Treaty of New Echota

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Cherokee territory in northern Georgia, 1830

The Treaty of New Echota was a treaty signed on December 29, 1835, 7 Stat. 488, in New Echota, Georgia by officials of the United States government and representatives of a minority Cherokee political faction, the Treaty Party.[1] The treaty was amended and ratified by the US Senate in March 1836, despite protests from the Cherokee National Council and its lacking the signature of the Principal Chief John Ross.

The treaty established terms under which the entire Cherokee Nation was expected to cede its territory in the Southeast and move west to the Indian Territory. Although the treaty was not approved by the Cherokee National Council, it was ratified by the U.S. Senate and became the legal basis for the forcible removal known as the Trail of Tears.

Background[edit]

Early discussions[edit]

By the late 1820s, the territory of the Cherokee nation lay almost entirely in northwestern Georgia, with small parts in Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina. It extended across most of the northern border and all of the border with Tennessee. An estimated 16,000 Cherokee people lived in this territory. Others had emigrated west to present-day Texas and Arkansas. In 1826, the Georgia legislature asked the John Quincy Adams administration to negotiate a removal treaty.

Adams, a supporter of Indian sovereignty, initially refused, but when Georgia threatened to nullify the current treaty, he approached the Cherokee to negotiate. A year passed without any progress toward removal. Andrew Jackson, a Democrat and supporter of Indian removal, was elected president in 1828.[2]

Georgia laws over Cherokee territory[edit]

Shortly after the 1828 election, Georgia acted on its nullification threat. The legislature passed a series of laws abolishing the independent government of the Cherokee and extending state law over their territory. Cherokee officials were forbidden to meet for legislative purposes. White people (including missionaries and those married to Cherokee) were forbidden to live in Cherokee country without a state permit, and Cherokee were forbidden to testify in court cases involving European Americans.[3]

Soon after his inauguration, Jackson wrote an open letter to the Southeastern Indian nations urging them to move west. After gold was discovered in Georgia in late 1829, the ensuing Georgia Gold Rush increased European-American residents' determination to see the Cherokee removed.[2] The Cherokee were forbidden to dig for gold, and Georgia authorized a survey of their lands to prepare for a lottery to distribute the land to European Americans. The state held the lottery in 1832.

In the following session, the state legislature stripped the Cherokee of all land other than their residences and adjoining improvements. By 1834 this exception was also removed. When state judges intervened on behalf of Cherokee residents, they were harassed and denied jurisdiction over such cases.[3]

Cherokee reaction[edit]

The new laws targeted the Cherokee leadership in particular. While many were of mixed ancestry, the chiefs were born into the important clans of the matrilineal culture. They gained their status from their Cherokee mothers and their clans. The Principal Chief John Ross was of mixed race, and had tried to use his heritage to benefit the Cherokee in relations with whites. Since the Georgia laws made it illegal for the Cherokee to conduct national business, the National Council (the legislative body of the Cherokee Nation) cancelled the 1832 elections. It declared that current officials would retain their offices until elections could be held, and established an emergency government based in Tennessee.

The Council tried to force Jackson's hand against Georgia by suing the state in federal courts and lobbying members of Congress to support Cherokee sovereignty.[3] The United States Supreme Court struck down Georgia's laws as unconstitutional in its 1832 rulings in Worcester v. Georgia, ruling that only the federal government had the right to deal with the Native American tribes, and the states had no right to pass legislation regulating their activities. The state ignored the ruling and continued to enforce the laws.[4]

Negotiations[edit]

John Ridge

Jackson's initial proposal[edit]

Shortly after the Supreme Court's ruling, Jackson met with John Ridge, clerk of the Cherokee National Council, who headed a Cherokee delegation that went to Washington, DC to meet with him. When asked whether he would use federal force against Georgia, Jackson said he would not and urged Ridge to persuade the Cherokee to accept removal. Ridge, until then a supporter of the National Council's position, left the White House in despair. John McLean,[5] a Jackson appointee to the Supreme Court, likewise urged the Cherokee representatives in Washington to negotiate.[4]

Jackson quickly dispatched the Secretary of War Lewis Cass to present his terms, which included western land titles, self-government, relocation assistance, and several other long-term benefits—all conditioned on a total Cherokee removal. He would allow a small number of Cherokee to stay if they accepted state authority over them.[4]

In the following months, Ridge found supporters for the removal option, including his father Major Ridge and the major's nephews Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie. In October 1832, he urged the National Council to consider Cass's proposal, but the Council was unmoved.[4]

Divisions among the Cherokee[edit]

