Posted on Thursday 29 November 2007

I seem to be taking a political sabbatical this week. I’ve been working on [obsessed with?] a local project that involves mapping the roads in the Cherokee Nation as they were surveyed in 1832. I’ll skip talking about the why of such an endeavor, but it has plunged me into a piece of Georgia history that’s pretty fascinating [and disturbing]. At the time of the Revolutionary War, Georgia was settled only along the Atlantic Coast and up its Eastern border along the Savannah River. On maps, Georgia stretched westward to the Mississippi River, but, in truth, that land was inhabited by Native Americans – Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and some others. Early on, the State of Georgia made a deal with the Federal Government. Georgia ceded the right to its western territory to the U.S. [becoming Alabama and Mississippi]. In return, Georgia laid claim to the remaining unsettled lands [Indian Territory] "if" it were ever given up by the Native Americans. The State then began to acquire the land by Treaty, by annexation, by force, by any means possible. "If" rapidly became "when."

The land was distributed to settlers in a unique way – a series of Lotteries beginning in 1805. A $10 Lottery Ticket got you a chance to receive a 160 acre piece of land. In a series of seven Lotteries, the Indian Territory was gobbled up at a rapid rate. 75% of the land in the State was auctioned off in the process. So if your ancestors are from Georgia, the "home place" probably started with a winning Lottery Ticket for the Indian land. The best known piece of this story involved the Cherokee that occupied the Northern part of the State. They did everything possible to avoid losing their land. They had a Congress, their own Courts, and a written language with their own newspaper. They wore suits, lived in cabins on their cultivated farms, and rode in horse-drawn wagons. They repeatedly petitioned the Supreme Court about their sovereignty. Most famously, they joined Andrew Jackson’s Army in the Battle of New Orleans.

As you can see, their land was given away in the 1832 Lottery – some 6 years before they were actually removed. In 1830, Gold was discovered in North Georgia. When the Cherokee attacked a band of prospectors setting up shop on Cherokee land, the State of Georgia declared the Cherokee Nation to be "Cherokee County Georgia" and began to auction off the Territory. The Federal government passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, giving the U.S. the right to move the Native Americans to the west. In 1838, 7000 U.S. troops collected the Cherokee and marched them on the "Trail of Tears" to Oklahoma – a march that killed 25% of them along the way. The force behind the "removal" was their old ally, President Andrew Jackson. The road they were marched out on was the Federal Post Road, a road that the Cherokee had allowed the U.S. to build through their Territory some 30 years earlier. So our State was populated by driving out the Native Americans to build settler’s farms, many of which were worked by slaves from Africa. Twenty years after the Indians were gone, we plunged into a Civil War over Slavery. That war was lost, but there was still a century of Segregation [it was in my own adulthood that this State was integrated].

Only in the last part of the 20th century did protection of the human rights of "all" people became, at least on paper, a reality. Democracy and a Constitution that says "all men are created equal" wasn’t enough.  It took a determined subset of our citizens, a functioning judiciary, a benevolent Administration, and an enlightened Congress to get us even close to our lofty rhetoric. It makes the regression we’ve experienced under this Administration so hard to take. Our small modicum of progress has been so easily eroded by the greed and disregard for the principles that have ever so slowly pushed us in the right direction. Two steps forward. One and a half steps back. Among other abuses of power, this Administration has dismantled and eroded the Civil Rights legislation and initiatives that took centuries to finally begin to guide us towards the goals we purported to start with. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights is our vision, but it hasn’t been our history – not by a long shot. This vision is the only thing that really separates us from the pack.
    November 29, 2007 | 8:24 AM

    Thanks for the history lesson. I just finished presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on Lincoln’s presidency “Team of Rivals”. Her book left me in awe of President Lincoln and his cabinet. The assassin Booth said he wanted to kill” the n—– lover”. The former confederates who knew how fair Lincoln was during the surrender and the future reconstruction he had planned cried when they found out he had been killed. They knew no one would be fairer or less vindictive because he didn’t have a vindictive bone in his body. The old saying about things are not aways what they appear to be is certainly true. John Wilkes Booth had been a Confederate but his more famous brother who was a Shakesperan actor was with the Union. The murderer thought he was doing the right thing by killing Lincoln, how sad. George W Bush is so small in mind and body compared to Abraham Lincoln. Bush’s legacy will be how he ignored warnings about Bin Laden attacking inside the United States and we were attacked in NYC and in Washington ,DC, he went to war in Afghanstan to try to get Bin Laden but left before it was finished to go to and start an unprovoked war in Iraq and he made a mess of it and he took more vacation time than any other president and loved to exercise his body but not his mind. How high the bar was set with Lincoln and low the bar was set with Bush.

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