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Cherokee in North Georgia 6
Winning and Losing
About North Georgia

A New Civilization


As attorney-general under James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, William Wirt gained experience in arguing cases before the Supreme Court. In 1831 the Cherokee Nation sought Wirt as legal council in an attempt to gain the recognition of the United States in an effort to forestall the machinations of the state of Georgia. Wirt was a staunch anti-Jackson who had been earlier introduced to the Cherokee chiefs including John Ross.

Wirt came to the Cherokee at a very troubling time. They had little money because President Jackson and his cronies had changed the way the annuity (the annual sum the U.S. had agreed to pay the Cherokee Nation in return for prior concessions in treaties) was paid. Secretary of War Lewis Cass decided to pay the money to the Cherokee individually rather than as a group, undermining the financial stability of the nation. When Wirt began to represent the Cherokee Nation the only money they had was that donated by sympathetic northerners.

Wirt began studying Georgia cases involving the Cherokee Nation when he realized the murder case of George Corn Tassel could be taken to the United States Supreme Court by a writ of error. He felt that the proceedings against Tassel had been in error because the Georgia court had no standing in the case (Tassel was accused and convicted of killing a Cherokee within the Cherokee Nation). The court accepted the appeal and, on December 12, 1830, ordered the state to produce the records of the trial. Georgia had a simple solution to the problem…they hung Tassel, committing murder (since the sentence was under appeal it could not be legally carried out). The state of Georgia then refused to produce the records of the trial and when Wirt argued the case in court, he did so unopposed on March 12 and 14, 1831.

Wirt did not know it at the time, but two weeks earlier the state of Georgia passed a law requiring a white man working for a Cherokee to have a permit. This law was aimed at a number of people including the established ministries throughout the Cherokee Nation as well as the white man who printed the Cherokee Messenger. On the day Wirt rose to argue Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the first white men were arrested under the new law.

Four days later the Supreme Court announced its decision. The Cherokee Nation did not have standing to sue the state of Georgia. However, Chief Justice Marshall, who hated Andrew Jackson, advised Wirt on how to proceed in establishing a precedent to gain standing. And it was Georgia's actions in March, 1831 that would give them the case.

One of the men detained for working without a license was Stephen Austen Worcestor. Known to the Cherokee as "The Messenger," Worcestor had been fundamental in securing the printing press and type to allow for the printing of the Cherokee Phoenix. Worcestor and 10 other men were forced to march from Talking Rock (the mission at Carmel) to Lawrenceville, Georgia, where they would stand trial. 9 of the men decided to accept Georgia's demands and left, while Elizur Butler and Worcestor decided to battle the power of the state. On July 25, 1831, Superior Court judge Augustin Clayton handed down their sentence; Worcestor and Butler were sentenced to 4 years hard labor at the prison in Milledgeville.

February 20, 1832 brought arguments in Worcestor v. Georgia to the United States Supreme Court. William Wirt argued for Samuel Worcestor while Georgia, confident of success, refused to appear. On March 3, 1832, Chief Justice Marshall handed down the unanimous opinion of the Court. The Cherokee Nation was sovereign. Georgia law no longer applied to the Cherokee. Justice Story wrote “The Court has done its duty. Now let the Nation do theirs.” At some point, Andrew Jackson supposedly said “Marshall made the ruling, let him enforce it,” but this cannot be attributed to the president. On March 17, with the Supreme Court ruling in their hands, Worcestor’s lawyers applied for his release. It was not forthcoming.

Former President, and current member of the U. S. House of Representatives John Quincy Adams spoke out against, rebuking the United States for its failure to “prevent the manifest violations of its laws.” Augustin Smith Clayton, in whose honor Clayton County is named responded that Adams and others were “meddling with what did not concern them.”

