Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

The Cherokee Memorials


Sequoyah (c. 1767-1843), inventor of the Cherokee syllabary or alphabet

Instructor's Notes:

The Cherokee people, now best known for the "Trail of Tears" that forcibly relocated them and other Southeastern tribes to Oklahoma, were classified by whites among the "Five Civilized Tribes"—Indian peoples who absorbed European ways (incl. writing, farming, slavery). The other Five Civilized Tribes were Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, & Seminole.

In the American Revolution, the Cherokee and other tribes supported the British on account of the Empire's nominal respect for Indian land rights. During the Revolutionary War, the Cherokees lost much land; after the war, tribal boundaries conflicted with boundaries of states in the new USA.

Instead of warfare, the Cherokee attempted to resist white encroachment through the civil politics modeled by the United States's founding, especially through literacy and representation through legal means. In the 1820s the Cherokke developed a constitution and a bilingual newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, still in publication.

In the 1830s President Andrew Jackson, a hero of the War of 1812 who first became famous as an Indian fighter, flouted the U.S. Supreme Court by enforcing the Indian Removal Act that led to the Trail of Tears. In response, the Cherokee appealed to the U.S. Congress with a number of "Memorials" or petitions asserting their rights.

As literature, note these documents' absorption of American political rhetoric while maintaining some native spoken traditions even in writing.

Memorial of the Cherokee Nation, Dec. 1829

[1] To the honorable the senate and house of representatives of the United States of America, in congress assembled:

[2] The undersigned memorialists, humbly make known to your honorable bodies, that they are free citizens of the Cherokee nation. Circumstances of late occurrence have troubled our hearts, and induced us at this time to appeal to you, knowing that you are generous and just...

[3] By the will of our Father in heaven, the governor of the whole world, the red man of America has become small, and the white man great and renowned. When the ancestors of the people of these United States first came to the shores of America, they found the red man strong—though he was ignorant and savage, yet he received them kindly, and gave them dry land to rest their weary feet. They met in peace, and shook hands in token of friendship. Whatever the white man wanted and asked of the Indian, the latter willingly gave. At that time the Indian was the lord, and the white man the suppliant. But now the scene has changed. The strength of the red man has become weakness. As his neighbors increased in numbers, his power became less, and now, of the many and powerful tribes who once covered these United States, only a few are to be seen—a few whom a sweeping pestilence* has left. The northern tribes, who were once so numerous and powerful, are now nearly extinct. Thus it has happened to the red man of America. Shall we, who are remnants, share the same fate? [*reference to Native American epidemics caused by European microbes]

[4] Brothers—we address you according to usage adopted by our forefathers, and the great and good men who have successfully directed the councils of the nation you represent—we now make known to you our grievances. We are troubled by some of your own people. Our neighbor, the state of Georgia, is pressing hard upon us, and urging us to relinquish our possessions for her benefit. We are told, if we do not leave the country, which we dearly love, and betake ourselves to the western wilds, the laws of the state will be extended over us, and the time, 1st of June, 1830, is appointed for the execution of the edict. When we first heard of this we were grieved and appealed to our father, the president, and begged that protection might be extended over us. But we were doubly grieved when we understood, from a letter of the secretary of war to our delegation, dated March of the present year [1829], that our father the president had refused us protection, and that he had decided in favor of the extension of the laws of the state over us.—This decision induces us to appeal to the immediate representatives of the American people. We love, we dearly love our country, and it is due to your honorable bodies, as well as to us, to make known why we think the country is ours, and why we wish to remain in peace where we are.

[5] The land on which we stand, we have received as an inheritance from our fathers, who possessed it from time immemorial, as a gift from our common father in heaven. We have already said, that when the white man came to the shores of America, our ancestors were found in peaceable possession of this very land. They bequeathed it to us as their children, and we have sacredly kept it as containing the remains of our beloved men. This right of inheritance we have never ceded, nor ever forfeited. Permit us to ask, what better right can a people have to a country, than the right of inheritance and immemorial peaceable possession? We know it is said of late by the state of Georgia, and by the executive of the United States, that we have forfeited this right—but we think this is said gratuitously. At what time have we made the forfeit? What crime have we committed, whereby we must forever be divested of our country and rights? Was it when we were hostile to the United States, and took part with the king of Great Britain, during the struggle for independence? If so, why was not this forfeiture declared in the first treaty of peace between the United States and our beloved men?...

