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John Ross and the Cherokee Indians
Chapter V - Georgia's Growing Demand for Indian Land

Georgia, meanwhile, as her population Increased and spread from the coast plain up the fertile river valleys, year by year pushing back the line of the frontier further into the highlands, found an ever growing demand on the part of her citizens for the removal of the aborigines. The Creeks and Cherokees, particularly, they regarded as serious obstacles to progress. By 1823 demand for their removal from the state had become insistent. The Federal Government in 1802 had entered into an agreement with Georgia to extinguish, for her use, the Indian title to land lying within the state as soon as it could be done on peaceable and reasonable terms. A select cornml!ttee, of which George R. Gilmer was chairman, submitted a report to the House of Representatives on January 7, 1822, on the question whether or not the United States was keeping her part of the compact. It was the opinion of the committee that she was not so doing. As a matter of fact the largest Indian cessions had been obtained in other states, where, as soon as the natives relinquished their title to the land, it became part of the public domain. Acting on the report of the Gilmer committee, Congress appropriated $80,000 for the extinguishment of Indian land titles within the limit of Georgia, and Calhoun promptly appointed a commissioner to negotiate with the Cherokees for a cession of a part or all of their eastern land.

The Cherokee Council, hearing of this action of Congress, passed a resolution in its autumn cession, declaring unanimously, the determination to bold no more treaties with the United States for the purpose of making cessions of lands, being resolved not to dispose of even one foot of ground. "But upon any question, not relating to a land cession," the resolution stated, "we will at all times during the session of the National Council at Echota, Newtown, receive the United States commissioners or agents with friendship and cordiality and will ever keep bright the chain of peace and friendship which links the Cherokee Nation and the Government of the United States." The Council sent copies of the resolution to the Secretary of War and to the commissioners with the assurance that it would be entirely useless to put the United States to the trouble and expense of negotiating another treaty of cession. The commissioners remonstrated with the chiefs and threatened them with the indignation of the Great Father at Waahiugton, who would shake them off if they persisted in their obstinacy So determined and bitter was the opposition, however, that the matter was allowed to rest until the following year. Meanwhile a vacancy having occurred at the Cherokee agency, the Secretary of War appointed to fill it Joseph McMinn, whose advocacy for removal was well known. If prompted to this course by the expectation that the Tennesseean's familiarity with Cherokee affairs would prove advantageous to the commissioners in negotiating a treaty, Mr. Calhoun was reckoning amiss. The Cherokees both feared and hated the ex-governor for his part in the treaties of 1817 and 1819.

In spite of the Cherokee resolutions of the previous year the War Department was so optimistic that aversion to cession might be "conquered by a little perseverance and judicious management" that it allowed the Board of Commissioners to' be provided with about $35,000 to aid them in conducting their negotiations. The depart-merit, also instructed them to cooperate with commissioners, appointed by Georgia to press claims of that state arising under former treaties, and to proceed to the Cherokee Nation in the fall of 1823. The Federal Commissioners, Campbell and Meriweather,8 arrived at New Echot. October 4, to find the Cherokee Council in regular session and representatives from Georgia already on the ground. Agent McMinn promptly notified the Council of their arrival and was informed that the Grand Council was disposed to receive and be introduced to the Board according to the customs and ceremonies of the Cherokee Nation. Thereupon, accompanied by the state commissioners, they were conducted to the council house and presented in due form to the Chiefs, the Council, and the Committee in joint session. Major Ridge, speaker of the Council, addressed them in terms of congratulation and friendship and was answered by Mr. Campbell, who paid a high compliment to Cherokee civilization. After this auspicious beginning the commissioners showed no inclination to haste in opening formal negotiations. Time and deliberation were essential to the judicious expenditure of the appropriation placed at their disposal au4 to the building up of a party in the Cherokee Nation favorable to cession. This last could be done only by detaching the more susceptible chiefs from the strong body of opposition and splitting the Council into factions. It was, therefore, somewhat to their discomfiture when they were called upon by the president of the Committee, two days later, for a full statement of their instructions front the President of the United States relating to their business with the Cherokees. After some hesitation on the part of the commissioners formal negotiations finally began and, by request of the Cherokees, were conducted by both sides in writing. "A novel procedure," undoubtedly it was, as Mr. Campbell observed, this "correspondence in writing conducted with a government regularly organized, composed of Indians."

The negotiations are remarkable for two things: first, the illogical arguments presented by the representatives of the United States; second, the ability and strength with which the Cherokees met these arguments, and advanced cogent reasons why a further cession, or removal could not be considered by them. The commissioners urged the plea that the white people were so cramped for land they were driven from friends and connections to foreign lands, while the Cherokees had more land in Georgia than they needed; this was unjust; the Great Father of the universe intended the earth equally for his white and red children. The Cherokees replied that, as to the intentions of the Great Father, they did not know, but it was quite evident that neither individuals nor nation had ever respected the principle. Meeting the arguments for removal, they declared that the unfortunate part of the tribe which had emigrated to the west had suffered severely in the new country from sickness, wars and other calamities, and many of them would return if they could do so; had it been their desire to go west they would have embraced opportunities formerly offered them; it was not their desire; they loved the soil which had given them birth and continued to nourish them. Pressed further for a cession of land, since they would not consider removal, they declared that the limits of their nation were small, embracing mountains, hills, and poor lands which could never be cultivated; the Cherokees had once possessed an extensive country; in order to gratify the wishes of their neighbors, they had granted to the President cession after cession, until their limits had become circumscribed. Experience had taught them that a small cession would never satisfy the white man. Therefore they had come to the unalterable conclusion never to part with another foot of land.

