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

By Louis Filler; Allen Guttmann | Go to book overview

LAND POLICIES AND THE GEORGIA LAW OF DECEMBER 19, 1829

The Federal Government's land policy had been a democratic one in that the Ordinance of 1785 specified that lands purchased from the Indians were to be surveyed and sold at auction in lots of not less than 640 acres and at a minimum price of $1 an acre. Unfortunately, these apparently liberal terms gave speculators advantages over farmers, few of whom had funds sufficient to purchase 640 acres and, at the same time, to establish themselves on their newly purchased lands. By 1832, federal lands were sold in lots of 40 acres at a minimum auction price of $1.25 an acre, but even this liberalization of land policy was illiberal compared to the system established in Georgia.1 Georgia's Act of May 11, 1803, provided for a centrally administered system by which lands were distributed through lotteries in which everyone had, substantially, an equal chance. Lands were priced from six and a half cents to one dollar an acre. Under this policy, despite speculation and fraud, three-fourths of the area of the state was parcelled out to 100,000 individuals at an average price of approximately ten cents an acre, far less than 10% of the price of federal lands. The land lotteries of 1821 and of 1827 disposed of the lands ceded by the Creek nation. In 1828 and 1829, the people of Georgia looked for fresh lands and, while looking, sang these revealing lyrics: "All I ask in this creation / Is a pretty little wife and a big plantation / Way up yonder in the Cherokee Nation."

Georgia lost little time pondering President Jackson Annual Message. On December 19,1829, Governor George R. Gilmer signed into law a bill which, in effect, gave the Cherokees less than seven months to conclude their affairs as a semi-autonomous nation. The people of Georgia expected that the Cherokee lands would soon be distributed by the lottery system. (Their expectations were met in 1832, when, three years before the final cession of the lands by the Cherokees, the territory was surveyed and allotted to the people of Georgia.) In signing the law herein reprinted, Governor Gilmer, who was not a

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1
For Federal land policy, see Roy M. Robbins, Our Landed Heritage ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1942); for Georgia's policy, see Milton S. Heath, Constructive Liberalism: The Role of the State in Economic Development in Georgia to 1860 ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954), pp. 139-158.

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