughout the Cherokee Nation. The proclamation declared, "We have need to go to the Ruler of the Universe in this day of deep affliction. We have been too long trusting to an arm of flesh which has proved to be but a broken reed," and whether the time of tribulation and sorrow through which they were passing was caused by the wanton depravity and wickedness of man, or by the unsearchable and mysterious will of a wise Providence, it equally became them as a rational and Christian community humbly to bow in humiliation.

Many responded to the call, and on the day appointed, age and youth, middle age and childhood, repaired to camp meeting grounds, to convenient groves or dwellings, and fasted and prayed. The occasion was profoundly dignified and impressive, and doubtless helped to strengthen the Christian fortitude and forbearance exercised by even the most lawless members of the tribe during the trying months that followed.


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