While Ross's delegation continued to lobby Congress for relief, the worsening situation in Georgia drove members of the Treaty Party to Washington to press for a removal treaty. Boudinot and the Ridges had come to believe that removal was inevitable, and hoped to secure Cherokee rights by agreeing to a treaty. In December 1833, several Cherokee supporting removal formed a band, with the former principal chief William Hicks as their chief and John McIntosh as his assistant. They sent a delegation led by Andrew Ross, brother of John Ross, the Principal Chief, to negotiate. The administration refused to deal with them, but invited them to return with leaders more involved in the Cherokee Nation's affairs. They returned with Boudinot and Major Ridge, and entered negotiations with Cass.[4]

When Cass urged John Ross to join the negotiations, he denounced his brother's delegation.[6] Andrew Ross and other members signed a harsh treaty in June 1834 without the Ridge family's support,[7]

The progress of separate negotiations finally moved John Ross to discuss terms. He made offers to cede all land except the borders of Georgia, and then to cede all land, on the condition that the Cherokee could remain in the east subject to state laws. Cass refused, saying that he would discuss only removal. Andrew Ross's treaty was submitted to the Senate, where it was rejected as not having the support of the full Nation.[3] In the October General Council (comprising all citizens of the Nation able to attend) meeting, a federal representative presented this treaty for consideration. John Ross condemned the treaty. The Ridges and the Waties left the Council, and they and other treaty advocates began holding their own council meetings.

Division of the Cherokee Nation East[edit]

A division developed between Ross supporters (the "National Party") advocating resistance, and the Ridge supporters (the "Treaty Party"), who advocated negotiation to secure the best terms possible for the removal and protection of Cherokee rights after removal. They considered it inevitable. The Treaty Party included John Ridge, Major Ridge, Elias Boudinot, David Watie, Stand Watie, Willam Coody (Ross' nephew), William Hicks (Ross' cousin), Andrew Ross (John's younger brother), John Walker Jr., John Fields, John Gunter, David Vann, Charles Vann, Alexander McCoy, W.A. Davis, James A. Bell, Samuel Bell, John West, Ezekiel West, Archilla Smith, and James Starr.[4]

Eventually tensions grew to the point that several Treaty advocates, most notably John Walker Jr., were assassinated. In July 1835, hundreds of Cherokee, not from just the Treaty Party but also from the National Party (including John Ross), converged on John Ridge’s plantation named Running Waters (near Calhoun, Georgia) to meet with John F. Schermerhorn (President Jackson's envoy on the matter of a removal treaty with the Cherokee Nation East), Return J. Meigs, Jr. (Commissioner for Indian Affairs), and other officials representing the United States government.[4]

The General Council in October 1835 rejected the proposed treaty but appointed a committee to go to Washington City to negotiate a removal treaty, a committee including not only John Ross but treaty advocates John Ridge, Charles Vann, and Elias Boudinot (who was later replaced by Stand Watie), to represent the Cherokee Nation East for a removal treaty with the stipulation that it has to be for more than five million dollars. Schermerhorn, who was present at the meeting, pushed a meeting which he wanted held at New Echota. The National Council approved a delegation to meet there.[4] Both delegations were specifically charged with negotiating a treaty for removal.

New Echota meeting and final treaty[edit]

Over 400 men converged on the Cherokee capital in December 1835, almost exclusively from the Upper and Lower Towns (heavy snow in the western North Carolina mountains made it nearly impossible for those from the Hill and Valley Towns to travel). After a week of negotiations, Schermerhorn agreed for the United States to pay the Cherokee people $5 million to be disbursed on a per capita basis, an additional $500,000 dollars is given for educational funds, title in perpetuity to an equal amount of land in Indian Territory to that given up, and full compensation for all property left in exchange for all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi River.[4](By contrast, the entire Louisiana Territory was purchased from Napoleon I of France for just over $23,000,000.) The treaty, as unanimously approved by the contingent at New Echota then signed by the negotiating committee of twenty, included a clause to allow all Cherokee who so desired to remain and become citizens of the states in which they resided, on individual allotments of 160 acres (0.65 km2) of land, but that was stricken out by President Jackson.[8]

The committee reported the results to the full council gathered at New Echota, which approved the treaty unanimously. In a lengthy preamble, the Ridge party laid out its claims to legitimacy, based on its willingness to negotiate in good faith the sort of removal terms for which Ross had expressed support. The treaty was signed by Major Ridge, Elias Boudinot, James Foster, Testaesky, Charles Moore, George Chambers, Tahyeske, Archilla Smith, Andrew Ross, William Lassley, Caetehee, Tegaheske, Robert Rogers, John Gunter, John A. Bell, Charles Foreman, William Rogers, George W. Adair, James Starr, and Jesse Halfbreed. After Schermerhorn returned to Washington with the signed treaty, John Ridge and Stand Watie added their names.[4]

