MVB Senate speech on Creek treaty, 19 May 1826
FRIDAY, MAY 19, 1826.
On motion of Mr. VAN BUREN, the Senate proceeded to consider the report of the managers on the part of the Senate, at the conferrence on the disagreeing votes of the two Houses, on the amendment proposed by the Senate, to the bill making appropriations to carry into effect the Treaty concluded between the United States and the Creek Indians, ratified on the 22nd of April, 1826.
The report having been read—
Mr. VAN BUREN said he should state the circumstances of this case, and the views of the Committee of Conference. A treaty was made in this city, in which it was stipulated, on the part of the United States, that $247,000, together with an annuity of $20,000 a year, and other considerations, should be paid to the Creeks, as a consideration for the extinguishment of their title to lands in the State of Georgia, which the United States, under the cession of 1802, were under obligations to extinguish. The bill from the other House to carry this treaty into effect, directed that the money should be paid and distributed among the chiefs and warriors. That bill came to the Senate, and a confidential communication was made to the Senate, from which it appeared that strong suspicions were entertained that a design existed on the part of the chiefs who made the treaty, to practice a fraud on the Creek nation, by dividing the money amongst themselves and associates. An amendment was proposed by the Senate, which provided for the payment of those moneys in the usual way, and the distribution of them in the usual manner, and in the usual proportion to which the Indians were entitled. That amendment was sent to the other House, who, unadvised as to the facts which were known to the Senate, refused to concur in it, and asked a conference. The conferees, on the part of the Senate, communicated their suspicions to the conferees on the part of the House, and asked them to unite in an application to the Department of War, for information on the subject. This was accordingly done, and the documents sent, in answer, were a letter from the Secretary of War, and a report by Mr. McKenney. From that report it appeared clear and satisfactory, that a design thus existed on the part of the Indians by whom the treaty was negotiated, to distribute of the $247,000 to be paid for the cession by the United States, $159,750 among themselves, and a few favorite chiefs at home, and three Cherokee chiefs who had no interest in the property. Ridge and Vann were to receive by the original treaty, $5000 each. By this agreement of the distribution of the money, each was to receive $15,000 more, making $20,000 for each. Ridge, the father of Ridge who is here, was to receive $10,000. The other $100,000 was to be distributed, $5000, and, in some instances, $10,000, to the chiefs who negotiated the treaty here—varying from one to ten thousand dollars each.
That this distribution would be a manifest fraud to the Creek nation, Mr. V. B. said, required no argument to elucidate. The conferees of both Houses were well satisfied that this design existed, and of the obligation on the part of the United States, so far as Congress could do so, to defeat so unworthy a scheme. They differed as to the means that Congress ought to use to carry it into effect. (Here Mr. V. B. stated the two modes of distribution proposed by the two Houses.)
The two questions, then, Mr. V. B. said, that presented themselves in this view of the subject, were, had Congress the right to go to the extent proposed in the amendment made by the Senate? and, if they had, was it essential that they should do so? With respect to the right, he was, at first, under some doubt in regard to it; but a more careful examination had removed those doubts, and had satisfied him that the amendment of the Senate was warranted. The treaty directed that two hundred and forty-seven thousand dollars should be paid to the chiefs and warriors of that nation. By the word chiefs, was it intended the chiefs in the nation, or the chiefs in the City of Washington? Those in this city say it was intended to be paid to them, and they ask of the Department of War that it should be paid to them in sums, counted out according to the distribution which had been stated. There was no difference on this subject between the conferees. They were of opinion that the money was to be paid to the chiefs of the nation in open council: that was the language of the treaty—the good sense of the treaty. The delegation who negotiated the treaty say it is to be paid to them; and that, in that view of the subject, they are warranted in the opinion expressed to them by the Secretary of War and the Superintendent of Indian Affairs. The conferees say, the intention of the treaty was, and its language imports, that this money should be distributed in the usual proportion, according to the just rights of the Indian warriors. There was nothing in the language of the treaty inconsistent with that idea. How ought the money to be distributed? Certainly on principles of justice amongst those Indians, according to their rights. What was asked on the part of the delegation? That it should be distributed among them for their personal advantage, and in conceded injustice to those they represented. They proposed to take one hundred and sixty thousand dollars, and to distribute it among themselves and the favored chiefs of the Cherokee nation. The simple statement of the pretence set up, was so against right and justice, that Mr. V. B. said, they were bound to presume that such could never have been the intention of our Government. It was unjust and fraudulent. The chiefs say they have a right to do it, and they would abide by the consequence; but it was conceded to be a corrupt design. What was the intention of our Government? If that construction was given to this treaty which was sought for by these chiefs, the conclusion would be, that this Government intended to countenance this fraud. The chiefs say such was the intention. Mr. V. B. said such could not have been the intention; and, as it could not be, the other conclusion is unavoidable. The intention was, that the money should be distributed according to the rights of the Indians constituting the Creek nation. It was fair and just, and not inconsistent with the language of the treaty. Such, Mr. V. B. said, would have been his view of the subject, if this had been a case between a civilized nation and this Government. But when their attention was turned to their rights over Indian property, the case stood upon a different principle. There had been great inconsistency amongst us as to the rights we had exercised over the Indians. At one time they depended on our mere will and pleasure; at another time we had treated them as an individual power. From the time of the formation of this Government, we had assumed the right to legislate, according to our will and pleasure, over their interests and property, so far as to protect them from fraud. On this principle, we had regulated all their trade. We had provided by law that they should not dispose of the lands they owned, unless in a specified form, and to the United States. We had gone further; by law, we had directed them that the annuities due to them from us should be, without their consent, used to make remuneration for damages done by the Indians. These three points of legislation, Mr. V. B. said, covered the whole ground. What was the case now before the Senate? There was a fund of $247,000, belonging honestly to the Creek nation. It could not be denied, because it was for their lands. The fact was proved that there was an intention to defraud them of this money. It had been said that we had no right to provide by law to prevent an event of that description, by directing that the money should be thus distributed, according to the principles of justice. Mr. V. B. said it would be sheer squeamishness to hesitate now as to the power.
