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Elias Boudinot's "Memorial of the Cherokee Citizens": Native American Oppression in the 1800s Analysis

Updated on June 26, 2012

The oppression of the Cherokee nation caused many to question the validity of removing them from their homeland in the early 1800’s. In his work, “Memorial of the Cherokee Citizens,” Elias Boudinot states four distinct reasons why the removal of the Cherokee people and their obligation to obey American laws were unjust. He clearly describes how the Native Americans have been mistreated by the state of Georgia and the American government.

Boudinot also observes a distinct difference in Native American acceptance when white men first arrived on American soil, and in 1829, when “the strength of the red men [had] become weakness” (580). He explains with respect and admiration to the American government and “our father the president” (580), how respect for the Natives has dwindled along with the population of the natives.

A quote from Elias Boudinot
A quote from Elias Boudinot | Source

Boudinot felt pressure from the American government to follow the laws of the country, or be forced to leave them. In opposition of this, he gives four reasons why this fate is not only unjust, but unlawful. First, he gives note the Native Americans inhabited this land long before white men did: “When the white men came to the shores of America, our ancestors were found in peaceable possession of this very land” (582). Second, Boudinot states, “The right of inheritance we have never ceded, nor ever forfeited” (582).

Although it seemed that the Native Americans gave up this right after King Phillip’s War, no bill or treaty was signed: “This was the proper time to assume such a possession. But it was not thought of, nor would our forefathers have agreed to any treaty, whose tendency was to deprive them of their rights and their country” (582). His third plead against the oppression of his people argues that there were various treaties that protect the rights of the native people to inhabit this land.

His forth and most important argument is that his people are “attached” to the land through their ancestry: “It is our fathers’ gift….We cannot consent to abandon it for another far interiorand which holds our to us no inducements” (584). This historical connection to the land is very important to the Native American’s side of the argument. When the white men first came to America, Boudinot describes, “the Indian was the lord, and the white man the suppliant….As his neighbors increased in numbers, his power became less, and now…only a few [tribes] are to be seen” (580). He is arguing that the diseases that were brought from England have killed many of the natives and with the loss of population, comes the loss of power.

Ralph Waldo Emerson takes Boudinot’s side and asks the American government to consider not only the oppression of the natives, but also how America appears as a nation which acts as the oppressor: “However feeble the sufferer and however great the oppressor, it is in the nature of things that the blow should recoil upon the aggressor. For God is in the sentiment, and it cannot be withstood” (587). Emerson asks the government to not only look at how the natives are being affected, but also at how this oppression makes the American nation appear to the rest of the world. His argument stems from the fact that the natives had inhabited this land long before the white man and that ultimately, the oppressor will pay for his wrong-doings, if not through the government or through an outrage of the native people, then through another unworldly force: God.


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    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 6 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Thank you so much, Deirdre. It is pretty "mind-boggling" to think of the Native American experience when foreigners came. Thank you for reading and for your comments. Mahalo.

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      Derdriu 6 years ago

      Brittany, What a compelling, logical, provocative analysis of the different ways to write and interpret cultural history! In particular, you do a great job of presenting the leading and underlying motivations of both sides: the government in its shore-to-shore quest and a native American tribe in its cultural integrity. It's mind-boggling how native American tribes were shuffled around from habitats that they knew to ones which were not contributory to their original artistic, cultural and spiritual traditions.

      Thank you for sharing, etc.,