Reading both sides of a correspondence is important, and in that spirit this posting contains John Ross’ response to Governor Henry Rector. Ross’ letter is rather intriguing; on the one hand, he pledges loyalty to the United States but, yet, he does not entirely close off the possibility of some type of relationship with the slave States. Indeed, he attempted to maintain Cherokee neutrality, but that venture turned out to be short lived. The Cherokee Nation sided with the Confederacy in October 1861.
“Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, February 22, 1861.
His Excellency Henry M. Rector, Governor of Arkansas:
SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s communication of the 29th ultimo, per your aide-de-camp, Lieut. Col. J. J. Gaines.
The Cherokees cannot but feel a deep regret and solicitude for the unhappy differences which at present disturb the peace and quietude of the several States, especially when it is understood that some of the slave States have already separated themselves and withdrawn from the Federal Government and that it is probable others will also pursue the same course.
But may we not yet hope and trust in the dispensation of Divine power to overrule the discordant elements for good, and that, by the counsel of the wisdom, virtue, and patriotism of the land, measures may happily be adopted for the restoration of peace and harmony among the brotherhood of States within the Federal Union.
The relations which the Cherokee people sustain toward their white brethren have been established by subsisting treaties with the United States Government, and by them they have placed themselves under ‘the protection of the United States and of no other sovereign whatever.’ They are bound to hold no treaty with any foreign power, or with any individual State, nor with citizens of any State. On the other hand, the faith of the United States is solemnly pledged to the Cherokee Nation for the protection of the right and title in the lands, conveyed to them by patent, within their territorial boundaries, as also for protection of all other of their national and individual rights and interests of person and property. Thus the Cherokee people are inviolably allied with their white brethren of the United States in war and friends in peace. Their institutions, locality, and natural sympathies are unequivocally with the slave-holding States. And the contiguity of our territory to your State, in connection with the daily, social, and commercial intercourse between our respective citizens, forbids the idea that they should ever be otherwise than steadfast friends.
I am surprised to be informed by your Excellency that ‘it is well established that the Indian country west of Arkansas is looked to by the incoming administration of Mr. Lincoln as fruitful fields ripe for the harvest of abolitionism, free-soilers, and Northern mountebanks.’ As I am sure that the laborers will be greatly disappointed, if they shall expect in the Cherokee country ‘fruitful fields ripe for the harvest of abolitionism,’ &c., you may rest assured that the Cherokee people will never tolerate the propagation of any obnoxious fruit upon their soil.
And in conclusion I have the honor to reciprocate the salutations of friendship.
I am, sir, very respectfully, Your Excellency’s obedient servant,
Principal Chief Cherokee Nation.” (Official Records Of The Union And Confederate Armies, ser. I, vol. 13:491-492)