Make your own free website on


4.  E. Merton Coulter, "Georgia's Destiny"

    The Cherokees living in the mountainous part of the state to the northward, had not got in the way of the Georgians as quickly as had the Creeks; but Georgia was no less conscious of their presence and no less determined that they also must go.  In response to the policy, advocated by Jefferson as early as 1803, that the Indians should ultimately be removed to the regions west of the Mississippi, a group of Cherokees had left in 1809 to spy out this new land, and soon returned with a favorable report which led a few to migrate.  In 1817 and 1819 they made treaties giving up small strips in northeastern Georgia, and a large number departed, but these were mostly from Tennessee where they had made larger cessions.  It seemed that the Georgia Cherokees were less desirous to go than those living in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. 

    In 1824, seeing how the Creeks were being pushed out, the Cherokees adopted a definite policy against leaving, and in a memorial to Congress presented by John Ross, George Lowery, Major Ridge, and Elijah Hicks, declared that they knew what the western lands were like - a barren waste with neither trees nor water.   There they could engage only in the chase and warfare, and as they had decided to quit those occupations forever, it had now become "the fixed and unalterable determination of this nation never again to cede one foot more of our land."  As in the case of the Creeks, there developed a party among the Cherokees, who saw the futility of attempting to hold out against Georgia, and who, therefore, argued that the Cherokees, should remove as soon as convenient.  This lack of harmony among the Cherokees complicated the problem and led to a long and painful struggle before they were finally forced out.

    The United States government, by unwise acts, made more difficult the fulfillment of its promise to Georgia.  With one hand it tried to remove the Indians and with the other it planted them deeper into the Georgia soil.   In the treaties of 1817 and 1819, it allowed all Cherokees who wanted to become citizens of the United States and who were considered capable of managing their property to receive 640 acres of land and remain in Georgia.  It had also, in its efforts to civilize them, aided them with the implements of a stable society, and had helped the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to Christianize and educate them.   To pamper them in the importance that they were taking on as a nation apart from Georgia and in no wise under her control, the United States received Cherokee delegations with all the pomp given to diplomats of foreign nations.

    Under such benign influences the Cherokees began to take on a national consciousness and to consider themselves forever implanted in the lower ramparts of their beloved Southern highlands, in a region which had been claimed by Georgians from the day George II had granted it in 1732 but which had belonged to the Indians from time out of mind.  They numbered about 14,000.  Most of them lived in Georgia, and they owned in 1825 1,277 slaves.  Sequoyah, a remarkable Cherokee, invented in 1825 an alphabet; the next year a printing press was set up at New Echota, their capital, which began printing a newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix.  The following year they took a long step toward political stability by constructing themselves a constitution and modelling it slightly after the Federal document.  A representative of the United States made a trip through the Cherokee country in 1829, and declared that, "the advancement of the Cherokees had made in morality, religion, general information and agriculture had astonished him beyond measure.  they had regular preachers in their churches, the use of spirituous liquors was in a great degree prohibited, their farms were worked  much after the manner of the white people and were generally in good order."

    The threat of being deprived of a great part of her domain by an alien and semi-barbarous people appeared intolerable and unthinkable to Georgia; she would resist it to the uttermost limits.  Apparently no further dependence could be put in the promise of the United States to remove the Indians, for, going on the assumption that it was not bound to use force, it had not been able to make the Indians cede additional territory for almost a decade.  So Georgia started out on a policy which ignored the United States and its futile treaties and which came near ignoring the existence of the Cherokees.    John Forsyth, former minister to Spain and now governor, put a swift end to this new nation trying to erect itself in the state of Georgia.  He recommended to the legislature that it extend the laws of the state over the Cherokee country, since it was as much a part of Georgia as was the remainder of the state, and that body proceeded to do so on December 20, 1828.  Two years later it forbade the Indians to play longer with their make-believe government.  Now, there was no longer a Cherokee nation nor were there treaty rights; if the Indians wanted to remain in Georgia they must do so in competition with the whites.  Georgia hoped that this new policy of hers would drive them west of the Mississippi.

