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Two Documents on Indian Removal (1830s)

The U.S. failed to adopt a consistent policy towards Native American tribes during the early 19th century, but, generally, Americans agreed that Indians in Eastern states needed to be moved west of the Mississippi so that Eastern lands could be developed by whites.  The only real issue was how rapidly this should be done and by what means.  By the 1830s, the state of Georgia was upset that the federal government had not removed the Cherokee Indians who lived within Georgia, and the state took steps to remove the Cherokee on their own.

Worcester v. Georgia  (1832)

In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that state laws could not be applied to Indians.  This ruling, in essence, denied that the state of Georgia had the power to remove the Cherokee from their land in Georgia.  As you read, think about why the court ruled as it did.

The defendant is a State [Georgia], a member of the Union, which has exercised the powers of government over a people who deny its jurisdiction, and are under the protection of the United States..... We must inquire whether the act of the Legislature of Georgia...be consistent with, or repugnant to the Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States.  It has been said at bar that the acts of the Legislature of Georgia seize on the whole Cherokee country, parcel it out among the neighboring counties of the State, extend her [law] to the whole country, abolish its institutions and laws, and annihilate its political existence....The very passage of this act [by Georgia]  is an assertion of jurisdiction over the Cherokee Nation....

From the commencement of our government Congress has passed acts to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indians; which treat them as nations, [and] respect their rights....
The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community, occupying its own territory... in which the laws of Georgia have no force.... The Acts of Georgia are repugnant to the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States.  They interfere forcibly with the relations established between the United States and the Cherokee Nation, the regulation of which according to the settled principles of our Constitution, are committed exclusively to the government of the Union.

Andrew Jackson, "The Removal of Southern Indians..." (1835)

President Jackson opposed the Supreme CourtĖs ruling in Worcester v. Georgia and refused to enforce it, saying, "Mr. Marshall has made his decision now let him enforce it."  In the end, the Cherokee were removed by gun point to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma.  Thousands of Cherokee died in transit; the event is now known as the Trial of Tears.

 As you read Jackson's statement on Indian Removal, think about why Jackson favored permitting Georgia to remove the Cherokee.  In what sense was JacksonĖs stance consistent with the ideology of his Democratic Party?

The condition and ulterior design of the Indian tribes within some of our States have become objects of much interest and importance.... Professing a desire to civilize and settle them we have, at the same time lost no opportunity to purchase their lands and thrust them farther into the wilderness.  By this means they have not only been kept in a wandering state, but led to look upon us as unjust and indifferent to their fate.  [Thus], government has constantly defeated its own policy... [and the Indians] have retained their savage habits.... [Some] states claiming to be the only sovereigns within their territories, extended their laws over the Indians, which induced the latter to call upon the United States for their protection....

Georgia became a member of the confederacy which eventuated in our Federal Union as a sovereign State, always asserting her claim to certain limits,... was admitted to the Union on the same footing as the original States.  There is no constitutional, conventional or legal provision which allows them less power over the Indians within their borders than is possessed by Maine or New York.  Would the people of Maine permit the Penobscot tribe to erect an independent government within their State?.... Could the Indians establish a separate republic [in Ohio]?  And if they were so disposed would it be the duty of the [federal] government to protect them in their attempt? If the principle involved in the obvious answer to this question be abandoned, it would follow that the objects of this government are reversed, and it has become part of its duty to aid in destroying the States which it was established to protect....

Our conduct towards these people is deeply interesting to our national character.  Their present condition... makes a most powerful appeal to our sympathies... Surrounded by the whites with their arts of civilization, which by destroying the resources of the savage doom him to weakness and decay.... This fate surely awaits them if they remain within the limits of the States.... Humanity and national honor demand that every effort should be made to avert so great a calamity.  A state cannot be dismembered by Congress or restricted in the exercise of her constitutional power.... The people of those States and of every State, actuated by feelings of justice and a regard for our national honor, submit to you the interesting question whether something cannot be done, consistent with the rights of the States, to preserve this much injured race.

As a means of effecting this end I suggest... setting apart an ample district west of the Mississippi, and without the limits of any State or Territory now formed, to be guaranteed to the Indian tribes as long as they shall occupy it.... There the benevolent may endeavor to teach them the arts of civilization, and by promoting union and harmony among them... attest to the humanity and justice of this government."

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