Resistance in the Courts
Digital History ID 691
Worcester v. Georgia
In 1832, the year after Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the Cherokees won a legal victory in the Supreme Court. The state of Georgia had imprisoned Samuel A. Worcester, a religious missionary, for residing on Cherokee land in violation of a state law, which required him to obtain a permit and swear allegiance to the state. The court ruled on Worcester's behalf, declaring that the Cherokees were a distinct community "in which the laws of Georgia can have no force" and that the federal government had an obligation to enforce its treaty obligations. President Jackson refused to enforce the decision, and the state of Georgia began to distribute Cherokee land to whites.
The treaties and laws of the United States contemplate the Indian territory as completely separated from that of the states; and provide that all intercourse with them shall be carried on exclusively by the government of the Union.
The Indian nations had always been considered as distinct, independent, political communities, retaining their original natural rights, as the undisputed possessors of the soil, from time immemorial....The constitution, by declaring treaties already made, as well as those to be made, to be the supreme law of the land, has adopted and sanctioned the previous treaties with the Indian nations, and consequently, admits their rank among those powers who are capable of making treaties....
The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community, occupying its own territory, with boundaries accurately described, in which the laws of Georgia can have no force, and which the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter, but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves, or in conformity with treaties, and with the acts of Congress....
The act of the state of Georgia, under which the plaintiff in error was prosecuted, is consequently void, and the judgment a nullity.
Source: 315 U.S. 515 (1832).
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