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The Cherokee Constitution of 1839

The following editorial profoundly resonates with me on so many levels. I will resist any urge to comment further and simply share.

Paper: The Cherokee Advocate
Date: 1889-01-23
Headline: The Cherokee Constitution

“Two prominent features of the Cherokee Constitution---which are wanting in the Constitution of the United States---best adapts the first mentioned instrument to the professed purpose of both.

That professed purpose is to secure and defend to each citizen of the government his inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A hundred years experience has proven that the American Constitution and Government will not accomplish that purpose. The wealth of the few has become more and more enormous---the poverty of the many, more widespread and hopeless, since the famous declaration was made by Jefferson that all men are created free and equal.

Such inequality has not been seen under the Cherokee government, and can never be seen while our Constitution lasts as it was framed at first, more than sixty years ago.

The two provisions of the instrument that do so much for the people are, in substance, 1st,---That each and every citizen is vested with the right to make, acquire, or hold improvements upon the domain that belongs to all alike—the improvements to be the sacred and indefeasible property of the owner while he occupies and uses them in person or by lawful tenant----Provided, 2nd----The legislature shall be authorized to so confine the exercise of this right to acquire “improvements” that it shall in no case interfere with or restrict the exercise of the same natural right in all others.

What Jefferson meant, and what the Cherokees believe and act upon is this: that the natural inequalities everywhere perceivable among mankind as regards strength of body and mind should never be allowed to interfere with the right of each person to profit by the gifts of the Creator common to all.

One of these gifts is the earth---the mother of all---the source of the universal nourishment to be extracted by labor. Everyone must then have as clear a right to the earth, and to its products, the result of his own labor, as he has a right to live; and everyone must have as much right to the common gift as anyone else has, and no more.

That form of government therefore is defective that will allow one person to have a great deal of land, while others, for that reason, have to go without. The English and American governments allow this. The Cherokee government does not. Therefore we have a right to say that the difference in that respect is in favor of the Cherokee government.

Once for all, let it be understood that the Cherokees are not what are termed Communists.

Their government is required by their Constitution to secure to each member of the Nation a fair and equal chance by the sweat of his brow to become happy in his own way, and to be independent of the frowns or favors of others. The Government is expected and empowered to do this by means of wise enactments to prevent the monopoly of land by any person or company.

But the right of a citizen to the products of his labor is as carefully protected by the Cherokee government as is his right to labor.

In the sense that one man has much right as another to get a decent and a happy living for himself and family by the sweat his brow, in that sense and no other, is the land of the Cherokee Nation common property. Keeping that fact constantly in view, a man’s home, a man’s property of all descriptions are as inviolably his, and as rigidly secured to him and his heirs by the laws of this Nation, as the same kind of property is to anybody else in the world, under any other Government. Leaving out the baleful passion of greed, the indulgence in which is so much encouraged by being allowed full exercise by other so called civilized governments, every rational, and worthy incentive to labor is as actively at work among the Cherokees as among any other people on earth. It follows that unlimited ease, or enormous and disproportionate wealth among them is impossible; and it is equally true that the dreadful concomitants of the riches, idleness, and luxury of the favored few----namely:---the poverty, the ill-paid or excessive labor or enforced idleness, the suffering and wretchedness of the unregarded many, are impossible also among the Cherokees. Thus is the Cherokee government shunning a rock upon which all other governments have been, or are being, wrecked. It has for its first object the exaltation of the moral, benevolent and patriotic sense of the whole community by practically imposing upon each member the highest truth of civilization, namely, that every other member has the same right to live and live happily that he has; and that this right can be permanently secured to no one if the gift of the earth as field of labor is suffered by the Government which represents all, to be monopolized by any.

What then do the laboring men of the United States mean by inciting their Government to destroy ours? Or is it true that they do? The hope of the laboring man of this age is in the practice or exemplification of the great truth stated by Jefferson---that all men are created free and equal---a truth which has been found to be for the most part a mere sentiment with men who claim property in land by grant of a king, but which Cherokees from time immemorial have regarded and acted upon as a supreme practical truth which they have made the very foundation of their written Constitution in the way and for the purpose above explain.”

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The Cherokee Constitution of 1839
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18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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