As negotiations proceeded and the Cherokees remained firm, the talk of the commissioners grew harsh and threatening. They denied the right of the Indians to the soil they inhabited, claiming that it had been forfeited by their hostilities to the United States during and after the War of the Revolution. Jackson's argument of 1817, that the Indians were tenants at the will of the state within whose boundaries their nation lay, was then renewed.

But arguments, cajolery, threats and bribery proving of no avail the commissioners, finally reduced to desperation, determined upon a keen stroke of policy. It was a delicate business to be handled by an agent of rare ability and skill. A man who seemed to fill all the requirements was found in the person of William McIntosh, a Creek chief. He enjoyed the confidence and respect of the Cherokees who called him Beloved Brother. He frequently attended their councils, where he was always welcome, and occupied the "white bench" or seat of honor, reserved for distinguished guests. He really occupied the official position in the Cherokee councils of delegate from the Creek Council with the power to examine into, and settle controversies arising between the two nations, an office established during earlier times when the southern tribes had a common agent; His appearance at Echota at this time, therefore, excited no distrust in the minds of the Cherokees, for, although it was generally known that a spirit of peculation was abroad among the Creeks, no suspicion had as yet been attached to General McIntosh.

Council had been in session about three weeks when a messenger brought word that General McIntosh and several Creek chiefs would arrive at the council ground the following day. Preparations were promptly made to receive them with suitable distinction. Formal greetings and congratulations had barely been exchanged when the purpose of the delegation was revealed in a note from their leader to John Ross asking, in broken English, for his private opinion on the question of a treaty. In case Ross could see his way clear to favor it the dusky general would promise to make the commissioners give him $2000, and Isaac McCoy and Charles Hicks, each $2000 for a present. And "no one shall know it," he assured them. He then added, "I will give you the amount before the treaty is signed, and if you have any friend you want him to receive, he shall receive." McIntosh himself was to have $7000 for his services.

Upon receipt of this communication Ross, hastily calling a meeting of his most trusted associates, laid the case before them. Their anger and surprise were equal to his own. After consultation a plan of action was determined upon. By revealing the plot of bribery in General Council in such way as to completely discredit and discountenance both the McIntosh party and the commissioners they hoped to set a precedent for a high standard of political integrity, for the Cherokees who, in times past, had been known to show too much susceptibility to bribery. At the same time they hoped to discourage any further attempts on the part of the United States to secure cessions of land from them. Prompt action was taken that very evening. Ridge and McCoy bad a confidential talk with the unsuspecting McIntosh to ascertain whether the course he had proposed was with the knowledge and sanction of the commissioners. They found that it was with their knowledge and sanction. After suggesting that the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws and Chickasaws should surrender all their lands east of the Mississippi and settle in the west under one government, McIntosh proposed that he himself attend a joint session of the two houses and address them in favor of compliance with the propositions of the commissioners. He then added that he was certain that if the Committee would fall in with his views and say that they despaired of being able to hold out against the United States, the old Path Killer could readily be brought to yield. He concluded by trying to dazzle them with an account of all be had, gained by former treaties, both for himself and others, "all knowledge of which was buried in oblivion".

The Committee in secret session early the next morning resolved to convene both houses in General Council that day on "special and important business," and an invitation was sent General McIntosh to attend. He was received with the usual respect and deference, yet seemed ill at ease. The air of expectancy and suppressed excitement which prevailed in the council chamber seemed to warn him that all was not well. The meeting having been opened by Major Ridge, speaker of the Council. Mr. Ross arose to explain its purpose. He began by reviewing his own past services and obligations to the Cherokees, expressing his appreciation of the trust and confidence with which his people had honored him. He assured them their trust and confidence had been sacredly observed for he considered a traitor more despicable than the meanest reptile that crawls upon the earth; as for himself, he would rather live in the direst poverty than to have his reputation sullied by the acceptance of a bribe. "It has now become my duty," he concluded, "to inform you that a gross contempt is offered my character, as well as that of the General Council. This letter which I hold in my hand will speak for itself. Fortunately the author has mistaken my character and sense of honor." Handing the letter to the clerk of the Council, he took his seat.

Over the council house there fell an ominous silence which was presently broken by the voice of the clerk who, sentence by sentence, read the note aloud and interpreted it in Cherokee, in order that everyone present might understand it. When it was finished, the venerable Path Killer, tall, erect, and dignified, his flashing eye alone revealing his deep emotion, arose to express his grief and astonishment that one whom he had trusted as an honest chief, and loved and confided in as a brother had been willing to betray his brothers, the Cherokees, for a handful of gold. The offense could not be condoned. All affection must expire before such a breach of trust, and the Council should deal with him as the traitor he had proved himself to be.

By the time the aged chief had finished, the full significance of the situation had dawned upon the discredited chief and the outraged Council. The former rose to stammer out a lame reply, but his voice was drowned by angry accusations and harsh epithets. The Council, forthwith, proceeded to pass a resolution deposing McIntosh and debarring him from any part in the Cherokee councils. Taking advantage of the excitement aroused by the dramatic incidents of the morning, McIntosh escaped from the council house, mounted his horse and rode in hot haste from the scene of his disgrace.

A communication from the Cherokee Council to the Creek Nation the following day simply states, "The commissioners have this day departed without a foot of land, and we wish you prosperity in all your national concerns". Mr. Campbell reported to the War Office the failure of the commissioners to consummate a treaty, merely mentioning the fact that a delegation of Creeks headed by General McIntosh had visited them. He added that the prospect of securing a cession from the Creeks was more favorable, but made no mention of the McIntosh incident.

Although the Cherokees had stood by their determination to part with no more land the incidents of the past few weeks had aroused among them such feelings of uncertainty and uneasiness that the Council, before adjourning, appointed a delegation to Washington to plead with the President personally against further requests for land cessions.

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