The Cherokee Cases: Two Landmark Federal Decisions in the Fight for Sovereignty by Jill NorgrenPart of a series on landmark Supreme Court cases, this short monograph provides a readable account of the origins and consequences of the three suits filed by the Cherokees against the state of Georgia in the early 1830s: State vs. Tassels (1830), Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia (1831), and Worcester vs. Georgia (1832). According to Norgren, the three cases grew out of a diplomatic dispute between two states claiming sovereignty over the same region, namely the Cherokee nation and Georgia. Both rested their claim on agreements with the federal government, the Georgians on their 1802 territorial compact with the United States, the Cherokees on the treaties they had signed with five successive presidential administrations. The Cherokees leaders, notably Principal Chief John Ross, demonstrated considerable agency in these suits, hiring former attorney general William Wirt to represent them in the Supreme Court after Andrew Jacksons partisans took over the other two branches of the U.S. government. The actual result of the three cases proved ambiguous. While the Worcester decision affirmed some degree of residual Indian sovereignty and partially repealed the conquest-and-discovery language of the Johnson vs. McIntosh case (1823), both the Court and the Jackson administration agreed to set the Worcester decision aside in order to defuse confrontations between the United States, South Carolina (over Nullification), and Georgia that might have led to a shooting war. Later courts set aside Native sovereignty in favor of the doctrine of Congressional supremacy asserted in the Major Crimes Act (1885) and the Lone Wolf vs. Hitchcock case (1903). In the 1970s and 80s the Burger and Rehnquist courts did revive the old Cherokee Nation decision, but they mainly used it to emphasize Indians status as domestic dependents, not their status as nations. For the most part, Norgren concludes, federal courts since the 1830s have offered Native Americans little more than false hopes.
Cherokee Cases (3/3): Worcester v. Georgia
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia 1831
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia asked the Supreme Court to determine whether a state may impose its laws on Native Americans and their territory. In the late s, the Georgia legislature passed laws designed to force the Cherokee people off their historic land. The Supreme Court refused to rule on whether the Georgia state laws were applicable to the Cherokee people. In , the U. The Cherokee people had historically occupied the lands in Georgia and been promised ownership through a series of treaties, including the Treaty of Holston in Between and , land-hungry settlers and politicians attempted to negotiate with the Cherokee people in order to claim the land for themselves.
Learn more on our privacy and legal page. Add all page s of this document to activity:. In , the state of Georgia passed a series of acts taking away rights of Cherokees residing within the state, including Cherokee removal from land that the state wanted. The Cherokee asserted that Georgia did not have the jurisdiction or authority to do these things, since the Cherokee Nation was sovereign and protected under a treaty with the United States. The Cherokee first tried to negotiate a resolution with President Andrew Jackson; but the negotiations fell apart quickly. Under the leadership of principal chief John Ross, the Cherokee Nation sought an injunction or order to stop what the State of Georgia was doing from the U. Supreme Court.
Motion for an injunction to prevent the execution of certain acts of the Legislature of the State of Georgia in the territory of the Cherokee Nation, on behalf of the Cherokee Nation, they claiming to proceed in the Supreme Court of the United States as a foreign state against the State of Georgia under the provision of the Constitution of the United States which gives to the Court jurisdiction in controversies in which a State of the United States or the citizens thereof, and a foreign state, citizens, or subjects thereof are parties. The Cherokee Nation is not a foreign state in the sense in which the terms "foreign state" is used in the Constitution of the United States.
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Georgia extended criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed by Cherokees within the Cherokee Nation. Traditionally and legally, the Cherokee had their own criminal jurisdiction. The Georgia legislature also declared the Cherokees had no legal title to the land that the state would respect. Consequently, surveyors were dispatched with military support to begin surveying Cherokee land for development and settlement. The governor was authorized to take possession of Cherokee gold mines. All contracts made between Georgia and the Indians were voided.
Plaintiff's Claim: That the U. Supreme Court, using its constitutional powers to resolve disputes between states and foreign nations, stop Georgia from illegally and forcefully removing the Cherokee Nation from its lands. Chief Lawyer for the Plaintiff: William Wirt. Decision: Ruled in favor of Georgia by finding that the Supreme Court had no legal authority to hear the dispute because Indian tribes are "domestic dependent nations," not foreign nations. Significance: By refusing to hear the case, the Court left the Cherokees at the mercy of the state of Georgia and its land-hungry citizens. In late the Cherokee were forcefully marched under winter conditions from their homes in northwest Georgia to lands set aside in Oklahoma. Four thousand died in military detention camps and along the infamous "Trail of Tears.