The Removal of the Cherokee Nation: Manifest Destiny or National Dishonor?

By Louis Filler; Allen Guttmann | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

0N February 21, 1828, Elias Boudinot, a full-blooded Indian educated by Christian missionaries, published the first issue of The Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper addressed to the Cherokee Nation. This first issue carried, in English and in the Cherokee alphabet invented by the celebrated Sequoyah, the text of a constitution adopted in July of the previous year. It seemed to the Rev. Samuel A. Worcester, the missionary who had suggested to Boudinot the name of the newspaper, that The Cherokee Phoenix was a symbol of the progress of the tribe. Under the protection of the United States, the Cherokees had adopted republican institutions and an agrarian way of life. Many of the Cherokees had been converted to Christianity. But most of the lands remaining to the Cherokee Nation lay within the boundaries of the State of Georgia, and the State of Georgia was determined to exercise its sovereignty. By January of 1832, Samuel Worcester was known to the world as one of the principals in Worcester vs. The State of Georgia, the Supreme Court case in which John Marshall attempted, unsuccessfully, to prevent the State from extending its laws throughout the Cherokee territory. During the fall and winter of 1838, the Cherokee Nation was gathered, under the guns of General Winfield Scott, and marched westward along paths that were to be known as The Trail of Tears." The following years Elias Boudinot, who had counseled reluctant compliance with Georgia's demands, was assassinated by his own embittered people.

The clash between the Cherokee Nation and the State of Georgia was one which dramatized the problems inherent in the relations between Indian and white man. The conflict was, in addition, one which led quickly to a complex struggle between the State of Georgia and a Federal Government that was itself rent by divisions and disagreements. The questions raised by the conflict were perplexing ones. Could the Georgians, equalitarian and individualistic as they were, disregard the Supreme Court's interpretation of laws and treaties and still be considered "democratic"? Could Andrew Jackson, who refused to enforce Marshall's decision, lead the people in pursuit of their "Manifest Destiny" without sacrificing the very ideals which justified aggressive expansionism? On the other hand, could anyone expect the state of Georgia to tolerate an autonomous nation within her borders? Were the Cherokees, themselves the owners of Negro slaves, worth defending at the risk of a civil war? Finally, could Indians and white people ever, to use a term popular today, coexist?

John Marshall realized the gravity of these problems: "The legislative power, of a state, the controlling power of the Constitution and laws of the United States, the rights, if they have any, the political existence of a once numerous and powerful people, the personal liberty of a citizen, are all involved in the

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