6.2.3 Deep South (1803-1831): Federalism and the Trail of Tears

  • In the 1790s the Cherokee nation occupied large parts of north Georgia and southeast Tennessee.  The federal government persuaded the Cherokees to cede parts of their land in both states for white settlement, in return for payments and guarantees that they would not be disturbed on their remaining holdings.  This did not sit well with Georgians, particularly after gold was discovered in Cherokee country in the 1820s. 
  • The Georgia legislature took matters into its own hands, asserting power to punish Indian crimes and opening up reserved Cherokee lands for white settlement.  In Worcester v. Georgia (1834) the U.S. Supreme Court held that federal treaty rights took priority, but Georgia officials successfully defied the court, President Andrew Jackson sided with the Georgians, and in the late 1830s most Cherokees were forced to take the “Trail of Tears” to new lands in Oklahoma.  (See § __) 
  • Unlike Tennessee courts, which for a time were sympathetic to Cherokee rights before they finally went along with Jackson, Georgia lawmakers were unwavering in their efforts to seize tribal lands regardless of federal lawmakers’ wishes.  Georgia’s defiance of the Supreme Court and federal law, coming at about the same time South Carolina attempted to nullify an unpopular federal tariff (see § ____), was an early step on the road to secession and the Civil War.

“[T]he assertion of the President, that we have no right to enter the Indian country without our own limits, for the purpose of ascertaining boundary, and effecting measures connected with the peaceable objects of internal improvement, is a doctrine which this State will not admit, and against which it does most solemnly protest.” Georgia Legislature (1826)

“From the first decisive act of hostility, you will be considered and treated as a public enemy …. You, to whom we might constally have appealed, for our defence against invasions, are yourselves the invaders; and what is more, the unblushing allies of the savages, whose cause you have adopted.” – Georgia Governor George Troup to U.S. Secretary of War James Barbour (1827)

File:George M. Troup.jpg
Georgia Governor George M. Troup (1823-27) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Samuel Worcester - courtesy New Echota Historical Site and Wikimedia Commons