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delegation did not visit the country beyond the Mississippi until the close of that year, its fulfilment in this respect became impracticable even before its ratification.
This delegation, it is generally admitted, was satisfied with the new region, but, according to Mr. Everelt's statement, objected to the conduct of the Creeks there, with whom, according to the terms of the treaty, the Florida Indians were to reunite. It had escaped our memory that so much inportance was attached in this case to the difference between the words unite and reunite, and we should hardly have supposed that an uncivilized race of men would have caught the nice distinction, or discerned the foreshadowing of any important consequences from the substitution, by the Creeks, of the former for the latter word. In this instance, however, according to Mr. Everett, there was involved in the omission of the small prefix re a large pecuniary responsibility, which fell on the Florida Indians in common with the Creeks, provided the former united with the latter, or both became one tribe, but from which they escaped by merely reuniting, the latter mode of association being understood to leave the Florida Indians with such “ state rights,” as admitted a common government, but made them independent in other respects.* Whether this quibbling of the Creeks, which threatened the security of a valuable portion of the Seminole property, dissatisfied the Florida Indians at the return of the delegation, or whether the dissatisfaction arose from the undertaking, on the part of that delegation, while on the other side of the Mississippi, to perform an act, which was deemed a fulfilment of the treaty without further reference to the nation, there is no doubt of the fact, that this dissatisfaction was deep, extensive, and extending. The tribes at home generally considered the delegation bound to report the result of its examination, and permit a national action upon a measure so important to their future welfare, before emigration became irrevocably settled. Such a course, however, was now precluded, as the act of the delegation had been deemed sufficient to give validity to the treaty, which was presented to the Senate in April, 1834, and ratified by that body.
* Says Mr. Everett; “ The Creeks, by a former treaty, concluded when the Seminoles were a separate band of that nation, paid to the State of Georgia $ 250,000 for negroes which the Creeks (including the Seminules) had taken or retained. Soon after the conclusion of the Seminole treaty, all the negroes in possession of the Seminoles, and even those with whom they had intermarried, and their increase, were claimed by the Creeks as having been paid for by their money; the $250,000 having been retained out of the purchase money for land belonging to the Creeks
proper. Speculators contemplated purchasing these negroes of the Creeks, and seizing them when the Seminoles should be on the point of emigrating. The Seminoles foresaw, that, if they united with the Creeks as individuals, if they lost their community as a band, they should be at the mercy of the Creeks, who were greatly superior in numbers.”
The treaty thus becoming the “ supreme law of the land," all its defects and evils were fixed, and, as it were, irremediable. Its execution became imperative, even with all its contradictory and seemingly impracticable provisions. At the very moment that its ratification was perfected, the time had passed when one of its main stipulations was to have been fulfilled ; and in 1835 no emigration had taken place, when, according to the terms of the treaty, it should have been on the eve of completion. Under such an embarrassment, the President, it is stated by Mr. Everett, asked the opinion of his Attorney-General, who decided that the stipulations in this respect were not vacated by the lapse of time, but only postponed ; that is, that the emigration, instead of taking place at the impossible dates specified in the treaty, inust take place in 1835 and the two following years. Such a decision, even if not most strictly warranted, wore at least the semblance of justice and lenity, and might perhaps have been carried into effect without any serious or openly hostile opposition. But the President, probably under a belief that such a latitude of construction was inadmissible, determined to take the alternative left, which was to crowd the stipulations of three years into one. If the Indians had produced this delay, or any part of it, by their own acts, their ground of complaint would have been narrowed in proportion; and no doubt their dilatoriness in sending off the delegation was the first step that led to it. Nevertheless, as this propensity to procrastinate is an infirmity well known in the Indians, it would seem that prudence required of the Senate, which could not but see the incongruity it was sanctioning in such a solemn manner, to provide some guard against its effects. A very slight acquaintance with the Indians would have suggested a strong doubt, whether these tribes would submit to such a violent compression of the privileges of three years into one ; especially when they are wont to linger to the last moment, in all cases of emigration, upon dear and
familiar lands, about to be abandoned for ever. When the Senate ratified this treaty, at such a time, and in such a manner, it scattered broad-cast the seeds of war. Nothing but a persuasion in that body that resistance on the part of the Indians in such a contest, was out of the question, could have suppressed an anxious foreboding of the consequences of so inconsiderate an act. The President, it is true, had an habitual daring. No apprehension of consequences could move him. But more wariness and discretion might have been expected from a body constituted like the Senate, which, in this instance, not only seemed to repulse all prudential considerations, but almost prevented the President also from allowing them any influence in the case. The ratification was undoubtedly pregnant with evil, and the day of birth was not far distant.
