1831 - Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

In this case, Chief Justice John Marshall establishes 'special circumstances' clause and forges the concept of 'domestic dependent nations."

         This case - and Worcester v Georgia, which came a year later - were brought about by the refusal of southern states, notably Georgia, to recognize either federal authority over Indian affairs, Indian title to land, or the supremacy clause of the Constitution. 

Cherokee Nation

  A cartoon lampooning the state of Georgia after the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.


         By all accounts, these two cases "were the central fury" of one of the greatest constitutional crises in the history of the nation.  Certainly, this was the "most serious crisis in the history of the high court" up until this time.  As passions intensified, the former president John Quincy Adams wrote:  "the Union is in the most imminent danger of dissolution…the ship is about to founder."  One writer has neatly summarized the crisis this way:

         "The Governor, legislators, and judges of Georgia, publicly dared the Supreme Court to interfere; and the President of the United States, who had encouraged - or at least winked at - this outrage, now seemed prepared to stand by and watch the state defy the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States."

         The president who was willing to defy the high court was Andrew Jackson.  Jackson made it clear to Congress that he had no use for Indians or federal protection of Indian tribes, regardless of his oath of office, an oath that bound him to the contrary.  He wrote the governor of Georgia, Wilson Lumkin, "By some strange infatuation seems to prevail among these Indians.  That they cannot remain where they are and prosper is attested as well by their actual condition as by the whole history of our aboriginal tribes.  Still they refuse to adopt the only course which promises a cure or even alleviation for the evils of their present condition."


         As an Indian fighter and treaty commissioner who used bribery and extortion as his principle tools for swindling the tribes out of their lands, Jackson had much to do with creating that present condition.  Those who watched him work in treaty councils said that no tool of deception, no lie or fraud or swindle, was beneath him.