The Removal of the Cherokee Nation: Manifest Destiny or National Dishonor?

By Louis Filler; Allen Guttmann | Go to book overview

Ralph Waldo Emerson:


LETTER TO MARTIN VAN BUREN

In 1836, just as Andrew Jackson's administration was coming to an end, an unknownNew Englander published a short book entitled Nature. It was a revolutionary book, the most important theoretical document of the Transcendentalist movement. If any American other than Andrew Jacksoncan be taken as the eponym of his age, that American is surely Ralph Waldo Emerson; and yet, in writing to President Van Buren, Emersonwas, in a sense, turning away from his major theme: a reliance on the Self. The letter was one of Emerson's rare sorties into political life, and, as such, it is all the more interesting.

SIR: The seat you fill places you in a relation of credit and nearness to every citizen. By right and natural position, every citizen is your friend. Before any acts contrary to his own judgment or interest have repelled the affections of any man, each may look with trust and living anticipation to your government. Each has the highest right to call your attention to such subjects as are of a public nature, and properly belong to the chief magistrate; and the good magistrate will feel a joy in meeting such confidence. In this belief and at the instance of a few of my friends and neighbors, I crave of your patience a short hearing for their sentiments and my own: and the circumstance that my name will be utterly unknown to you will only give the fairer chance to your equitable construction of what I have to say.

Sir, my communication respects the sinister rumors that fill this part of the country concerning the Cherokee people. The interest always felt in the aboriginal population--an interest naturally growing as that decays--has been heightened in regard to this tribe. Even in our distant State some good rumor of their worth and civility has arrived. We have learned with joy their improvement in the social arts. We have read their newspapers. We have seen some of them in our schools and colleges. In common with the great body of the American people, we have witnessed with sympathy the painful labors of these red men to redeem their own race from the doom of eternal inferiority, and to borrow and domesticate in the tribe the arts and customs of the Caucasian race. And notwithstanding the unaccountable apathy with which of late years the Indians have been sometimes abandoned to their enemies, it is not to be doubted that it is the good pleasure and the

____________________

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Letter to President Van Buren," Complete Works (Centenary Ed.), ( Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903-04), XI, 89-96.

-94-

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