While the Cherokee have retained their distinctive features as an Indian tribe, yet .they have been more liberal than any other tribe in the matter of welcoming outsiders to their midst. They have admitted many Indians of other tribes and more white men than any other tribe to the rolls of their citizenship. Among their families may be traced the blood of the Delaware, Choctaws, Creeks, Shawnees and other Indians, as well as that of the English, Scotch, Irish, German, Swede and American. While it is claimed by some ethnologists that such a mixture of the blood of many nationalities tends toward deterioration, yet the fact remains indisputable that the Cherokee have reached a higher stage of civilization than any other Indian tribe.
They were the first tribe to adopt a written constitution. In 1828, while they were yet living in Georgia and of practically pure Indian blood, they adopted their first constitution, which was patterned largely after that of the United States, but modified to suit their own condition and needs.
This constitution, with slight modification, was re-adopted at Tahlequah, by the reunited Eastern and Western Cherokee, on September 6, 1839, being the year following their emigration to Indian Territory. This constitution has remained the fundamental law of the tribe for almost a century, it being necessary, however, to slightly amend it on November 26, 1866, to conform to the provisions of their final treaty concluded with the United States on July 19, 1866. The most important provision of these amendments provides as follows
“All native-born Cherokee, all Indians and whites legally members of the nation by adoption, and all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months from the 19th day of July, 1866, and their descendants, who reside within the limits of the Cherokee Nation, shall be taken and deemed to be citizens of the Cherokee Nation.”
The amendment just quoted caused much dissatisfaction and lamentation among the Cherokee people and continues to this day to be a bone of contention among them.
That amendment gave the freedmen a share in the property of the Cherokee Nation, and it is claimed by some of the tribe that the United States compelled them to agree to that provision in their treaty of 1866 as a punishment for the aid which the Cherokee rendered to the Southern Confederacy during the Civil war. The loyal Cherokee, especially those who lost all their property and were compelled to flee from their homes and tramp their way to Kansas or Missouri on account of their loyalty to the Government, still regard that punishment as unjust and undeserved. An attempt is now being made by the Cherokee to persuade the Government to reimburse them for the property which they unwillingly gave to the Negroes.