    Georgia, having assumed the government of the Cherokee country, soon found work to do.  An Indian named George Tassel or Corn Tassel was tried for murder in Hall County in 1830 and sentenced to be hanged.  Interested friends of the Cherokees had his case carried to the United States Supreme Court on a writ of error; but Georgia, resolving not to be bothered with Federal courts, ordered the sheriff to hang Tassel.  George R. Gilmer, who was now governor, declared that he would resist all interference with the Georgia courts.

    The Cherokees could get no consolation or sympathy from the imperious Andrew Jackson, president of the United States, for he had been long advising them to accept the inevitable and leave.  Even with Georgia ignoring the Cherokee treaty rights, Jackson would not act.  With the support of outside friends, the Cherokees sought to have Georgia restrained by the United States Supreme Court, which was dominated by the strong nationalist, John Marshall.  In 1830 they sought in that court, through their counsel, William Wirt and John Sergeant, to prevent Georgia from carrying out her laws in the Cherokee country.  In this case, known as the Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia, John Marshall held that the Cherokees had no right to bring suit, not because he did not sympathize with them, but because they were neither citizens nor a foreign nation.  Identifying the Indians legally for the first time in American history, he declared that they were a nation subject to the authority of the United States and were its wards.  It was clear that the court supported the position of the Indians in their quarrel with Georgia, but it was unable to act in this case, as the suit was not properly before the court.  But soon a time would come when it could act.

    In July, 1829, gold was discovered in northeastern Georgia, and a stampede set in which filled the diggings with a wild and lawless population.   To control them, Federal troops were marched in, and were marched out again when Georgia indicated to her friend, President Jackson, that she did not want them, and that she would manage the region.  In 1830 she required all white people in the Cherokee country to secure before March 1st of the following year, a permit to reside there.   Though designed primarily to bring to order the lawless gold-diggers, this law also touched the missionaries, who had been working among the Cherokees from the beginning of the century.  Even if their own sympathies had not inclined them to the Cherokee position, they would have found it politic in their work with the Indians to agree with them.  As a result, the missionaries had become a pernicious influence in the three-cornered imbroglio among Georgia, the Cherokees, and the United States.  They had steeled the hearts of the Indians against removal and had brought down upon themselves the hatred of Georgia.

    Headstrong and unwise, some of them showed their contempt for Georgia, by refusing to call for permits, and invited arrest.  The most prominent among them was Samuel A. Worcester.  They were tried before Judge Augustin S. Clayton in the Gwinnett County superior court, and released on a technicality, though Judge Clayton was fully determined to resist the Federal government on the main issue.   Governor Gilmer, seeking diligently to avoid trouble, begged the missionaries either to accept a permit or to leave the state within ten days.  Fanatically indignant that they should be asked to obey the laws of Georgia, they ignored Gilmer's pleas, and as a result, got themselves re-arrested by the Georgia militia and rather roughly handled before they were brought before the Gwinnett court again.  Eleven people were arrested, three being missionaries, Samuel A. Worcester, Elizur Butler, and James Trott.  They were tried in September, 1831, convicted, and sentenced to four years in the penitentiary.  Still desirous of being lenient with them, Governor Gilmer offered each a pardon if he would swear allegiance to Georgia and leave the Cherokee country.  All agreed with the exception of Worcester and butler, who decided they would try to become martyrs.