[6] In addition to that first of all rights, the right of inheritance and peaceable possession, we have the faith and pledge of the U. States, repeated over and over again, in treaties made at various times. By these treaties our rights as a separate people are distinctly acknowledged, and guarantees given that they shall be secured and protected. So we have always understood the treaties. The conduct of the government towards us, from this organization until very lately, the talks given to our beloved men by the presidents of the United States, and the speeches of the agents and commissioners, all concur to show that we are not mistake in our interpretation.—Some of our beloved men who signed the treaties are still leaving [sic, living], and their testimony tends to the same conclusion. We have always supposed that this understanding of the treaties was in accordance with the views of the government; nor have we ever imagined that any body would interpret them otherwise. In what light shall we view the conduct of the United States and Georgia, in their intercourse with us, in urging us to enter into treaties, and cede lands? If we were but tenants at will, why was it necessary that our consent must be obtained before these governments could take lawful possession of our lands? The answer is obvious. These governments perfectly understood our rights—our right to the country, and our right to self government. Our understanding of the treaties is further supported by the intercourse law of the United States, which prohibits all encroachments upon our territory. The undersigned memoirists [memorialists] humbly represent, that if their interpretation of the treaties has been different from that of the government, then they have ever been deceived as to how the government regarded them, and what she asked and promised. Moreover, they have uniformly misunderstood their own acts.

[7] In view of the strong ground upon which their rights are founded, your memorialists solemnly protest against being considered as tenants at will, or as mere occupants of the soil, without possessing the sovereignty [authority, ownership]. We have already stated to your honorable bodies, that our forefathers were found in possession of this soil in full sovereignty, by the first European settlers; and as we have never ceded nor forfeited the occupancy of the soil and the sovereignty over it, we do solemnly protest against being forced to leave it, either [by] direct or by indirect measures. To the land of which we are now in possession we are attached—it is our father’s gift—it contains their ashes—it is the land of our nativity, and the land of our intellectual birth. We cannot consent to abandon it, for another far inferior, and which holds out to us no inducements. We do moreover protest against the arbitrary measures of our neighbor, the state of Georgia, in her attempt to extend her laws over us, in surveying our lands without our consent and in direct opposition to treaties and the intercourse law of the United States, and interfering with our municipal regulations in such a manner as to derange the regular operations of our own laws. To deliver and protect them from all these and every encroachment upon their rights, the undersigned memorialists do most earnestly pray your honorable bodies. Their existence and future happiness are at stake—divest them of their liberty and country, and you sink them in degradation, and put a check, if not a final stop, to their present progress in the arts of civilized life, and in the knowledge of the Christian religion. Your memorialists humbly conceive, that such an act would be in the highest degree oppressive. From the people of these United States, who perhaps, of all men under heaven, are the most religious and free, it cannot be expected.—Your memorialists, therefore, cannot anticipate such a result. You represent a virtuous, intelligent and Christian nation. To you they willingly submit their cause for your righteous decision.

Cherokee nation, Dec. 1829.

copied (29 Sept. 2008) from:

Exact Title: Memorial of the Cherokee Nation, Dec. 1829
Periodical: Cherokee Phoenix
Probable Date: Jan. 20, 1830
Reprinted in Niles’ Weekly Register, 38, (March 13, 1830).

Cherokee Phoenix and Indians' Advocate
Wednesday, April 14, 1830
Vol. II, no. 52
Page 1, col. 1b-5b - Page 3, col. 1a

of the Cherokee Legislature

[8] Some time ago when we published the "Cherokee Memorial" we stated to our readers that the members of the General Council, during their last session, had signed another memorial to Congress.  We now make this document public.

[9] To the Honorable, Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled:

[10] We the representatives of the people of the Cherokee Nation in General Council convened, compelled by a sense of duty, we owe to ourselves and Nation, and confiding in the justice of your honorable bodies, address and make known to you the grievances which disturb the quiet repose and harmony of our citizens, and the dangers by which we are surrounded.  Extraordinary as this course may appear to you, the circumstances that have imposed upon us this duty we deem sufficient to justify the measure; and our safety as individuals as well as a Nation requires that we should be heard by the immediate representatives of the people of the United States, whose humanity, and magnanimity, by permission and will of Heaven, may yet preserve us from ruin and extinction.

[11] The authorities of Georgia have recently and unexpectedly assumed a doctrine, horrid in its aspect; and fatal in its consequences to us, and utterly at variance with the laws of Nations of the United States, and the subsisting Treaties between us, and the known history of said state, of this Nation and of the United States.  She claims the exercise of Sovereignty over this Nation, and has threatened and decreed the extension of her jurisdictional limits over our people.  The Executive of the United States through  the Secretary of War, in a letter to our Delegation of the 18th April last, has recognized this right to be abiding in, and possessed by the State of Georgia, by the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Peace concluded between the U. States and Great Britain in 1783, and which it is urged vested in her all the rights of sovereignty pertaining to Great Britain, which in time previously she claimed and exercised within the limits of what constituted the "thirteen United States." 

