In the landmark case, The Cherokee Nation v. The State of Georgia, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1831 that the Cherokee Indian Nation was not a foreign nation and therefore ruled that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction. This exhibit contains Associate Justice Smith Thompson's dissenting opinion.
Major Ridge (Kah-nung-do-tla-geh) (ca. 1771–1839) a mixed-blood, slave-owning leader of the Chickamuaga Cherokees in Georgia and a friend of government agent Benjamin Hawkins, fought American settlers for years before becoming an advocate for cultural adaptation. He signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, which eventually resulted in the Trail of Tears, the forced migration of the Cherokee people to lands west of the Mississippi. He was killed by fellow Cherokees.
In a landmark case on the rights of Native Americans, Cherokee Nation vs. The State of Georgia, the Supreme Court refused to order an injunction against Georgia’s extensions of state laws over the Cherokee Indian Nation. The effect was to force the Cherokee to abandon their lands and move to the Federal Indian Reservation west of the Mississippi. Justice Smith Thompson (1768–1843), wrote a dissenting opinion, which was vindicated two years later by the Supreme Court ruling that states could not arbitrarily extend their laws over Indian Nations, but this was too late to save the Georgia Cherokee from “The Trail of Tears” to their western reservation.
The Law Library of Congress collection contains a variety of American Indian legal materials. The Law Library holds most of the laws and constitutions from the early nineteenth century produced by the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole who were forced to leave the Southeast for the Indian Territory after passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Some of these documents are in the vernacular languages of the tribes.
John Ross, long-time leader of the Cherokee Nation, was born on October 3, 1790, in Cherokee territory now part of Alabama. He grew up near Lookout Mountain on the Tennessee-Georgia border. Ross served as president of the Cherokee’s National Committee (their legislature) from 1819 to 1826, as delegate to the Cherokee constitutional convention in 1827, as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to 1839, and finally as principal chief of the United Cherokee Nation from 1839 until his death in 1866.
Oklahoma entered the Union as the forty-sixth state on November 16, 1907. The history of Oklahoma is tied to the early nineteenth-century use of this land for relocating the Native American population from the settled portions of the United States.