January 16, 1832 – Alabama Passes Laws Restricting Rights of the Native Tribes

When Alabama became a state in 1819, its white residents eagerly anticipated the eventual expulsion of Native Americans in order to have access to their rich agricultural land so they could grow more cotton. Whites argued that Indians were racially inferior and incapable of land management because they viewed land holding very differently from European Americans, and besides, they simply wanted to take their land. State leaders began to insist that Indian nations were not really sovereign; therefore their land was rightfully owned by the states. To encourage Indian emigration, the federal government began offering western territory in exchange for Indian homelands. Most Cherokees refused to emigrate, however, and by the 1820s the Cherokee Nation under its leader John Ross vowed it would not give up one more foot of land.

Cherokee Leader John Ross

Cherokee Leader John Ross

On this day in history, the General Assembly of Alabama enacted provisions prohibiting the Creek and Cherokee from practicing customs or making laws that conflicted with Alabama law. The provision stated, “All laws, usages and customs now used, enjoyed, or practiced, by the Creek and Cherokee nations of Indians, within the limits of this State, contrary to the constitution and laws of this State, be, and the same are hereby abolished.”

This statute followed one passed three years earlier that effectively extended the jurisdiction of Alabama into Creek territory. The Creek Nation had repeatedly and unsuccessfully petitioned the federal government for assistance and protection.

Alabama-tribal-lands-in-Alabama-1830-300x291

Creek leaders continued organizing efforts to secure their tribal lands,but the 1832 law also declared it illegal for tribal leaders to “meet in any counsel, assembly, or convention” and create “any law for said tribe, contrary to the laws and constitution of this State.” Punishment for violating this law was imprisonment “in the common jail of the proper county, for not less than two, nor more than four, months.”

The 1832 law also provided that the Cherokee and Creek could only testify in court in suits involving other Cherokee and Creek, effectively ensuring that Creeks defrauded and illegally deprived of their land by white intruders would have no recourse in the Alabama courts.

In 1832, in the decision Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that individual states had no authority in American Indian affairs. President Andrew Jackson reportedly responded: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” While there is no proof he actually said this, his administration made clear that was their policy. In fact, from 1814 to 1824, Jackson was instrumental in negotiating nine out of eleven treaties which divested the southern tribes of their eastern lands in exchange for lands in the west. Many of those treaties had been made not only by using bribery, but by negotiating with members of tribes not authorized to enter into negotiations. The government of course didn’t care, as long as it got the land.

Andrew Jackson in 1824, painting by Thomas Sully

Andrew Jackson in 1824, painting by Thomas Sully

In 1830, just a year after taking office, Jackson pushed though Congress legislation called the “Indian Removal Act,” giving the U.S. President power to negotiate removal treaties with Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi. States like Alabama tried to make staying more unpalatable, but the tribes resisted removal; by 1838 only 2,000 had migrated; 16,000 remained on their land. The U.S. government sent in 7,000 troops, forcing the Cherokees into stockades at bayonet point. They were not allowed time to gather their belongings, and as they left, whites looted their homes. They were then marched out in what became known as the Trail of Tears, in which 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger, and disease on their way to the western lands.

By 1837, the Jackson Administration had removed 46,000 Native American people from their land east of the Mississippi, opening 25 million acres of land to white settlement and to slavery.

Map of United States Indian Removal, 1830-1835.

Map of United States Indian Removal, 1830-1835.

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