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Special Message

March 30, 1824

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

I transmit to Congress certain papers enumerated in a report from the Secretary of War, relating to the compact between the United States and the State of Georgia entered into in 1802, whereby the latter ceded to the former a portion of the territory then within its limits on the conditions therein specified. By the fourth article of that compact it was stipulated that the United States should at their own expense extinguish for the use of Georgia the Indian title to all the lands within the State as soon as it might be done peaceably and on reasonable conditions. These papers show the measures adopted by the Executive of the United States in fulfillment of the several conditions of the compact from its date to the present time, and particularly the negotiations and treaties with the Indian tribes for the extinguishment of their title, with an estimate of the number of acres purchased and sums paid for lands they acquired. They show also the state in which this interesting concern now rests with the Cherokees, one of the tribes within the State, and the inability of the Executive to make any further movement with this tribe without the special sanction of Congress.

I have full confidence that my predecessors exerted their best endeavors to execute this compact in all its parts, of which, indeed, the sums paid and the lands acquired during their respective terms in fulfillment of its several stipulations are a full proof. I have also been animated since I came into this office with the same zeal, from an anxious desire to meet the wishes of the State, and in the hope that by the establishment of these tribes beyond the Mississippi their improvement in civilization, their security and happiness would be promoted. By the paper bearing date on the 30th of January last, which was communicated to the chiefs of the Cherokee Nation in this city, who came to protest against any further appropriations of money for holding treaties with them, the obligation imposed on the United States by the compact with Georgia to extinguish the Indian title to the right of soil within the State, and the incompatibility with our system of their existence as a distinct community within any State, were pressed with the utmost earnestness. It was proposed to them at the same time to procure and convey to them territory beyond the Mississippi in exchange for that which they hold within the limits of Georgia, or to pay them for it its value in money. To this proposal their answer, which bears date 11th of February following, gives an unqualified refusal. By this it is manifest that at the present time and in their present temper they can be removed only by force, to which, should it be deemed proper, the power of the Executive is incompetent.

I have no hesitation, however, to declare it as my opinion that the Indian title was not affected in the slightest circumstance by the compact with Georgia, and that there is no obligation on the United States to remove the Indians by force. The express stipulation of the compact that their title should be extinguished at the expense of the United States when it may be done peaceably and on reasonable conditions is a full proof that it was the clear and distinct understanding of both parties to it that the Indians had a right to the territory, in the disposal of which they were to be regarded as free agents. An attempt to remove them by force would, in my opinion, be unjust. In the future measures to be adopted in regard to the Indians within our limits, and, in consequence, within the limits of any State, the United States have duties to perform and a character to sustain to which they ought not to be indifferent. At an early period their improvement in the arts of civilized life was made an object with the Government, and that has since been persevered in. This policy was dictated by motives of humanity to the aborigines of the country, and under a firm conviction that the right to adopt and pursue it was equally applicable to all the tribes within our limits.

My impression is equally strong that it would promote essentially the security and happiness of the tribes within our limits if they could be prevailed on to retire west and north of our States and Territories on lands to be procured for them by the United States, in exchange for those on which they now reside. Surrounded as they are, and pressed as they will be, on every side by the white population, it will be difficult if not impossible for them, with their kind of government, to sustain order among them. Their interior will be exposed to frequent disturbance to remedy which the interposition of the United States will be indispensable, and thus their government will gradually lose its authority until it is annihilated. In this process the moral character of the tribes will also be lost, since the change will be too rapid to admit their improvement in civilization to enable them to institute and sustain a government rounded on our principles, if such a change were compatible either with the compact with Georgia or with our general system, or to become members of a State, should any State be willing to adopt them in such numbers, regarding the good order, peace, and tranquillity of such State. But all these evils may be avoided if these tribes will consent to remove beyond the limits of our present States and Territories. Lands equally good, and perhaps more fertile, may be procured for them in those quarters. The relations between the United States and such Indians would still be the same.

Considerations of humanity and benevolence, which have now great weight, would operate in that event with an augmented force, since we should feel sensibly the obligation imposed on us by the accommodation which they thereby afforded us. Placed at ease, as the United States would then be, the improvement of those tribes in civilization and in all the arts and usages of civilized life would become the part of a general system which might be adopted on great consideration, and in which every portion of our Union would then take an equal interest. These views have steadily been pursued by the Executive, and the moneys which have been placed at its disposal have been so applied in the manner best calculated, according to its judgment, to produce this desirable result, as will appear by the documents which accompany the report of the Secretary of War.

I submit this subject to the consideration of Congress under a high sense of its importance and of the propriety of an early decision on it. This compact gives a claim to the State which ought to be executed in all its conditions with perfect good faith. In doing this, however, it is the duty of the United States to regard its strict import, and to make no sacrifice of their interest not called for by the compact nor contemplated by either of the parties when it was entered into, nor to commit any breach of right or of humanity in regard to the Indians repugnant to the judgment and revolting to the feelings of the whole American people. I submit the subject to your consideration, in full confidence that you will duly weigh the obligations of the compact with Georgia, its import in all its parts, and the extent to which the United States are bound to go under it. I submit it with equal confidence that you will also weigh the nature of the Indian title to the territory within the limits of any State with the stipulations in the several treaties with this tribe respecting territory held by it within the State of Georgia, and decide whether any measure on the part of Congress is called for at the present time, and what such measure shall be if any is deemed expedient.


James Monroe, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/207361

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