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Boudinot Tells Ross Why the Cherokees Must Leave

Brilliant Cherokee educator, author, journalist, preacher, and reformer Elias Boudinot penned a profound rejoinder to longtime Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross, excerpted here, regarding why he believed the tribe must accept the U.S. Government’s hefty incentives to migrate to Indian Territory for their own blessing, even survival.

It is a little singular that while you declare the New Echota Treaty to be “deceptive to the world and a fraud upon the Cherokee People,” although it was made in the face of day and in the eye of the nation, to prove your assertion, you resort to matters which are deceptive and fraudulent…The fact is, these Cherokees, perhaps, have never spent one moment’s thought beyond that of loving and securing the land upon which they live—their whole instruction has tended to that point. According to that instruction, and the impressions produced in their minds by your want of candor and plain dealing, a portion of the Cherokees may be opposed to the New Echota Treaty, but not more than they would be to any other, as long as they understood you as trying to reinstate them in their country.

This is the whole secret of this much talked of opposition. Is it right to humor this delusion? Be candid with them—tell that their country cannot be saved, and that you want their authority to sell, yes, to sell it—an authority which you have alleged to the Government you have received, and you will see to where this opposition against a removal will go.

Again, it is a “fraud upon the world” to say that “upwards of fifteen thousand Cherokees have protested against the Treaty, solemnly declaring they will never acquiesce,” and to produce before the world a paper containing that number of signatures…

It is with sincere regret that I notice you say little or nothing about the moral condition of this people, as affected by present circumstances. I have searched in vain, in all your late communications, for some indication of your sensibility upon this point. You seem to be absorbed altogether in the pecuniary aspects of this nation’s affairs—hence your extravagant demands for the lands we are compelled to relinquish—your ideas of the value of the gold mines, (which, if they had been peaceably possessed by the Cherokees, would have ruined them as soon as the operation of the State laws have done) of the value of our marble quarries, our mountains and forests.

Indeed, you seem to have forgotten that your people are a community of moral beings, capable of an elevation to an equal standing with the most civilized and virtuous, or a deterioration to the level of the most degraded of our race. Upon what principle, then, could you have made the assertion that you are reported to have made, “that the Cherokees had not suffered one-half what their country was worth,” but upon the principle of valuing your nation in dollars and cents? If you meant simply the physical sufferings of this people, your assertion may be listened to with some patience; but can it be possible that you, who have claimed to be their leader and guardian, have forgotten that there is another kind of suffering which they have endured, and will endure as long as they are kept in these perplexities, of a far more important nature?

Can it be possible that you consider the mere pains and privations of the body, and the loss of a paltry sum of money, of a paramount importance to the depression of the mind, and the degradation and pollution of the soul? That the difficulties under which they are laboring, originating from the operation of the State laws, and their absorption by a white population, will affect them in that light, I need not here stop to argue with you: that they have already affected them is a fact too palpable, too notorious for us to deny it. That they will increase to affect them, in proportion to the delay of applying the remedy, we need only judge from past experience.

How then can you reconcile your conscience and your sense of what is demanded by the best interest of your people, first with your incessant opposition to a treaty, and then your opposition to the treaty, because circumstances which had accumulated upon the nation by your delays, had compelled, if you please, a minority to make it; and forsooth it does not secure just such a title to the western lands as you may wish; and because a sufficient sum of money is not obtained for the “invaluable” gold mines, marble quarries, mountains, and forests of our country! How can you persist in deluding your people with phantoms, and in your opposition to that which alone is practicable, when you see them dying a moral death.

…look at the entire population as it now is, and say, can you see any indication of a progressing improvement—anything that can encourage a philanthropist?...Look, my dear sir, around you, and see the progress that vice and immorality have already made!See the spread of intemperance and the wretchedness and misery it has already occasioned! I need not reason with a man of your sense and discernment, and of your observation, to show the debasing character of that vice to our people—you will find an argument in every tippling shop in the country—you will find its cruel effects in the bloody tragedies that are frequently occurring—in the frequent convictions and executions for murders, and in the tears and groans of the widows and fatherless, rendered homeless, naked and hungry, by this vile curse of our race.

And has it stopped its cruel ravages with the lower or poorer classes of our people? Are the higher orders, if I may so speak, left untainted? is not to be denied that, as a people, we are making a rapid tendency to a general immorality and debasement. What more evidence do we need, to prove this general tendency, than the slow but sure insinuation of the lower vices into our female population? Oh! It is heart-rending to think of these things, much more to speak of them—but the world will know them—the world does know them, and we need not try to hide our shame.

Now, sir, can you say that in all this the Cherokees had not suffered one half what their country was worth? Can you presume to be spending your whole time in opposing a treaty, then in trying, as you say, to make a better treaty, that is to get more money, a full compensation for your gold mines, your marble quarries, your forests, your water courses—I say, can you be doing all this while the canker is eating the very vitals of this nation? Perish your gold mines and your money, if, in the pursuit of them, the moral credit of this people, their happiness and their existence are to be sacrificed!

If the dark picture which I have here drawn is a true one, and no candid person will say it is an exaggerated one, can we see a brighter prospect ahead? In another country, and under other circumstances, there is a better prospect. Removal, then, is the only remedy—the only practicable remedy. By it there may be finally a renovation—our people may rise from their very ashes to become prosperous and happy, and a credit to our race.

Such has been and is now my opinion, and under such a settled opinion I have acted in all this affair. My language has been, “fly for your lives”—it is now the same. I would say to my country—men, you among the rest, fly from the moral pestilence that will finally destroy our nation.

What is the prospect in reference to your plan of relief, if you are understood at all to have any plan? It is dark and gloomy beyond description. Subject the Cherokees to the laws of the States in their present condition? It matters not how favorable those laws may be, instead of remedying the evil you would only rivet the chains and fasten the manacles of the servitude and degradation.

The final destiny of our race, under such circumstances, is too revolting to think of. Its course must be downward, until it finally becomes extinct or is merged in another race, more ignoble and more detested. Take my word for it, it is the sure consummation, if you succeed in preventing the removal of your people.

The time will come when there will be only here and there those who can be called upon to sign a protest, or to vote against a treaty for their removal—when the few remnants of our once happy and improving nation will be viewed by posterity with curious and gazing interest, as relics of a brave and noble race.

Are our people destined to such a catastrophe? Are we to run the race of all our brethren who have gone before us, and of whom hardly any thing is known but their name, and, perhaps, only here and there a solitary being, walking, “as a ghost over the ashes of his fathers,” to remind a stranger that such a race once existed? May God preserve us from such a destiny.


Look at the entire (Cherokee) population as it now is…can you see any indication of a progressing improvement?...Look, my dear sir, around you, and see the progress that vice and immorality have already made! See the spread of intemperance and the wretchedness and misery it has already occasioned! In another country (Indian Territory), and under other circumstances, there is a better prospect. Removal, then, is the only remedy—the only practicable remedy. By it there may be finally a renovation—our people may rise from their very ashes to become prosperous and happy, and a credit to our race.

—Elias Boudinot


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