Tennessee House of Representatives Speech


Mr. Editor- In reading one of the numbers of the NATIONAL JOURNAL, I notice a short speech delivered by Mr. Mitchell of Tennessee, in the House of Representatives, in support of a solution recommending a systematic arrangement whereby all the Indians east of the Mississippi may be removed beyond the limits of any state or territory. I am not surprised, Mr. Editor, nor am I in the least offended, that Mr. Mitchell took the liberty to recommend such a solution, for he is but one amongst many riders of this hobby horse of the Gen. Government. He no doubt did it conscientiously, and from good & benevolent motives; he at least declares so, and I have no inclination to question him. I cannot however but confess, that the veracity of a man becomes doubtful, when, in open day, he makes exaggerated assertions, entirely opposed to facts, and to the experience and observation of hundreds, and of course unsupported by any kind of evidence. This is the character of the speech, of which I have taken the liberty to complain. It contains nothing but exaggerated and unwarrantable assertions. I say unwarranted for of all those who have thought fit to describe our miserable situation, Mr. M. has had the best advantage of knowing our true condition. He has been a neighbor to us, and was, if I mistake not, for a time, a resident merchant in the Nation. But how does he repay us for his stay amongst us? The following quotations form a fair specimen of the speech, and the views of the speaker in regard to the situation of Indians.

"Some of them (the Indians) indeed roll in great wealth; but the great mass of what may be called the poorest class, is in the most abject situation to which human beings can possible be." Now this is mere verbosity, or much empty talk, for who ever believed that an Indian ever rolled in great wealth? The terms are expressive of the highest state of wealth, such as with propriety, may be applied to Croesus, Crassus and others of ancient times, and Roschildes, Gerard and other monied men at the present day. But it is the height of folly to apply it to Indians, who taken in general, are yet but poor people, and those who have possessions, cannot be called very wealthy. A few Negro slaves, (justice forbids that these should be accounted good property,) and a few head of cattle, horses, and hogs, are what constitutes the riches of an Indian.

But the most sweeping part of the speech is where the speaker levels the poorer class of Indians, (including of course the Cherokees,) to the most degraded of the human race. This is very great exaggeration, which every person the least acquainted with the Cherokees and some other tribes, will easily discover. I, being one of the "poorer class," feel hurt in reading this public sentence. It is certainly humiliating to think, after making exertions to raise myself above the level of the most degraded of the human race, and presuming to have succeeded, at least in a small degree, it should still be declared that I have made no progress. This is poor encouragement for Indians. Yet I cannot be made to believe that the "poorer class" of the Cherokees are as wretched and degraded, as some other nations of which I have heard; such as the Hottentots of Africa, and some of the inhabitants of the Isles of the Sea. I would still go further, and say that a part of the population of this boasted land of liberty, I mean the United States, are more wretched and degraded than the "poorer class" of the Cherokees. This I know from observation, and I appeal to you, Mr. Editor, to say, whether you would not freely prefer the condition of one of "poorer class" of the Cherokees, to that of one of the poorer class of the whites, thousands of whom you have no doubt seen in your travels. Reflect for a moment on the wretchedness that exists in the cities? Where there is the most splendour [sic], refinement and wealth, there is also the most misery and degradation. Surely I should not be tempted to exchange conditions with hundreds and thousands I have seen in this land of equality, and I think I am not the only one in this Nation who can speak thus. There are hundreds of Cherokees of the "poorer class," who will perfectly assent to what I say.

