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John Ross and the Cherokee Indians
Chapter XVI - Political Readjustment


A judicial and non-partisan attitude on the part of the Federal Officials in the Cherokee Nation would have gone a long way, no doubt, towards quieting the tumult caused by the murder of the Ridges and Boudinots. Agent Stokes at Bayou Menard threw the weight of his influence on the side of peace and conciliation, assuring all factions of his determination to show partiality to no one and of his desire to see the Nation prosperous and flourishing. With the Commandant it was a different story. General Arbuckle was a man of war and not of peace. He was an ardent admirer of Andrew Jackson and a soldier of no mean ability who had been sent to the southwestern frontier about 1824. Fort Gibson, his headquarters, beautifully situated on an elevation overlooking the Grand River Valley was for many years the most important military, commercial and social center in that region of the Southwest. Here came the wild tribes of the plains who found a certain fascination in the military garrison with its uniformed soldiers, its drills and its martial music. Here also they could buy guns and ammunition from the merchants of the town. The more civilized Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Cherokees also found it a convenient trading post to which they brought their surplus produce to be shipped to Little Rock or New Orleans.

Old Settlers and Treaty men had established friendly relations with General Arbuckle before the emigrants arrived. The obligation of the Federal Government to the Treaty men made it difficult for its officials in the Cherokee Nation to conduct themselves in a fair and impartial manner, and refrain from partisan meddling in tribal troubles. For the Commandant it was impossible. After June 22 he came out boldly and espoused the cause of the Treaty men and Old Settlers, even going so far as to use his good offices at Washington and his authority in the Cherokee Nation in their behalf.

The Treaty men, alarmed at the turn affairs were taking in the early summer of 1839, sought safety with General Arbuckle and took up temporary quarters under the shadow of the Fort. They were joined by the Old Settler Chiefs and Council at the invitation of the General who sent an express to Washington to apprise the administration of what had taken place. Instructions were promptly returned to him to defend the Treaty Men at all cost, to support the Old Settlers, to "Take care of such Cherokees as manifested a hostile disposition," and to demand of John Ross the murderers of the Ridges and Boudinots. The Western Chiefs were informed that they were to be recognized as the only legitimate authority in the Cherokee Nation,  and assurance was given that, as they would be sustained by the military, eventually the people would be compelled to submit. When the time came for the meeting at the Illinois camp ground in July, therefore, the tribe seemed farther removed from reunion than ever. Partisan feeling ran high among the leaders of the factions and threats of retaliation on the part of the Treaty Men who really feared for their lives, kept popular interest keyed to the highest pitch. There was a large attendance, however, and Old Settlers as well as Emigrants participated. The aged Sequoyah was present and was among those who used all their influence for peace and harmony. A delegation sent to assure the Fort Gibson group that the meeting was a peaceable one and invite them to come on and join the Convention was met with cold indifference.

After passing resolutions which looked towards the immediate needs of the tribe and providing for a Constitutional Convention to meet in September at Tahlequah the meeting adjourned in an orderly manner. This impressed the people favorably and the belief that the Ross party was the one to which they could safely look for a speedy restoration of law and order began to be impressed upon the minds of many Old Settlers. The Emigrants were gaining ground.

From September 6th to the 10th the Convention met at Tahlequah and formulated a Constitution similar to the one Georgia had objected to so bitterly in 1827 and 1828. Having been submitted to the people in attendance it was declared the law of the Nation, and the organization of the government proceeded without delay. The new officers were chosen from among Old Settlers and Emigrants on a fifty-fifty basis. John Ross was elected principal chief and Joseph Vann, an Old Settler, second Chief. In the executive council and the legislature, the Emigrants were slightly in the majority. In October the Council met and appointed a delegation to Washington for the purpose of securing the payment of funds due the tribe.

Meantime, the Fort Gibson a group of Old Settlers called a convention of their own, which repudiated all that their opponents had done and sent a delegation to Washington to protest against recognition by the government of the delegation which was headed by Mr. Ross. Thus with two rival governments among the Cherokees each claiming recognition as the only legitimate one, all efforts to secure financial adjustment at Washington proved futile. Weeks and months of inaction followed. The suffering of the people, unable to secure even the most necessary supplies, became so intense at last that even a dilatory and negligent government was compelled to take cognizance of it and devise some means for relief. The Secretary of War through the Commissioner of Indian Affairs finally instructed Agent Stokes to call a meeting and to settle by popular vote the question as to which of the rival governments should prevail.

A convention was called, whose first act was to repeal the decree of outlawry against the Treaty Men which had been passed at the July Convention and which had given so much offense at Washington and cause for complaint in the Cherokee Nation. The vote of the Cherokees present was taken and found to be unanimously in favor of the Act of Union and the Tahlequah Constitution. Captain Page who was present as representative of the Federal Government sent to Washington a certified copy of the votes cast showing that those present were unanimously in favor of the Act of Union. This victory of the Unionist did not satisfy the Fort Gibson faction, including General Arbuckle, who sent a protest to Washington requesting the Secretary of War to call a new Constitutional Convention. The request was granted and General Arbuckle was empowered to dissolve both the rival governments and call another Constitutional Convention. This was done and a meeting over which General Arbuckle presided was held at Fort Gibson July 25, 1841. Both factions were requested to send deputations of twenty-five or thirty men. The plan pleased neither party. The Tahlequah Council however appointed a full delegation and appeared at the Fort with a copy of their Act of Union and Constitution. It was apparent from the start that they had a clear advantage over their opponents for Chief Rodgers of the Old Settler Council had no definite plan of action. Even General Arbuckle was compelled to admit his defeat at last and advise Mr. Rodgers to accept the Tahlequah Constitution on condition that the agreement should be referred back to the people for their concurrence. This was a tacit recognition of the Nationalist Government.

The statement of the conditions is very ambiguous and they were doubtless differently understood at the time, but the whole tribe, worn out with the year of contention and disorganization, was glad to agree to any compromise that promised a degree of peace and harmony. Even Chief Rodgers, while personally opposed to the union, gave a toast, "What has been done this day, may it never be undone." The agreement was signed by eleven members of the eastern nation and twelve from the western. Although there was never any subsequent action on the part of the Western Cherokees concerning the compact, the Federal Government considered it binding, and for all practical purposes recognized the government from which neither John Ross nor his friends had been excluded.


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