Worcester v. Georgia
Overview
 
Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515
Case citation
Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported...

 (1832), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 vacated the conviction of Samuel Worcester
Samuel Worcester
Samuel Austin Worcester , was a missionary to the Cherokee, translator of the Bible, printer and defender of the Cherokee's sovereignty. He was a party in Worcester v...

 and held that the Georgia criminal statute that prohibited non-Indians from being present on Indian lands without a license from the state was unconstitutional.

The opinion is most famous for its dicta, which lay out the relationship between tribes
Indian tribe
In the United States, a Native American tribe is any extant or historical tribe, band, nation, or other group or community of Indigenous peoples in the United States...

 and the state and federal government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

s, building the foundations of the doctrine of tribal sovereignty in the United States.
Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

 passed laws restricting the right to take away the authority of the Cherokee over their lands.
Encyclopedia
Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515
Case citation
Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported...

 (1832), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 vacated the conviction of Samuel Worcester
Samuel Worcester
Samuel Austin Worcester , was a missionary to the Cherokee, translator of the Bible, printer and defender of the Cherokee's sovereignty. He was a party in Worcester v...

 and held that the Georgia criminal statute that prohibited non-Indians from being present on Indian lands without a license from the state was unconstitutional.

The opinion is most famous for its dicta, which lay out the relationship between tribes
Indian tribe
In the United States, a Native American tribe is any extant or historical tribe, band, nation, or other group or community of Indigenous peoples in the United States...

 and the state and federal government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

s, building the foundations of the doctrine of tribal sovereignty in the United States.

Facts

Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

 passed laws restricting the right to take away the authority of the Cherokee over their lands. Among these was a law requiring all whites living in Cherokee Indian Territory, including missionaries and persons married to Cherokee, to obtain a state license to live there. After seven missionaries refused to obtain licenses, they were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to four years of hard labor. They refused to obey the military when they were asked to leave the state. They appealed their case to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that the law under which they had been convicted was unconstitutional because states have no authority to pass laws concerning sovereign Indian Nations.

The missionaries Samuel Worcester
Samuel Worcester
Samuel Austin Worcester , was a missionary to the Cherokee, translator of the Bible, printer and defender of the Cherokee's sovereignty. He was a party in Worcester v...

 and Elizur Butler were arrested by Georgia because of their opposition to Cherokee removal
Cherokee removal
Cherokee removal, part of the Trail of Tears, refers to the forced relocation between 1836 to 1839 of the Cherokee Nation from their lands in Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina to the Indian Territory in the Western United States, which resulted in the deaths of approximately...

. If they had applied for state licenses, they would have been denied. The Georgia state courts had previously deferred to Worcester because of his federal appointment as postmaster to New Echota
New Echota
New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation prior to their forced removal in the 1830s. New Echota is 3.68 miles north of present-day Calhoun, Georgia, and south of Resaca, Georgia. The site is a state park and an historic site....

, the Cherokee capital. However, George Rockingham Gilmer
George Rockingham Gilmer
George Rockingham Gilmer was an American statesman and politician. He served two non-consecutive terms as the 34th Governor of Georgia, the first from 1829 to 1831 and the second from 1837 to 1839...

, the governor of Georgia, persuaded the federal government to withdraw Worcester's appointment as postmaster in order to make him subject to arrest.

Opinion

Chief Justice John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

 laid out in this opinion the relationship between the Indian Nations and the United States is that of nations. He argued that the United States, in the character of the federal government, inherited the rights of Great Britain as they were held by that nation. Those rights, he stated, are the sole right of dealing with the Indian nations in North America, to the exclusion of any other European power, and not the rights of possession to their land or political dominion over their laws. He acknowledged that the exercise of conquest and purchase can give political dominion, but those are in the hands of the federal government and not the states.