The amendment proposed by the Senate holds the Secretary of War responsible for this money to these Indians, according to their just rights. The amendment from the House supposes that may be effected, and this money paid, in open council of the chiefs, when summoned in the usual way. The conferees on the part of the Senate believed that measure would fall short of obtaining the desired end; that the amendment of the House did not go far enough, but, under the circumstances of the case, Congress should go farther, and see that the money was properly distributed. They ought to see that this money went actually into the hands of the different chiefs and warriors—then, if they chose to give it to the Cherokees, or to dispose of it in other ways, the United States would have done their duty.
Mr. V. B. said, in his judgement, the character of the Government was involved in this subject, and it would require, under the circumstances of this case, that they should take every step they could rightfully take, to exculpate themselves from having, in any degree or form, concurred in this fraud. The sentiment of the American People where he resided, was, and had been, highly excited on this subject; they had applauded, in the most ardent manner, the zeal manifested by the Government to preserve themselves pure in their negotiations with the Indians; and though he was satisfied—though he deemed it impossible to suppose for a moment that Government could have countenanced the practice of this fraud, yet there were circumstances in this case which required exculpation. Between the negotiation of the treaty and the negotiation of supplementary article on which the treaty was finally adopted, all these circumstances were communicated to the Department of War by the two Cherokees. Mr. V. B. said it was not his purpose, because the necessity of the case did not require it, to say what the Secretary of War ought to have done, or to censure what he did do, when the information was given to him. He had known him many years, and there was not an honester man, or a man more devoted to to his country, than that gentleman was. Mr. V. B. said it was not for him to have said what should have been the course of the President of the United States, if the information had been given to him on the subject. It could not fail to make a mortifying and most injurious impression on the minds of the People of this country, to find that no means whatever were taken for the suppression of this fraud. There was, and there ought to be, an excitement on the subject in the public mind. The members of the Senate had seen it. It had displayed itself strongly and strikingly on the point of this controversy between Georgia, the United States, and the Creeks. The settlement of that controversy was applauded from one end of the Union to the other. So far as the State of Georgia was concerned, she claimed that the title to all the Indian lands within her limits, should be extinguished by the United States, according to the obligation of the cession of 1802. This question had been settled—and how? Every thing that had been done, so far as Georgia was concerned, by the treaty of the Indian Springs, is believed to have been ceded. It was the understanding of the delegation of the State of Georgia that this treaty extinguished the Indian title to all the land.
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Mr. VAN BUREN resumed. It was stated to the Senate, when the treaty was under consideration, that the Indians were willing, and desired to cede to Georgia all their lands. The controversy had been settled—and how? According to his view of the subject, every thing, so far as the State of Georgia was concerned, by the treaty of the Indian Springs, had been done by this treaty, with the single addition of a little more money to be distributed among the chiefs. Mr. V. B. said, he had not a doubt in his mind, that the same application of these same means might, at any time, have settled the controversy. What was the subject that produced all this excitement? What was the objection to the treaty of the Indian Springs? It was made by an insufficient number of chiefs, and there was no reason to suspect that undue influence had been exercised. That there was not a sufficient number of Chiefs, was a matter of contestation. On the subject of fraud, what were the evidences? On the face of the Treaty, the United States gave to M’Intosh an unreasonable amount of compensation. That was the length and breadth and depth of all the allegations of fraud. Compare that with the treaty which was now about to be carried into effect. It was stated in the report of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, that, when the negotiation was opened between the War Department and the Indians, to extinguish their title to the lands, they refused to give all their lands within the State of Georgia; they refused to go beyond the Chatahoochie. On being pressed, they said they were limited by their instructions, and could not go any farther. In the documents communicated to Congress, that fact was stated. The treaty had been finally made to settle this controversy, confessedly without power on the part of the Indians, to go as far as they had gone. Compare the Indian Springs treaty with that. The suspicion of undue influence in negotiating that treaty, Mr. V. B. said, was founded on the unreasonable reservation to M’Intosh. Before the present treaty was consummated, the fact was communicated to the Government that a contrivance was on foot to reserve to certain Chiefs a large portion of the money to be paid for these lands. The proof on this subject was as had been stated. Mr. V. B. said they must appear before the People of the country with this fact before them, that, under the eye of this Government, the treaty had been negotiated in fraud. He did not state the facts to impeach any one, but to show the Senate the high responsibility that rested on them, to go as far as possible to suppress the contemplated fraud, and entirely extinguish this plan, that the Government might be protected from any future imputation of having had any hand in it. It was in that view he had said, and would repeat, and with that remark dismiss the subject, that the honor of the nation was concerned. Mr. V. B. said he should not be willing to persist in the amendment of the Senate, to the loss of the bill; but would rather take the next best thing that offered, by taking the amendment of the House, but would wish first to make the attempt to induce the House to adopt the amendment of the Senate.
To bring the subject more distinctly before the Senate, Mr. V. B. then offered a resolution for the Senate to insist on its amendment.
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The question as then taken on Mr. HOLMES’S proposition to amend Mr. VAN BUREN’S resolution, and was decided in the affirmative, ayes 19, noes 16; and then the question was taken on agreeing to the resolution as amended, and carried.