    Besides becoming martyrs, they also hoped to get their case and that of the Cherokee nation before the United States Supreme Court, which they believed would order Georgia out of the Indian country.  Worcester, not being an Indian, had the right to bring a case before the court.  He entered suit for his freedom in 1831, on the ground that he had violated no law, as Georgia's enactments dealing with the Cherokees were void.  The case, known as Worcester vs. Georgia, was heard the next year, with Wirt and Sergeant appearing for Worcester.  John Marshall now decided that the Georgia acts were void, that she should stop bedeviling the Cherokees, and that she should free Worcester.  Wilson Lumpkin, who was now governor and who had important ideas about the Cherokees, paid no attention to Marshall except to say that Georgia would not notice his decision; and President Jackson, who had no love for Marshall, the Indians, or the missionaries, refused to enforce the decision.  The missionaries now learning for the first time the astounding fact that Georgia was more powerful than the United States Supreme Court, thought better of their earlier refusal of a pardon, and in January, 1833, accepted the clemency offered by Governor Lumpkin.

    Before the Cherokee troubles were finally settled, Georgia had one more tilt with the Supreme Court, over James Graves, in a case similar to Tassel's.  Again she flouted the authority of the Supreme Court and ordered the execution of Graves.

    In the meantime, Georgia by other acts was bringing the Cherokee problem to a swift conclusion.  In 1831 she ordered the Cherokee lands to be surveyed, the next year she laid them out into ten new counties, and the following year she granted them all away in a lottery.  in 1834 she allowed the whites to go in and occupy their holdings, and gave the Cherokees two years to get out of the way.  Not only were the Cherokees maneuvered out of Georgia, but the United States was forced into a corner where it was necessary for her to act.  Most of the Cherokees were wise enough to see that they should make a treaty as soon as possible.  Their representatives went to Washington in 1834 and made a treaty, but a faction, headed by John Ross, a Scotch half-breed, refused to accept it, as they were determined never to leave Georgia.   The next year another treaty was made, but the Cherokees refused to accept it in a council they held at Running Water.  In December of that year, United States commissioners came to New Echota, the Cherokee capital, and made a treaty with the faction led by John Ridge, Major Ridge, and Elias Boudinot, who saw the futility of holding out longer.  The Ross followers refused to appear and opposed the treaty.  By this treaty the Cherokees agreed to give up all their lands and in return to migrate to lands in the West and receive $5,000,000.

    In 1838 the Cherokees, rounded up by the hard methods of the United States troops under General Scott, set out for their western home, giving up forever the Georgia hills, which they had so well loved and for which they had fought so long.  A small group were able to elude the law and the army and finally gain a legal footing in a reservation in western North Carolina, where they have ever afterwards kept alive their ancient manners and customs.

    Georgia's long struggle with the Indians was of widespread interest, not only to her own citizens but also to the people of the United States.   It upset Congress frequently and brought into play the oratory of Clay, Webster, and Calhoun as well as the heated clashes of others.  It became a subject of angry conversation among abolitionist groups and Northern sewing circles, and led to the widening of the ugly rift of sectionalism, which slavery had already created.   Georgia heard enough to make her resent Northerners coming south to exploit these troubles.  Mistaking John Howard Payne's visit to the Cherokees as outside meddling, she invade Tennessee to arrest him, and held him prisoner until his mission was better understood.

    Though Georgia was not the only state to have Indians, she had greater difficulty than any other in getting rid of them or settling the question of their status, despite the fact that the United States was under special obligations to her to remove them.  Through treaties negotiated by 1832, Mississippi had been given the promise of freedom from her Choctaws and Chickasaws; Florida, from her Seminoles; and Alabama, from her Creeks.  Georgia still had her Cherokees, with a few in north Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama, and it seemed to her that she was destined to have them forever.  She acted vigorously throughout the whole contest, and early took the lead in a struggle which she carried on with such success that it was unnecessary for the neighboring state to raise the issue.

    It had happened that more through natural developments than design, the United States had cleared out most of the Indians from the states north of the Mason and Dixon Line and of the Ohio River, while they still remained in great strength in the South.  This led Georgia to charge sectional partiality.

    With the Indians finally out of the way, Georgia was for the first time in her existence master of her own territorial destiny.  Now she was unshackled; with exuberance and enthusiasm she could now go forward.