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In the sadly famous case of the removal of the Cherokee tribe from Georgia, it is recorded as the opinion of our Supreme Court that “the Indians are acknowledged to have an unquestionable, and heretofore unquestioned, right to the lands they occupy until that right shall be extinguished by a voluntary cession to the Government.” * * * “The Indian nations have always been considered as distinct independent political communities, retaining their original natural rights as the undisputed possessors of the soil, from time immemorial, with the single exception of that imposed by irresistible power, which excluded them from intercourse with any other European potentate than the first discoverer of the coast of the particular region claimed; and this was a restriction which those European potentates imposed on themselves as well as on the Indians. The very term 'nation, so generally applied to them, means 'a people distinct from others.' The Constitution, by declaring treaties already made, as well as those to be made, to be the supreme law of the land, has adopted and sanctioned the previous treaties with the Indian nations, and consequently admits their rank among those powers who are capable of making treaties. The words 'treaty' and 'nation’ are words of our own language, selected in our diplomatic and legislative proceedings by ourselves, having each a definite and well understood meaning. We have applied them to Indians as we have applied them to other nations of the earth. They are applied to all in the same sense.
In another decision of the Supreme Court we find still greater emphasis put upon the Indian right of occupancy, by stating it as a right, the observance of which was stipulated for in treaties between the United States and other nations.
" When the United States acquired and took possession of the Floridas, the treaties which had been made with the Indian
* Worcester vs. State of Georgia, 6 Peters, 515.
tribes before the acquisition of the territory by Spain and Great Britain remained in force over all the ceded territory, as the law which regulated the relations with all the Indians who were parties to them, and were binding on the United States by the obligation they had assumed by the Louisiana treaty as a supreme
law of the land. "The treaties with Spain and England before the acquisition of Florida by the United States, which guaranteed to the Seminole Indians their lands, according to the right of property with which they possessed them, were adopted by the United States, who thus became the protectors of all the rights they (the Indians) had previously enjoyed, or could of right enjoy, under Great Britain or Spain, as individuals or nations, by any treaty to which the United States thus became parties in
1803. * * *
"The Indian right to the lands as property was not merely of possession; that of alienation was concomitant; both were equally secured, protected, and guaranteed by Great Britain and Spain, subject only to ratification and confirmation by the license, charter, or deed from the government representing the king."
The laws made it necessary, when the Indians sold their lands, to have the deeds presented to the governor for confirmation. The sales by the Indians transferred the kind of right which they possessed; the ratification of the sale by the governor must be regarded as a relinquishment of the title of the Crown to the purchaser, and no instance is known of refusal of permission to sell, or of the rejection of an Indian
“The colonial charters, a great portion of the individual grants by the proprietary and royal governments, and a still greater portion by the States of the Union after the Revolu
* United States vs. Clark, 9 Peters, 168.
tion, were made for lands within the Indian hunting grounds. North Carolina and Virginia, to a great extent, paid their officers and soldiers of the Revolutionary War by such grants, and extinguished the arrears due the army by similar means. It was one of the great resources which sustained the war, not only by those States but by other States. The ultimate fee, encumbered with the right of occupancy, was in the Crown previous to the Revolution, and in the States afterward, and subject to grant. This right of occupancy was protected by the political power, and respected by the courts until extinguished.”
.” *** “So the Supreme Court and the State courts have uniformly held."*
President Adams, in his Message of 1828, thus describes the policy of the United States toward the Indians at that time:
“At the establishment of the Federal Government the principle was adopted of considering them as foreign and independent powers, and also as proprietors of lands. As independent powers, we negotiated with them by treaties; as proprietors, we purchased of them all the land which we could prevail on them to sell; as brethren of the human race, rude and ignorant, we endeavored to bring them to the knowledge of religion and letters.”
Kent says: “The European nations which, respectively, established colonies in America, assumed the ultimate dominion to be in themselves, and claimed the exclusive right to grant a title to the soil, subject only to the Indian right of occupancy. The natives were admitted to be the rightful occupants of the soil, with a legal as well as just claim to retain possession of it, and to use it according to their own discretion, though not to dispose of the soil at their own will, except to the government claiming the right of pre-emption." * * * “The United States adopted the same principle; and their exclusive right to
* Clark vs. Smith, 13 Peters.
extinguish the Indian title by purchase or conquest, and to grant the soil and exercise such a degree of sovereignty as circumstances required, has never been judicially questioned.”
Kent also says, after giving the Supreme Court decision in the case of Johnson vs. MʻIntosh : “The same court has since been repeatedly called upon to discuss and decide great questions concerning Indian rights and title, and the subject has of late become exceedingly grave and momentous, affecting the faith and the character, if not the tranquillity and safety, of the Government of the United States."
In Gardner's “Institutes of International Law” the respective rights to land of the Indians and the whites are thus summed up: "In our Union the aborigines had only a possessory title, and in the original thirteen States each owned in fee, subject to the Indian right, all ungranted lands within their respective limits; and beyond the States the residue of the ungranted lands were vested in fee in the United States, subject to the Indian possessory right, to the extent of the national limits.”
Dr. Walker, in his “American Law,” makes a still briefer summary : “The American doctrine on the subject of Indian title is briefly this: The Indians have no fee in the lands they оссиру. .
The fee is in the Government. They cannot, of course, aliene them either to nations or individuals, the exclusive right of pre-emption being in the Government. Yet they have a qualified right of occupancy which can only be extinguished by treaty, and upon fair compensation ; until which they are entitled to be protected in their possession.”
“Abbott's Digest,” one of the very latest authorities, reiterates the same principle: “The right of occupancy has been recognized in countless ways, among others by many decisions of courts and opinions of attorney-generals.”
It being thus established that the Indian's “right of occupancy" in his lands was a right recognized by all the Great
Powers discovering this continent, and accepted by them as a right necessary to be extinguished either by purchase or conquest, and that the United States, as a nation, has also from the beginning recognized, accepted, and acted upon this theory, it is next in order to inquire whether the United States has dealt honorably or dishonorably by the Indians in this matter of their recognized“ right of occupancy.”
In regard to the actions of individuals there is rarely much room for discussion whether they be honorable or dishonorable, the standard of honor in men's conduct being, among the civilized, uniform, well understood, and undisputed. Stealing, for instance, is everywhere held to be dishonorable, as well as impolitic; lying, also, in all its forms; breaking of prontises and betrayals of trust are scorned even among the most ignorant people. But when it comes to the discussion of the acts of nations, there seems to be less clearness of conception, less uniformity of standard of right and wrong, honor and dishonor. It is necessary, therefore, in charging a government or nation with dishonorable conduct, to show that its moral standard ought in nowise to differ from the moral standard of an individual; that what is cowardly, cruel, base in a man, is cowardly, cruel, base in a government or nation. To do this, it is only needful to look into the history of the accepted "Law of Nations," from the days of the Emperor Justinian until now.
The Roman jurisconsults employed as synonymous, says Wheaton, “the two expressions, 'jus gentium,' that law which is found among all the known nations of the earth, and 'jus naturale,' founded on the general nature of mankind; nevertheless, of these two forms of the same idea, the first ought to be considered as predominant, since it as well as the 'jus civile' was a positive law, the origin and development of which must be sought for in history."
Nations being simply, as Vattel defines them, "societies of