Resistance in the Courts
Digital History ID 682
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia
The Cherokee people did not respond passively to President Andrew Jackson's efforts to evict them from their lands. They challenged the removal policy in court.
In 1828, the Cherokee living in Georgia tried to secure their lands by adopting a constitution. Georgia refused to recognize the document and declared that the Cherokee were subject to state laws. The Cherokee appealed to the Supreme Court, but in the case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction, since the Cherokee were not a foreign nation as defined by the United States Constitution.
Though the Indians are acknowledged to have an unquestionable, and heretofore, unquestioned right to the lands they occupy, until that right shall be extinguished by a voluntary cession to our government; yet it may well be doubted whether those tribes shall reside within the acknowledged boundaries of the United States can, with strict accuracy, be denominated foreign nations. They may, more correctly perhaps, be denominated domestic dependent nations. They occupy a territory to which we assert a title independent of their will, which must take effect in point of possession when their right of possession ceases. Meanwhile they are in a state of pupilage. Their relations to the United States resemble that of a ward to his guardian.
They look to our government for protection; rely upon its kindness and its power; appeal to it for relief to their wants; and address the president as their great father. They and their country are considered by foreign nations, as well as by ourselves, as being so completely under the sovereignty and dominion of the United States that any attempt to acquire their lands, or to form a political connection with them, would be considered by all as an invasion of our territory, and an act of hostility....
If it be true that the Cherokee nation have rights, this is not the tribunal in which those rights are to be asserted. If it is true that wrongs have been inflicted, and that still greater are to be apprehended, this is not the tribunal which can redress the past or prevent the future.
The motion for an injunction is denied.
Source: 5 Peters 15-20 (1831).
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