With an assurance, that was almost doubly sure, that such a train of causes would produce corresponding effects, — that the emigration would not be consummated without hostile opposition on the one side, and an adequate compulsory force on the other, there was but one safe and judicious course to pursue, namely, to overawe that opposition by the presence of such a force as would leave it hopeless. An energetic show of an ability, as well as determination, to have the treaty executed, would no doubt have averted those first audacious blows of the anti-migrating party, whose success at once turned the great body of the tribes, till then vacillating between their wishes and their fears, en masse against a fulfilment of
As soon as the return of the delegation aroused indignation at the supposed barter of the Seminole interests for an inadequate compensation, or in a mode not only unprovided for by the treaty, but against its express stipulations, a constabulary band was organized, with the famous Oceola at its head, for the avowed purpose of inflicting summary and condign punishment on any Indian, who should, by word or deed, encourage, or consent to, emigration. The inflexible spirit which animated this band was soon proved in blood. Charley Emathla, a conspicuous chief, and one of the delegation, who had returned with a resolution to promote the removal of his countrymen, either under a belief that it was inevitable, or that the change would ultimately be for their benefit, was openly shot down by this band like a mad dog. Though high in rank and consideration, the death of this
chief led to no retaliation. Such forbearance bespoke the overwhelming ascendency of the anti-emigrating party. Another far more audacious demonstration of hostility to emigration, and to all who were concerned in promoting it, or appointed to conduct it, appeared in the slaughter of General Thompson, the United States' Indian agent for these tribes, then stationed at Fort King. While walking in the very shadow of the fort, he was riddled by a volley of rifle-balls, which a covert party of Indians, said to have been headed by this same Oceola, concentrated him. at the same time, other victims of less note to the same daring spirit of hostility to emigration.
These acts were sufficiently significant of the aspect which affairs had assumed in that quarter, and afforded the most unequivocal proof that nothing but the strong arm of power could enforce the treaty ; that persuasion was unavailing; that peaceful submission was at an end. Was this power provided ? Mr. Everett says it was not. General Clinch, who was the army officer then in command in Florida, has said the same ; has publicly and in the most formal manner asserted, that his call for troops was but imperfectly answered, that the force with which he was furnished fell much short of his demands, and equally short of the urgent necessities of the case.
We are well aware that the then Secretary of War has met this statement with a counterstatement, and we believe that there was an intention on the part of the War Department to meet, in the fullest manner, the wishes and views of the officer in command, and that the deficiency arose from a misapprehension of the strength of companies ordered to report to him. At the same time we have little doubt that the President, while he was willing that all required reinforcement of the Florida troops should be made, entertained an opinion of the tribes which were to emigrate, that almost excluded any apprehension of a serious and general resistance to the execution of the treaty.
He had once, while commanding in the field, easily broken the power of a part
of these very Indians ; and rating their numbers very low,* probably could not persuade himself that they meditated, or had the ability to oppose, such a resistance. His Secretary of War made larger calculations of their strength, but may easily be supposed to have had great deference for the opinions of one who spoke from experience and something like actual knowledge ; and he shaped all his measures accordingly.
* Mr. Everett says;
I have means of being assured, by the best authority, that the President rated the Seminole warriors at not exceeding 400. The then Secretary of War rated them at 750."
In December, 1835, the force, whatever it was, had other employment than that of supervising an emigrating party. It was met bravely in the field by this party, as an undisguised and an uncompromising enemy. One detachment of troops was utterly destroyed, the only man that escaped to tell the incidents of the fearsul tale, having been left on the ground so severely wounded that he was thought to be dead. This massacre of the force under Major Dade had well nigh been as complete as if the detachment had sunk in a foundered ship at sea.
The other column, far more formidable as to numbers, was almost simultaneously met in its march. The contest was a severe and bloody one, before the Indians were driven from the field ; but the column did not pursue its route, though the fate of the Dade detachment had not then been heard of. This retrograde course was prudent and almost inevitable. But the Indians could construe it only as a surrender of the field, at least for the time, to them.
From the foregoing brief statement, it will appear, we think, that Mr. Everett is borne out both in his remark, that “the first error was in originating the war,” and also in the consequent inference, that a more prudent course with respect to the treaty, or a more energetic course with respect to the execution of it, would probably have averted this calamity. These miserable offsets from tribes which occupied higher latitudes, had left homes to which they had an unquestionable right, and had gone down to the peninsula of Florida as to a retreat which would seem to invite no molestation. Its half deluged plains, deep morasses, and almost inaccessible forests, appeared to offer a home or a shelter only for beasts, or for men little elevated above beasts as to wants; and, when they were urged to quit this refuge, and transfer themselves, for our convenience, more than for their benefit, it became at least our bounden duty to remove them in a spirit of forbearance towards their intractability, and even their hostile temperament. Strength and gain were on one side ; weakness