Worchester v Georgia Essay

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The case Worcester v. Georgia (1832) was a basis for the discussion of the issue of states’ rights versus the federal government as played out in the administration of President Andrew Jackson and its battle with the Supreme Court. In addition to the constitutional issues involved, the momentum of the westward movement and popular support for Indian resettlement pitted white man against Indian. All of these factors came together in the Worcester case, which alarmed the independence of the Cherokee Nation, but which was not enforced. This examines the legal issues and tragic consequences of Indian resettlement.
As the frontier moved west, white settlers wanted to expand into territory, which was the ancestral land of many Indian tribes. Although this had been going on since the administration of George Washington, during the administration of Andrew Jackson the government supported the policy of resettlement, and persuaded many tribes to give up their claim to their land and move into areas set aside by Congress as Indian Territory. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Resettlement Act, which provided for the removal of Indians to territory west of the Mississippi River. While Jackson was President, the government negotiated 94 treaties to end Indian titles to land in the existing states.
Many tribes resisted this policy. Wars were fought as a result. The Sac and Fox Indians in Wisconsin and Illinois reoccupied their lands after having been forced to move west of the Mississippi. They were defeated. The Seminole Indians refused to sign a treaty to give up their lands. They, too, fought and lost a bitter war to remain on their land.
The Cherokees of Georgia were another tribe that resisted. They did not want to give up their way of life. The Cherokee governed themselves under a written constitution. They were prosperous farmers. They developed a written language and published a widely read newspaper, THE PHOENIX, in Cherokee. They did not want to sign the resettlement treaty. Cherokee leaders explained their point of view in the following statement, which appeared on August 21, 1830 in the NILES WEEKLY REGISTER:
“We wish to remain on the land of our fathers. We have a perfect and original right to remain without interruption…If we are compelled to leave our country we see nothing but ruin before us. The country west of the Arkansas territory is unknown to us. From what we can learn…the inviting parts of it …are
preoccupied by various Indian nations, to which it has been assigned. They would regard us as intruders, and look upon us with an evil eye. The far greater part of that region is, beyond all controversy, badly supplied with wood and water; and no Indian tribe can live as agriculturists without these articles. All our neighbors, in case of our removal, though crowded into our near vicinity, would
speak a language totally different from ours, and practice different customs. The original possessors of that region are now wandering savages lurking for prey in the neighborhood. They have always been at war, and would be easily tempted to turn their arms against peaceful emigrants. Were the country to
which we are urged much better than it is represented to be, and were it free from the objections we have made to it, still it is not the land of our birth, nor of
our affections. It contains neither the scenes of our childhood, nor the graves of our fathers” (Forman, 339).

During this period of Indian resettlement, the question of whether Indians had a fight to their land came to a head in the case of Worcester v. Georgia (1832). The federal government had signed treaties with many Indian tribes including the Cherokees of Georgia, which recognized tribes as sovereign nations and granted them the right to keep their ancestral lands. However, states like Georgia granted to control Indian lands and supported Indian resettlement. In 1831 Samuel Worcester, a Presbyterian minister from Vermont, went to Cherokee territory in Georgia to preach and to translate the Bible into the Cherokee language. The Georgia legislature had passed a state law that required any white person going onto Indian lands to get a license. Georgia lawmakers wanted to keep out people who might stir up the Cherokees against the state.
Georgia officials arrested Worcester, saying he had broken state law. Worcester was brought to trial in the Georgia court, found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison. He thought the Georgia court was wrong and appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. Worcester argued that the state of Georgia had not the power to make laws concerning the Cherokee tribe. He said that his visit to Cherokee land had been allowed under federal law because the United States had made treaties with the Cherokees, which recognized them as an Independent nation. The treaties were federal law, and they were higher than state law. The Supreme Court had to decide whether the state law went against the provisions of the Constitution. Article VI says:
“…this Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the Supreme” Law of the Land, and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or
Laws of any State to the Contrary not withstanding…”(Constitution, Article VI)
The Supreme Court decided in favor of Worcester. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the opinion of the Court. It said that the Cherokee nation was an independent community, established by federal treaty. Only the federal government could deal with the Cherokee nation. The state of Georgia could not pass laws affecting the Cherokees. The Supreme Court had made an important decision on the legal status of Indian tribes. What the Supreme Court says SHOULD be the law of the land; but the Court has no power to enforce the law. It is up to the President to do that. However, President Jackson did not agree with the Court’s decision. He is reported to have said, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.”(Foreman 339) The state of Georgia wanted the Cherokees out, and sent in the state militia to force them out of their homes. Jackson did nothing to stop it. The Cherokees were marched into Indian Territory in what is now the state of Oklahoma. Many thousands suffered and died on this march, which became known as the “Trail of Tears.”
In his farewell address to Congress in 1837, Jackson said:
“The States which had so long been retarded in their improvement by the Indian tribes residing in the midst of them are…relieved of the evil; and this unhappy race – the original dwellers in our land are now placed in a situation where we may well hope that they will share in the blessings of civilization and be saved from that degradation and destruction to which they were rapidly hastening while they remained in the State.” (Wallace, 102)
This would affect me if I were a US citizen because it would teach me that the president could over rule the Supreme Courts decision just because he is the president. It shows just how unfair can corrupt the judicial system can be. It also shows exactly why there has always been a ‘war’ between the white man and minorities all over. Many people can be greedy and it should be up to the judicial system of America to help minorities solve their problems. If the highest court in the land can’t do anything and if the president doesn’t care, who can we turn to?
Foreman, Grant. The Five Civilized Tribes Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1934.
Quote from the Niles Weekly Register, cited in Foreman, p. 339
Wallace, Antony The Long, Bitter Trail. New York: Hill & Wang, 1993 p. 102
Williams, Jeanne. Trails of Tears .New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1972 pp. 174-176
Cherokee Nation v. State Of GA(1831) .http://www.councilfire.com/historical/chvgeo.htm.

Accessed on December 17, 2001
Worchester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515(1832). http://wwww.law.cornell.edu/cgi-
bin/folicgi.exe/hostorica/query=group+31+u!2…/hits_only.htm. Accessed on Dec 20, 2001.

Cherokee Nation and its Plight. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/cherokee/htm.

Accessed on December 20, 2001
Worchester vs. Georgia. http://sites.netscape.net/indianlawusa/worcester. Accessed on December 23, 2001.

Works Cited
Foreman, Grant. The Five Civilized Tribes Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1934.
Quote from the Niles Weekly Register, cited in Foreman, p. 339
Wallace, Antony The Long, Bitter Trail. New York: Hill ; Wang, 1993 p. 102
Constituton. www.encarta.com. Search query: Constit

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