Ratification[edit]

After news of the treaty became public, the officials of the Cherokee Nation from the National Party objected that they had not approved it and that the document was invalid. John Ross and the Cherokee National Council begged the Senate not to ratify the treaty (failure to ratify would thereby invalidate it). The Senate passed the measure in May 1836 by a single vote. Ross drew up a petition asking Congress to void the treaty—a petition which he personally delivered to Congress in the spring of 1838 with almost 16,000 signatures attached. This was nearly as many persons as the Cherokee Nation East had within its territory, according to the 1835 Henderson Roll, including women and children, who had no vote.

Enforcement[edit]

Ross's petition was ignored by President Martin Van Buren, who soon directed General Winfield Scott to forcibly move all those Cherokee who had not yet complied with the treaty and moved west. The Cherokee people were almost entirely removed west of the Mississippi (except for the Oconaluftee Cherokee in North Carolina, the Nantahala Cherokee who joined them, and two or three hundred married to whites).

That summer (1839) a council to affect a union between the Old Settlers and the Late Immigrants convened at Double Springs in Indian Territory. It broke up sixteen days later without having reached an agreement when John Brown, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation West, became frustrated with Ross's intransigence. The latter insisted that the Old Settlers accept him as Principal Chief over the united Nation without an election and recognize his absolute authority.

Ross’ partisans blamed Brown’s actions on the members of the Treaty Party, particularly those, such as the Ridge and Watie families, who had emigrated prior to the forced removal. They had settled with the Old Settlers. A group of these men targeted members of the Ridge faction for assassination, to enforce the Cherokee law (written by Major Ridge) making it a capital crime for any Cherokee to cede national land for private profit.[4] There is no evidence that John Ross supported or knew of their plans.

The list of targets included Major Ridge, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot, Stand Watie, John A. Bell, James Starr, George Adair, and others (notably absent from the list were Treaty Party leaders David Vann, Charles Vann, John Gunter, Charles Foreman, William Hicks, and Andrew Ross). On 22 June 1839, teams ranging up to twenty-five in number converged on the houses of John Ridge, Major Ridge, and Elias Boudinot, and murdered them; their attempt on Stand Watie was unsuccessful.[4] They did not attack any others, but the assassinations marked the beginning of the Cherokee Civil War; it continued until after the American Civil War. James Starr was also killed during this period. The Ross partisans forced the Old Settlers to give up their established political system and accept John Ross' authority structure.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Starr, p. 86
  2. ^ a b Williams, David (1995). The Georgia Gold Rush. ISBN 1-57003-052-9. 
  3. ^ a b c d Perdue, Theda; Michael D. Green (2004). The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents. ISBN 0-312-08658-X. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Wilkins, Thurman (1986). The Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People. ISBN 0-585-19424-6. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Royce, Charles (1884). "The Cherokee Nation of Indians". Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. 
  7. ^ Logan, Charles Russell (1997). "The Promised Land: The Cherokees, Arkansas, and Removal, 1794–1839". Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. 
  8. ^ Brown, p. 498-499

References[edit]

  • Blankenship, Bob. Cherokee Roots, Volume 1: Eastern Cherokee Rolls. (Cherokee: Bob Blankenship, 1992). Contains the 1835 Henderson Roll of the Cherokee Nation East.
  • Brown, John P. Old Frontiers: The Story of the Cherokee Indians from Earliest Times to the Date of Their Removal to the West, 1838. (Kingsport: Southern Publishers, 1938).
  • Haywood, W.H. The Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee from its Earliest Settlement up to the Year 1796. (Nashville: Methodist Episcopal Publishing House, 1891).
  • Just Another Savage, "Jesus Wept" An American Story, of struggle,sacrifice, faith and hope. (USA: 2009)
  • Klink, Karl, and James Talman, ed. The Journal of Major John Norton. (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1970).
  • McLoughlin, William G. Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
  • Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee. (Nashville: Charles and Randy Elder-Booksellers, 1982).
  • Moore, John Trotwood and Austin P. Foster. Tennessee, The Volunteer State, 1769–1923, Vol. 1. (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1923).
  • Starr, Emmet. History of the Cherokee Indians, Fayetteville: Indian Heritage Assn., 1967).
  • Wardell, Morris L., "A Political History of the Cherokee Nation, 1838–1907", Reprint, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.
  • Wilkins, Thurman. Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People, New York: Macmillan Company, 1970.

External links[edit]