The Speaker further says, "they have been under the dominion of despotic government, and have been held in bondage with an iron grasp." And again, "It is not in the nature of things that they could be free or happy, or intelligent, while their master lorded over them with despotic sway." I was first going to inquire whether it was in the nature of things for a member of Congress to speak without exaggeration--but I will guard against indiscriminate censure. This I can say, however, that Mr. M. is notoriously guilty of violating the rules of rhetoric, (which by the way an orator ought always to observe, when he makes a speech,) in delighting to use hyperbolical expressions; and further in this present instance, he appears to evince a determined spirit of misrepresenting, or very great ignorance of things which lie within the compass of his observation. That which I have now quoted is certainly very great exaggeration, as every person the least acquainted with the petty Governments of the Indians will easily perceive, and it is a wilful mis-statement, if the speaker intended, as he undoubtedly did, to apply his remarks to the Cherokees. I believe liberty is as sweet to a Cherokee as to a white man, and it is with pleasure I can say that we have never been shackled with the "iron grasp" of a despot, and I hope that we will not only boast of being a free people, but be so in reality. Let us not possess liberty only in name, but let it grow freely, until its branches shall over-shadow every family, and equality, peace, comfort and intelligence, which are the ingredients of liberty, shall prevail without intermission through these hills and mountains. I will here transcribe the words of an Author, who deserves to say the least, as much credit as Mr. M. and is certainly more capable of enlightening our minds on this subject.
" The Indians are perfect republicans; they will admit of no inequality among them but what arises from age, or great qualifications for either council or war. Although this is the case in peace, yet in war they observe great discipline, and perfect subordination to their beloved man who carries the holy ark, and to their officers, who are appointed on account of the experience they have had of their prowess in war, and good conduct in the management and surprising of an enemy, or saving their men by a timely retreat; but this subordination ends with campaign."--
(Star in the West.)

One or two more quotations from Mr. M. will suffice. "In their present situation, it could not be denied that they are an injury both to themselves, and to the people among whom they reside." This assertion, however, can be boldly contradicted, as far as the Cherokees are concerned, not-withstanding the confidence with which it is made. We have only to appeal to disinterested men who have frequently visited us, and made their reports. Mr. McKenney for instance, in his letter to the Secretary of War, and extract of which I notice in the first number of your paper, has done us the justice to give us our due.-- He has my thanks, though I must here acknowledge, that some of the doctrines which he recommends are repugnant to my feelings, & I believe they must be to all, except such as are already "held in bondage with an iron grasp."

The following is as absurd as it is unfounded. "They are as if they had been taking a dose of slow poison, the deleterious effects of which are gradually destroying them." The result of the census which was taken in 1824 by order of the General Council proves beyond a doubt the falsehood of this remark, as it respects the Cherokess[sic]. On comparing the census of 1824 and the one taken by order of the General Government a number of years ago, it will be seen that the Cherokees have been on the increase, nearly equal in ratio with the whites; and the difference of the two statistical tables taken at the two periods, incontrovertably [sic] shews [sic], that we are not on a retrograde motion.-- The Speaker, after exhausting words, which may have a tendency to shew [sic] our wretched and most degraded condition, recommends a remedy and that is nothing more than our speedy removal to the west of Mississippi, beyond the limits of any state or territory. There he is to put a new kind of government on our shoulders, appoint Governors, Judges and other officers over us, and establish Schools amongst us "not your ABC Schools." (Where shall we learn our letters if we are not to have Schools of a lower order?) And all this is to be done, if I properly understand the subject, without our desire, without our approbation, and without our vote. If this is not a "bondage with an iron grasp," I confess I do not understand the terms. There appears to be a new kind of friendship, Mr. Editor, in the coining of which, this subject of concentration has had no small agency.-- But it is worse than none. It is much like the friendship of Joab, who we are told, went to Amasa and said unto him, "Art thou well my brother? and Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him. But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's hand: so he smote him therewith in the fifth rib."

It is to be lamented that public men should not be sufficiently scrupulous in making assertions, liable to contradiction, and to public scrutiny. The same beaten track is still trodden by those who declaim on the condition of the Indians, though one would suppose it to be too late in the day. It was my opinion that the Indians were frequently, and intentionally misrepresented, and I am sorry to say that the speech, which has been the cause of this unworthy communication has most sadly confirmed by believe.