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John Ross and the Cherokee Indians
Chapter X - The National Executive Refuses Protection to the Indians


A delegation from the Cherokee Nation spent the following winter in Washington, bringing to bear every influence at his command upon the President and Congress to furnish some relief to the Cherokees. The only course offered however, was removal. Mr. Case urged that it was only by removal they could find a safe retreat for themselves since "as long as any remained in Georgia they were subjects to the laws of that state, surrounded by white settlements and exposed to all those evils which had always attended the Indian race when placed in immediate contact with a white population. It was only by removing that they could expect to avoid the fate which had already swept away so many Indian tribes." The Cherokees replied, it was with deep regret they felt constrained to say, that in this scheme for Indian removal, they could see more of expediency and policy to get rid of the Cherokee than to perpetuate their race upon any permanent fundamental principle. If the doctrine that they could not exist continguous to a white population should prevail and they should be compelled to remove west of the states and territories of the republic what was to prevent a similar removal of them from that place for the same reason

The delegation returned home in March without having secured any promise of relief or any encouragement, whatever, from the executive. The condition of the Cherokees was now becoming worse and worse. Deprived of their annuity funds, the country demoralized politically and economically, the Indians were suffering. They could no longer look for relief from Washington. The factional fight grew more bitter day by day and fresh recruits were being added to the party in favor of a treaty.

To add to the confusion, the Georgia legislature, as has been mentioned before, had passed an act which granted to fortunate drawers of lots the lands occupied by the improvements of those Indians who had accepted reservations under former treaties. This act included the improvements of all who had enrolled for emigration and, after having accepted pay for their improvements, had remained in the nation. Additional legislation at the same session was passed to induce removal. The next year a law granting possession of these lots was a signal for worse depredations than any formerly committed. Some of the best Cherokee homesteads were seized, live stock confiscated, and owners ejected from their homes. Georgians who had never before lived in anything but a one-room log cabin found themselves ensconced in comfortable and commodious quarters.

Charles Hicks was forced to vacate his pleasant and comfortable home in the dead of winter and move his family to Tennessee, where they found shelter in an old sugar camp. Mr. Martin, the Cherokee treasurer, received notice from the state agent, Colonel Bishop, on January 20 that he must prepare to give entire possession of his premises within the next thirty days or suffer the penalty of the law. His carved mantels and marble hearths were part of the prize that fell to another fortunate Georgian.

Hundreds of other cases might be added, but it is useless to multiply examples to show that in her determination to cleanse her soil of the aborigines, the state and her citizens were prepared to go to any length, though all the while strenuously disavowing any selfish or sinister motives toward the Indians.

Outrages were perpetrated upon the poor as well as upon the prosperous. The suffering and destitution of these helpless victims was pitiful to see; their story is too heartrending to dwell upon. Yet the Cherokees remained unshaken in their determination not to remove. Devotion to established customs and to their ancestral homes was deeply rooted. They chose to bear the ills they had rather than fly to others they knew not of.

When the fall Council met in 1833 it took up the discussion of the situation and the advantage to be gained by giving up their tribal identity and becoming citizens of the United States. A memorial was drawn up, in which, after asserting that they would never voluntarily give up their homes, they consented to satisfy Georgia by ceding part of their land on condition that the Federal Government protect them in the remainder until a definite time to be fixed by the United States, after which time they should become citizens of the United States. This memorial was dispatched to Washington by John Ross, heading a delegation. The reply from the executive lacked originality. Removal was the only remedy for their troubles.

In the meantime, there had appeared at the National Capital three Cherokees representing the faction favoring removal. Andrew Ross, the leader, suggested to the Commissioner of Indian affairs that if authorized to do so, he would return to the Cherokee Nation and bring to Washington a delegation with whom a treaty could be effected for the whole or a part of the Cherokee territory. Andrew Ross had enrolled for the west and, according to a law of the nation, had no legal or moral right to take any hand in the affairs of the eastern nation. President Jackson was able to overlook these small considerations, however, and Andrew Ross's plan was accepted. It was agreed that if a treaty should be concluded the United States would pay the expenses of the delegation.

