Indian Removal Act of 1830

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The state of Georgia had begun passing laws to remove the Cherokee even before the Indian Removal Act.  It’s because of the Georgia laws that Congress passed a federal law.  The Cherokee tried to fight removal in the American court system

To contest the Georgia laws, the Cherokee filed a suit against the state of Georgia.  Claiming that they were a foreign nation, legally, the case went directly before the United States Supreme Court.  The case is called the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia.  Previous to this, it was policy that Native American tribes were handled as if foreign countries, but this was controversial.  Many politicians, including Andrew Jackson, thought that Native American tribes should assimilate and become part of the country.

The Cherokees argument was that state of Georgia could not pass laws governing a foreign country.  Georgia’s attorneys counter argued that the Cherokee were not a foreign nation and were subject to Georgia law.

The Supreme Court—under Chief Justice John Marshall—declined to rule on the case.  The Court ruled that the Cherokee were not a foreign nation, but a dependent nation living within the United States.  Therefore, the case could not be ruled on by the Court because it was not under their jurisdiction. Marshall pointed out that a case could be filed, but it would have to be in the appropriate court.  The Supreme Court could only hear it if it reached them under and appeal.

This disappointing ruling caused the Cherokee’s legal team to change strategy.  They chose to challenge part of the Georgia laws that prohibited non-Indians from being on Indian land without a state license.  This law was made to prevent white missionaries, such as Samuel Worcester and six others, from encouraging Native American resistance to removal.  Worcester and the other missionaries refused to apply for the licenses (that would have been denied anyway) and were tried and convicted.

Because Worcester was an American citizen, he could file a law suit.  In that court case—referred to as Worchester v. Georgia, Worcester and the missionaries claimed that they had not done anything wrong because the Georgia law was being enforced on sovereign Native American territory.  They claimed that only the federal government could make such a law, so the state law was unconstitutional.

When the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, the Court agreed and ordered Worcester freed.  Native American tribes were to be treated the same as foreign nations and only the federal government had the authority to deal with them.  But the case did not make any ruling to stop Indian removal.  Andrew Jackson had made his name, in part, as an Indian fighter.  When he became President, Jackson suggested and pushed Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  The Act ordered the removal of all Native Americans east of the Mississippi River to be moved west.

The forced removal of the Native Americans culminated in the infamous Trail of Tears.  The Trail of Tears was the forced relocation of Native American nations from southeastern the United States following the Indian Removal Act to present-day Oklahoma. Native American tribes—most notably the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee and Seminole—were forced to march to make way for white settlement of their land. Along the way, many died of starvation, disease and exposure.

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