[12] It is a subject of vast importance to know whether the power of self Government abided in the Cherokee Nation at the discovery of America, three hundred and thirty seven years ago, and whether it was in any manner effected or destroyed by the Charters of European Potentates?  It is evident from the facts deducible from known history, that the Indians were found here by the white man in the enjoyment of plenty and peace and all rights of soil and domain, inherited from their ancestors from time immemorial well furnished with Kings, Chiefs, and Warriors, and bulwarks of liberty and the pride of their race.  Great Britain established with them relationships of friendship and alliance, and at no time did she treat them as subjects and as tenants at will to her power.  In war she fought them as a separate people, and they resisted  her as a Nation—In peace she spoke the language of friendship, and they replied in the voice of independence, and frequently assisted her as allies, at their choice, to fight her enemies in their own way and discipline subject to the control of their own chiefs and unaccountable to European officers and military law.

[13] Such was the connexion of their nation to Great Britain, to wit, that of friendship and not allegiance, to the period of the Declaration of Independence by the United States, and during the revolutionary contest down to the Treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain forty six years ago, when the latter abandoned all hopes of conquest, and at the same time abandoned her Cherokee allies to the difficulties in which they had been involved, either to continue the war or procure peace on the best terms they could, and close the scenes of carnage and blood, that had so long been witnessed and experienced by both parties.  Peace was at last concluded at Hopewell in '85 by "the commissioners Plenipotentiary of the United States in Congress assembled." and the Cherokees were received "into favor and protection of the United States of America."  It remains to be proved, under a view of all these circumstances, and the knowledge we have of history, how our right to self Government was effected and destroyed, by the Declaration of Independence which never noticed the subject of Cherokee Sovereignty, and the Treaty of Peace in '83, between Britain and the United States, to which the Cherokees were not a party, but maintained hostilities on their part to the Treaty of Hopewell afterwards concluded.  If, as it is stated by the Hon. Secretary of War, the Cherokees were tenants at will, and were only permitted to enjoy possession of the soil to pursue game, and if the State of North Carolina and Georgia were sovereigns in truth and in right over us, why did President Washington send "commissioners Plenipotentiaries" to treat with the subjects of those States?  Why did they permit the Chiefs and warriors to enter into treaty, when if they were subjects, they had grossly rebelled and revolted from their allegiance and why did not those sovereigns make their lives pay the forfeit of their guilt, agreeably to the law of said States.  The answer must be plain,—they were not subjects, but a distinct Nation, and in that light viewed by Washington and by all the people of the union at that period.

[14] In the first & second articles of the Hopewell Treaty*, and the third of the Holston Treaty*, the United States and the Cherokee Nation were bound to a mutual exchange of prisoners taken during the wars, which incontrovertibly proves the possession of sovereignty by both contracting parties.  It ought to be remembered too in conclusions of the Treaties to which we have referred, and most of the Treaties subsisting between the United States and this Nation, that the phraseology, composition, &c. were always written by the commissioners on the part of the United States, for obvious reason, as the Cherokees were unacquainted with letters.  Again, in the Holston Treaty, 11th article, the following remarkable evidence is contained that our Nation is not under the jurisdiction of any state.  "If any citizen or inhabitant of the United States, or of either of the territorial districts of the United States shall go into any town, settlement, or territory belonging to the Cherokees, and shall there commit any crime upon, or trespass against the persons, or property of any peaceable and friendly Indian or Indians, which, if committed with the jurisdiction of any state, or within the jurisdiction of either of the said Districts against a citizen or any white inhabitant thereof, would be punishable by the laws of such state of district, such offender or offenders shall be proceeded against in the same manner as if the offence had been committed within the jurisdiction of the state or district to  which he or they may belong, against a citizen, or white inhabitant thereof."

Historical notes to para. 14:

*The Hopewell Treaty (1785) and the *Treaty of Holston (1791-2), signed by representatives of the USA and the Cherokee people, pledged the United States to protection of Cherokee lands and management of Cherokee foreign affairs.

[At right, statue in Knoxville, Tennessee, representing the signing of the Treaty of the Holston.]

[15] The power of a state may put our national existence under its feet, and coerce us into her jurisdiction, but it would be contrary to legal right and plighted faith of the United States' Government.  It is said by Georgia, and the Hon. Secretary of War, that one sovereignty cannot exist within another, and therefore we must yield to the stronger power; but is not this doctrine favorable to our Government, which does not interfere with any other.  Our sovereignty and right of enforcing legal enactments extend no farther than our territorial limits, and that of Georgia is and have always terminated at her limits.  The Constitution of the United States, (article 6) contains these words; "all Treaties made under the  authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land," and the "Judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the laws or constitution of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."  The sacredness of Treaties made under the authority of the United States are paramount and Supreme, stronger than the laws and constitution of any state.  The jurisdiction then of our Nation over its soil is settled by the laws, Treaties, and Constitution of the United States, and has been exercised from time out of memory.— Georgia has objected to the adoption on our part of a constitutional form of Government, which has in no wise violated the intercourse and connexion which bind us to the United States, its constitution and the treaties thereupon founded and in existence between us.  As a distinct nation, notwithstanding any unpleasant feelings it might have created to a neighboring state, we had the right to improve our Government suitable to the moral, civil and intellectual advancement of our people; and had we anticipated any notice of it, it was the voice of encouragement by an approving world.  We would also, while on this subject, refer your attention in the memorial and protest submitted before your Honorable bodies during the last Session of Congress by our Delegation then at Washington.

