The great Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee writing system.
The Cherokee – Part 2
Even as Major Ridge and John Ross were planning for the future of New Echota and an educated, well-governed tribe, the state of Georgia increased its pressure on the federal government to release Cherokee lands for white settlement. Some settlers did not wait for approval. They simply moved in and began surveying and claiming territory for themselves. A popular song in Georgia at the time included this refrain:
All I ask in this creation
Is a pretty little wife and a big plantation
Way up yonder in the Cherokee Nation.
The Cherokees might have been able to hold out against renegade settlers for a long time. But two circumstances combined to severely limit the possibility of staying put. In 1828 Andrew Jackson became president of the United States. In 1830 — the same year the Indian Removal Act was passed — gold was found on Cherokee lands. There was no holding back the tide of Georgians, Carolinians, Virginians, and Alabamians seeking instant wealth. Georgia held lotteries to give Cherokee land and gold rights to whites. The state had already declared all laws of the Cherokee Nation null and void after June 1, 1830, and also prohibited Cherokees from conducting tribal business, contracting, testifying against whites in court, or mining for gold. Cherokee leaders successfully challenged Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Count, but President Jackson refused to enforce the Court’s decision.
Most Cherokees wanted to stay on their land. Chief Womankiller, an old man, summed up their views:
My sun of existence is now fast approaching to its setting, and my aged bones will soon be laid underground, and I wish them laid in the bosom of this earth we have received from our fathers who had it from the Great Being above.
Yet some Cherokees felt that it was futile to fight any longer. By 1832, Major Ridge, his son John, and nephews Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie had concluded that incursions on Cherokee lands had become so severe, and abandonment by the federal government so certain, that moving was the only way to survive as a nation. A new treaty accepting removal would at least compensate the Cherokees for their land before they lost everything. These men organized themselves into a Treaty Party within the Cherokee community. They presented a resolution to discuss such a treaty to the Cherokee National Council in October 1832. It was defeated. John Ross, now Principal Chief, was the voice of the majority opposing any further cessions of land. The two men who had worked so closely together were now bitterly divided.
The U.S. government submitted a new treaty to the Cherokee National Council in 1835. President Jackson sent a letter outlining the treaty terms and urging its approval:
My Friends: I have long viewed your condition with great interest. For many years I have been acquainted with your people, and under all variety of circumstances in peace and war. You are now placed in the midst of a white population. Your peculiar customs, which regulated your intercourse with one another, have been abrogated by the great political community among which you live; and you are now subject to the same laws which govern the other citizens of Georgia and Alabama.
I have no motive, my friends, to deceive you. I am sincerely desirous to promote your welfare. Listen to me, therefore, while I tell you that you cannot remain where you now are. Circumstances that cannot be controlled, and which are beyond the reach of human laws, render it impossible that you can flourish in the midst of a civilized community. You have but one remedy within your reach. And that is, to remove to the West and join your countrymen, who are already established there. And the sooner you do this the sooner you will commence your career of improvement and prosperity.
John Ross persuaded the council not to approve the treaty. He continued to negotiate with the federal government, trying to strike a better bargain for the Cherokee people. Each side — the Treaty Party and Ross’s supporters — accused the other of working for personal financial gain. Ross, however, had clearly won the passionate support of the majority of the Cherokee nation, and Cherokee resistance to removal continued.