The court ruled that the Cherokee nation was a "distinct community" with self-government "in which the laws of Georgia can have no force." It established the doctrine that the national government of the United States, and not individual states, had authority in American Indian
American Indian
American Indian may refer to:*Native Americans in the United States*Indigenous people of the Americas, the inhabitants of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus*Indian American, an American with ancestors from India...

 affairs.

Jackson's response

In a popular fictitious quotation, President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

 is supposed to have said: "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!". This derives from Jackson's consideration on the case in a letter to John Coffee, "...the decision of the Supreme Court has fell still born, and they find that they cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate," (that is, the Court's opinion was moot because it had no power to enforce its edict).

The ruling in Worcester ordered that Worcester be freed; Georgia complied after several months. In 1833, the newly elected governor, Wilson Lumpkin
Wilson Lumpkin
Wilson Lumpkin was a governor of Georgia, and a United States Representative and Senator.-Biography:Born near Dan River, Virginia, he moved in 1784 to Oglethorpe County, Georgia with his parents, who settled near Point Peter and subsequently at Lexington, Georgia...

, offered to pardon Worcester and Butler if they ceased their activities among the Cherokee. The two complied and were freed (under the authority of a January 14, 1833 general proclamation, not a formal pardon); they never returned to Cherokee lands.

The federal government and the Cherokee were not party to the suit. Worcester imposed no obligations on Jackson; there was nothing for him to enforce. The Court did not ask federal marshals to carry out the decision, as had become standard. Worcester may be seen as a prudential decision, for avoiding the possibility of political conflict between the Court and the Executive, while still delivering what appeared to be a pro-Indian decision.

As a tribal sovereignty precedent

Marshall's language in Worcester may have been motivated by his regret that his earlier opinions in Fletcher and Johnson had been used as a justification for Georgia's actions. Justice Story considered it similarly, writing in a letter to his wife dated March 4, 1832: "Thanks be to God, the Court can wash their hands clean of the iniquity of oppressing the Indians and disregarding their rights." Because Jackson proceeded with Cherokee removal
Cherokee removal
Cherokee removal, part of the Trail of Tears, refers to the forced relocation between 1836 to 1839 of the Cherokee Nation from their lands in Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina to the Indian Territory in the Western United States, which resulted in the deaths of approximately...

, Worcester did little more for indigenous rights than Johnson v. M'Intosh
Johnson v. M'Intosh
Johnson v. M'Intosh, 21 U.S. 543 , is a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that held that private citizens could not purchase lands from Native Americans...

or Cherokee Nation v. Georgia
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, , was a United States Supreme Court case. The Cherokee Nation sought a federal injunction against laws passed by the state of Georgia depriving them of rights within its boundaries, but the Supreme Court did not hear the case on its merits...

.

In 1835, a dissident faction of Cherokee signed a removal treaty, the Treaty of New Echota
Treaty of New Echota
The Treaty of New Echota was a treaty signed on December 29, 1835, in New Echota, Georgia by officials of the United States government and representatives of a minority Cherokee political faction, known as the Treaty Party...

. Jackson lobbied the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty in 1836, where it passed by a majority of one vote. In 1838, under President Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States . Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President and the tenth Secretary of State, under Andrew Jackson ....

, the U.S. Army forcibly relocated the Cherokee to Indian Territory
Indian Territory
The Indian Territory, also known as the Indian Territories and the Indian Country, was land set aside within the United States for the settlement of American Indians...

 (part of present-day Oklahoma), in what would become known as the Trail of Tears
Trail of Tears
The Trail of Tears is a name given to the forced relocation and movement of Native American nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830...

.

Worcester is cited in several later opinions on the subject of tribal sovereignty in the United States.

External links

  • v. Georgia in the New Georgia Encyclopedia
    New Georgia Encyclopedia
    The New Georgia Encyclopedia is a web-based encyclopedia containing over 2,000 articles about the state of Georgia.The Georgia Humanities Council, the Office of the Governor of Georgia, the University of Georgia Press, and the University System of Georgia/GALILEO have collaborated in the funding...

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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