[16] Permit us also to make known to you the aggrieved and unpleasant situation under which we are placed by the claim which Georgia has set up to a large portion of our territory under the Treaty of the Indian Springs concluded with the late General McIntosh and his party, and which was declared void and of no effect by a subsequent Treaty between the Creek Nation and the United States at Washington City.  The President of the United States through the Secretary of War assured our delegation that so far as he understood the Cherokees had rights, protection should be afforded, and respecting the intrusions on our lands he had been advised "and instructions had been forwarded to the agent of the Cherokees, directing him to cause their removal, and earnestly hoped, that on this matter all cause for future complaint would cease, and the order prove effectual."  The hope of the President is yet unrealized, and the order has not "proved effectual."  In consequence of the agents neglecting to comply with the instructions, and suspension of the order made by the Secretary afterwards, our border citizens are at this time placed under the most unfortunate circumstances by the intrusions of citizens of the United States; and which are almost daily increasing in consequence of the suspension of the once contemplated "effectual order."  Many of our people are experiencing all the evils of personal insult, and in some instances expulsion from their homes, and loss of property, from the unrestrained intruders let loose upon us, and the encouragement they are allowed to enjoy under the last order to the agent for this Nation, which amounts to a suspension of the force of treaties, and the wholesome operation of the intercourse laws of the United States.  The reason alleged by the War Department for its suspension, is that it had been requested so to do until the claim the state of Georgia has made to a portion  of the Cherokee Country be determined; and the intruders are to remain unmolested within the border limits of this Nation.  We beg leave to protest against this unprecedented procedure.  If the state of Georgia has a claim to any portion of our lands and is entitled by law and justice to them, let her seek through a legal channel to establish it; and we do hope that the United States will not suffer her to take possession of them forcibly and investigate her claim afterwards.

[17] Arguments to effect the emigration of our people [to move to Indian Territory in the Southwest, now Oklahoma], and to induce us to escape the troubles and disquietudes incident to a residence contiguous to the whites, have been urged upon us, and the arm of protection  has been withheld that we may experience still deeper and ampler proofs of the doctrine, but we still adhere to what is right and agreeable to ourselves; and our attachment to the soil of our ancestors is too strong to be shaken.  We have been invited to a retrospective view of the past history of Indians, who have melted away before the light of civilization, and the mountains of difficulties that have opposed our race in their advancement in civilized life.  We have done so, and while we deplore the fate of thousands of our complexion and kind, we rejoice that our Nation stands, and grows a lasting monument of God's mercy, and durable contradiction to the misconceived opinion that the aborigines are incapable of civilization.  The opposing mountains that cast fearful shadows in the road of Cherokee improvement have dispersed into vernal clouds, and our people stand adorned with flowers of achievement flourishing around them, and are encouraged to secure the attainment of all that is useful in science and Christian knowledge.

[18] Under the fostering care of the United States we have thus prospered; and shall we expect approbation, or shall we sink under the displeasure and rebuke of our enemies?

[19] We now look with earnest expectation to your Hon. bodies for redress; and we earnestly pray that our national existence may not be extinguished before a prompt and effectual interposition is afforded in our behalf.  The faith of your Government is solemnly pledged for our protection against all oppressions, so long as we remain firm in our Treaties; and that we have for a long series of years proved to be true & loyal friends, the known history of past events abundantly proves.  Your chief magistrate himself has borne testimony of our devotedness in supporting the cause of the United States during their late conflict with a foreign foe.

 [20] It is with reluctant and painful feelings that circumstances here at length compelled us to seek from you the promised protection for the preservation of our rights & privileges.  This resort to us is a last one, and nothing short of the threatening evils and dangers that beset us could have forced it upon the Nation.  But it is a right we surely have, and in which we cannot be mistaken, that of appealing for justice and humanity to the United States, under whose kind and fostering care we have been led to the present degree of civilization and the enjoyment of its consequent blessings. Having said thus much, with patience we shall await the final issue of your wise deliberations.

 [21] With sentiments of the highest regard and esteem, we have the honor to be, very Respectfully, your Ob't Sev'ts.


copied (29 Sept. 2008) from


Cherokee Syllabary (alphabet)

Cherokee Syllabary (alphabet)