Georgia’s relentless abuse of the Cherokee forced them to move the council site from New Echota to Chattooga in present-day Alabama. Although New Echota would still be the capital, the Cherokee were afraid the Georgia Guard would break up council and arrest the members, as the Guard had done to the white missionaries. The selected site had been a meeting place for local Cherokee for years, and anti-Cherokee sentiment in Alabama was not as strong.

One problem with holding council in Chattooga seemed that it was not central enough. The Cherokee Nation, was split into 12 political units spreading from extreme northern Alabama to the mountainous western end of North Carolina. It took five days for the chiefs from Aquohee district to travel to the council. In the first meeting at Chattooga, on July 22, 1832, the council agreed to convene next at Red Clay, just over the Georgia border in Tennessee. The major discussion, though, was over a response to the Georgia lottery giving Cherokee land to settlers.

Within the Cherokee Nation a movement had begun among members of the “Lower Towns,” advocating a peaceful removal to “Indian Lands” west of the Mississippi. In 1831-2 Elias Boudinot, editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, became convinced that the only way to preserve the nation was to peacefully move west. It was a viewed shared by only a few others in the Cherokee Nation, but as editor of the national paper, Boudinot had the means to communicate his views to a large percentage of the population. At first, John Ross felt that fair presentation of opposing views, especially in the editorial pages of the newspaper, was good for the nation. Boudinot, however, let his views seep into the stories in the Phoenix and Ross informed him this must stop. On August 1, 1832 Elias Boudinot resigned his position as editor, but continued to live at New Echota, occasionally writing pro-removal pieces that Elijah Hicks (the new publisher of the Phoenix) would publish.

By the end of the October, 1832 council at Red Clay, the Sixth Georgia Land Lottery was eminent. Still, the Cherokee Nation held hope that Worcestor v. Georgia would be enforced. On November 6, 1832 Governor Wilson Lumpkin addressed the Georgia legislature and promised “determined resistance” to the Supreme Court ruling. Luckily for the state, the Nullification Crisis was about to take center stage.

What Georgia had done silently, South Carolina decided to do flamboyantly. While the two cases are actually very similar, when the Nullification Crisis flared the interest in the Cherokee’s case waned. In order to end the case while the nation was distracted, Governor Lumpkin offered Worcestor his freedom in exchange for stopping all legal proceedings. Worcestor agreed to the proposal and sent a letter to Wirt requesting that he cease all proceedings on his behalf on January 8, 1833. Following this request, Worcestor requested that Lumpkin pardon him. On January 14, 1833 the governor granted Worcestor’s request.

With the Georgia land lottery now complete, and a seeming end to the Worcestor v. Georgia case, the Cherokee’s hopes of settling their problems in court were dashed.

Cherokee civilization in Georgia
The western push of the settlers force the Cherokee to move South and West
Cultural Changes of the Cherokee
The Cherokee accept new technologies to make their lives easier
Rising Tides - Nationalism in the Cherokee Nation.
The Cherokee begin to consolidate the power they have gained and attempt, much to the chagrin of the state of Georgia, to form a government.
Revolution and Rebellion
Flashpoint - Gold
The Georgia Gold Rush brings thousands of men into the Cherokee Nation
Rising Tides - Winning and Losing
The Supreme Court declares the Cherokee an independent nation, so they may only be dealt with by the federal government under the Treaty Clause of the Constitution
Treaty of New Echota
To satisfy the Treaty requirement the U. S. negotiates with a small, radical faction of the Cherokee to sign a treaty
Cherokee Trail of Tears


Cherokee Indians
Explore the life of the Cherokee Indians in their "Enchanted Land"

Article Links
Augustin Clayton
Cherokee Nation
Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Trail of Tears
Cherokee civilization in Georgia
Cultural Changes of the Cherokee
Elias Boudinot
Flashpoint - Gold
Georgia Gold Rush
John Ross
Revolution and Rebellion
Rising Tides - Nationalism in the Cherokee Nation
Rising Tides - Winning and Losing
Stephen Austen Worcestor
Treaty of New Echota

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