Worcester v. Georgia (1832)

In the 1820’s and 1830’s, the state of Georgia had begun a campaign to try to force the Cherokee tribe to resettle west.  The Cherokees brought their fight for their lands to the courts, citing a Georgia law the 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.

In that court case, 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.

Landmark Supreme Court Cases

BEFORE: Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)

AFTER:  Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857)


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