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Cherokee Removal: Timeline & History

Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

Beginning in the 1820s, white expansionists required more land. The Cherokee Indians held a valuable piece of territory in Georgia. Learn how the federal government removed the Cherokee to make way for white expansion.

Introduction

By the late 1820s, white settlers began encroaching upon native lands in the southeastern United States. Whites believed that Manifest Destiny encouraged their acquisition of new lands for development and expansion; yet, native groups, such as the Cherokee, thought otherwise. Eventually, white settlers and members of the Cherokee nation became embroiled in a legal conflict within the state of Georgia. While the Cherokee fought valiantly for their right to their land, President Andrew Jackson, the state of Georgia and white settlers successfully removed the native group to federal lands west of the Mississippi River.

First Legal Battle

In 1827, the Cherokee drafted and ratified a tribal constitution that established the notion of sovereignty. The Cherokee believed that as a sovereign nation, they could determine the final outcome of their lands. Unfortunately, the state of Georgia rejected the Cherokee constitution. The state believed that the Cherokee were only temporary inhabitants on the land and were required to cede the territory whenever requested. The Cherokee decided to sue Georgia in the United States Supreme Court.

In the case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 1830, the United States Supreme Court sided with the state of Georgia and declared that the Cherokees did not have the right to sue a state government because they were not a sovereign entity. In other words, the Supreme Court believed that the Cherokee were dependent upon the federal government; and, if necessary, only the federal government could sue a state in federal courts. This was a major setback for the Cherokee, and the Jackson Administration made it worse.

In the same year, President Jackson drew up the Indian Removal Act, which was subsequently passed by Congress. The legislation allowed Jackson to negotiate removal treaties with Indian groups with the guarantee that they would be moved to federally preserved and protected lands west of the Mississippi River. Those who chose not to accept the treaties were faced with federal intervention.

Second Legal Battle

With the passage of the Indian Removal Act, the state of Georgia began passing anti-Cherokee laws in an attempt to force the native group off the lands. One of the laws required state licenses to be obtained for any white missionary wishing to reside on Cherokee land. Those who did not obtain a license were arrested. Samuel Worcester was the first to find out first hand that Georgia took its anti-Cherokee laws seriously. Worcester, a white northern missionary, was arrested for failing to obtain a license to live amongst the Cherokee. Worcester and the Cherokee Indians once again attempted to sue Georgia in the Supreme Court.

In the case of Worcester v. Georgia, 1832, the Supreme Court, this time, ruled in favor of the Cherokee Indians. The Supreme Court declared the Cherokee a nation dependent only upon the federal government for support. Therefore, Georgia had no right to enact laws against what was considered a nation. The Cherokee finally achieved a victory, yet it was only to be short-lived.

Jackson's Forced Removal

Upon hearing of the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of the Cherokee nation, President Jackson defied the decision and began a process of removing the Cherokee from Georgia. In 1833, Jackson sabotaged the Cherokee nation by mediating a treaty with a coalition who did not represent the Cherokee. The Treaty of New Echota, as it came to be called, agreed to Cherokee removal terms immediately.

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