Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Treaty of Hopewell

The Treaty with the Cherokee, made on November 28, 1785 at Hopewell Plantation in South Carolina, better known as the Treaty of Hopewell (1785), was concluded between the Cherokee and the United States. It reflected a generally accepted pattern of treaty making between the United States and American Indian tribes that was commonly practiced throughout the late 1780s. After the American Revolution, the newly constituted federal government decided to use a peaceful treaty process to order its relations with Native Americans rather than subduing them outright through conquest. The 13 articles that constitute the treaty were entered into by four American commissioners and 37 Cherokee "head-men and warriors" on the banks of the Keowee River on November 28, 1785.

Specifically, the Treaty of Hopewell provided for post-hostility prisoner exchange, collective placement of the Cherokee under the protection of the United States, determination of boundaries, prohibition of settlement by U.S. citizens on Indian lands, extradition of non-Indian criminals to the United States and their punishment by the United States, prohibition of retaliation by either side, supremacy of the federal government (over the states) to regulate trade with the Cherokee and special regulation of that trade, notice to the United States by the Cherokee of designs against it which they may discover, allowance of an Indian deputy to Congress, and perpetual peace and friendship.

In legal theory, the inherent sovereignty of the Cherokee to manage internal relations among themselves was preserved and protected from outside interference—either by the federal government or by the governments of the states wherein they resided. American federal jurisdiction was triggered only when the actions and/or rights of U.S. citizens were implicated and in relation to trade.

The Hopewell treaty, like all treaties concluded by Congress as that body existed in its unicameral form under the Articles of Confederation prior to adoption of the Constitution, reflected the broad federal policy of separation that was based upon George Washington's suggestion of 1783:

As the Country is large enough to contain us all; and as we are disposed to be kind to them and to partake of their Trade, we will . . . draw a veil over what is past and establish a boundary line between them and us beyond which we will endeavor to restrain our People from Hunting or Settling, and within which they shall not come, but for the purposes of Trading, Treating, or other business unexceptionable in its nature.

However, within five years white settlement had increased dramatically on the lands set aside for the Cherokee in the treaty, despite a proclamation by Congress on September 1, 1788, forbidding such activity and directing those citizens who had settled with their families on Cherokee hunting grounds to depart immediately.

By 1790, under the new American constitutional system of government, President Washington was obliged to ask Congress its pleasure regarding the issue:

Notwithstanding the [Hopewell] treaty and proclamation upward of 500 families have settled on the Cherokee lands exclusively of those settled between the fork of French Broad and Holstein rivers, mentioned in the said treaty. [Thus] I shall conceive myself bound to exert the powers entrusted to me by the Constitution in order to carry into faithful execution the treaty of Hopewell, unless it shall be thought proper to attempt to arrange a new boundary with the Cherokees, embracing the settlements, and compensating the Cherokees for the cessions they shall make on the occasion.

Congress directed the president to renegotiate with the Cherokee, resulting in the July 2, 1791, Treaty of Holston, which reiterated the general terms of the Treaty of Hopewell but reduced the breadth of Indian lands. This was followed by a succession of treaties gradually reducing both Cherokee lands and sovereignty until their final removal from the Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas area to west of the Mississippi River along the Trail of Tears in 1838.

Michael J. Kelly

Further Reading
Kappler, Charles J., ed. and comp. Indian Treaties, 1778–1883. New York: Interland, 1975; Wardell, Morris L. A Political History of the Cherokee Nation 1838–1907. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1938; Washington, George. "Letter to James Duane (Sept. 7, 1783)." In Documents of United States Indian Policy, ed. Francis Paul Prucha, 2nd ed., 1–2. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

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