Worcester v. Georgia
An 1832 U.S. Supreme Court case, Worcester v. Georgia, established the relationship between the U.S. government and various Indian Nations within its borders. In practical terms, the court used the case to rule on the constitutionality of the law banning non-Natives from tribal lands.
The ruling was considered the underpinning of tribal sovereignty and rights as it struck down a state law that would apply beyond state boundaries. The U.S. Supreme Court is the final arbiter on the constitutionality of state laws.
The decision was also a hollow challenge to President Andrew Jackson, who had already started working to take land from the Natives. Without the enforcement of the ruling by federal marshalls it had no teeth.
Samuel Worcester was a University of Vermont-educated missionary, graduate of Andover Theological Seminary and printer working on Cherokee tribal lands in Georgia when he was arrested for breaking the law that prohibited non-Natives from being there without a license from the state. He challenged the arrest and the case went to the Supreme Court, which nullified the arrest.
Worcester and other missionaries chose not to get licenses from the state because they believed in tribal sovereignty. The license requirement might have been political as well because the growing population of the U.S. was pushing against tribal lands and Worcester was working with the Cherokees to develop a newspaper as well as to print the tribe’s important documents, all of which could have made the community more cohesive against U.S. government intrusions.
President Andrew Jackson disregarded the ruling that established tribal sovereignty. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 and Jackson began negotiating with Native tribes to take their land in the Southeast and move the inhabitants westward. The result was the Trail of Tears, a forced march of at least 1,000 miles that spread sickness and disease among the Natives.