Returning home, Andrew Ross assembled about two dozen of the treaty faction at the agency and succeeded in organizing the Treaty party with William Hicks as principal chief and John McIntosh, second chief. A legislature was appointed and other steps taken to supplant the regularly constituted government. Eight of their number, selected as a delegation to Washington, arrived at the National Capital in May, a little more than two months after Ross had first broached the subject of removal to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

Honorable J. H. Eaton was appointed commissioner to confer with them. After negotiations were commenced he notified John Ross of what was being done and invited him to cooperate with them. The chief refused this proposal, hotly saying, "in the face of Heaven and earth, before God and man, I most solemnly protest against any treaty being entered into with those of whom you say one is in progress so as to affect the rights and interests of the Cherokee Nation East of the Mississippi River." Ross then notified the Cherokee Council of the business in progress, and a protest signed by thirteen thousand Cherokees was sent up to Congress only to have it disregarded under the plea that some of the signatures were fictitious. The proceedings continued and a preliminary treaty was drawn up, June 19, but when it was presented to the Cherokees they refused to ratify it. The whole business had proved a fiasco, so far as the Federal Government was concerned. The Council called to ratify it held a stormy session, for members of both parties attended. and the affair caused intense excitement through the Cherokee Nation. Accusation, recrimination and threats were freely bandied about, and a tribal war seemed imminent.

When the regular session of the Cherokee Council met at Red Clay, in October, excitement still ran high. The disposition of the Federal executive to recognize the "Treaty Party" spread consternation and aroused indignation throughout the main body of the tribe now beginning to call themselves the National Party.

A delegation was sent to Washington instructed to circumvent the treaty men at all hazards. If a treaty must be made, as they were beginning to fear was inevitable, then it should be made with the regularly constituted government of the tribe. In the winter of 1835, therefore, two rival delegations, one headed by John Ross, the other by Major Ridge, again went up to Washington.

The Secretary of War first recognized the Ross deputation, offering them practically the same terms as had been recently rejected by the Council. They declined to accept them. He then turned to the Ridge faction and commissioned the Reverend J. F. Schermerhorn to negotiate a treaty with them. Hearing of this before negotiations had been opened, Ross asked the President to permit him to submit a proposition for a treaty. The request was granted and operations with Ridge were suspended for a time. It was two weeks before Ross presented his proposition, which offered to cede the Cherokee Country East for twenty million dollars. This sum the President considered too exorbitant to be considered seriously, and charged Ross with insincerity and with filibustering. In order to prove his sincerity and at the same time test the temper of the Senate, among whose members the Cherokees had strong friends, Ross next offered to allow the Senate to decide the sum tentatively, the question ultimately to be submitted to the Cherokee Nation. This move proved an unfortunate one for John Ross and the Cherokees. His proposal was at once accepted and a statement of all the facts in the case, in the form of a memorial, was sent to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, with Senator King, of Georgia, as chairman. In less than a week the Secretary of War informed Chief Ross that, in the opinion of the Senate, not more than five million dollars should be paid the Cherokees for their possessions east of the Mississippi River. He then invited the Ross delegation to enter into negotiations on that basis. The invitation was declined.

Meanwhile, in order to make assurance doubly sure, President Jackson had ordered Schermerhorn to proceed with the negotiations with the opposing party. On February 28, an agreement was drawn up with them in which the consideration for the Cherokee lands east was fixed at four million five hundred thousand dollars. This treaty was taken up after Ross had rejected the Senate proposition and, on March 14, was signed with the express stipulation that it should receive the approval of the Cherokee people, in full Council assembled, before it should be considered binding.

President Jackson's next concern was to have the treaty ratified. To this end he issued an address to the Cherokees, calling them "Brothers," inviting them to a calm consideration of their condition and prospects and urging upon them the benefit certain to inure to their nation by the ratification of the treaty and their removal to the western country. This address he dispatched by Mr. Schermerhorn, who had been appointed Commissioner to complete the negotiations of the treaty in the Cherokee Nation.


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