Plaintiff: Cherokee Indian Nation
Defendant: State of Georgia
Plaintiff's Claim: That the U.S. Supreme Court, using its constitutional powers to resolve disputes between states and foreign nations, stop Georgia from illegally and forcefully removing the Cherokee Nation from its lands.
Chief Lawyer for the Plaintiff: William Wirt
Chief Lawyer for the Defendant: None
Justices for the Court: Henry Baldwin, William Johnson, Chief Justice John Marshall, John McLean
Justices Dissenting: Smith Thompson, Joseph Story (Gabriel Duvall did not participate)
Date of Decision: March 5, 1831
Decision: Ruled in favor of Georgia by finding that the Supreme Court had no legal authority to hear the dispute because Indian tribes are "domestic dependent nations," not foreign nations.
Significance: By refusing to hear the case, the Court left the Cherokees at the mercy of the state of Georgia and its land-hungry citizens. In late 1838 the Cherokee were forcefully marched under winter conditions from their homes in northwest Georgia to lands set aside in Oklahoma. Four thousand died in military detention camps and along the infamous "Trail of Tears." The forced removal of Indian tribes from the Southeastern United States was completed by 1858.
"The whole scene since I have been in this country has been nothing but a heart-rendering one . . . I would remove every Indian tomorrow beyond the reach of the white men, who, like vultures, are watching, ready to pounce on their prey and strip them of everything they have . . . " U.S. General John Ellis Wood in charge of the Cherokee removal quoted in "The Time Machine." American Heritage, September/October 1988.
Before settlement by European colonists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Cherokee Indians lived along much of North America's southeastern coast. By the 1780s, war, disease, and starvation had killed most American Indians living along much of North America's eastern coastline. The Cherokee population shifted further inland and negotiated treaties with the U.S. government to protect their remaining homelands. Based on a treaty signed with the United States in 1791, the Cherokee were settled on traditional lands in the hills of northwest Georgia and western North Carolina.
As U.S. settlement pressed further inland in the early nineteenth century, many surviving Indian groups forcefully resisted further land loss. Some even sided with Britain against the United States in the War of 1812 (1812–1814). However, the United States won the war in 1814 and General Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) promptly led the U.S. military to victory over the Creeks and other Indian groups who had actively opposed the United States.
In contrast to the Creeks, the Cherokee had early accepted U.S. presence as inevitable and adopted a more peaceful policy of coexistence. In dealing with European intrusion into...