The westward push of settlers had begun to dramatically affect the Cherokee. The Cherokees steadily refused to treat for the sale of their country. (Worcester)
The American Indians, with the help of Samuel Austin Worcester (nephew of the ABCFM Corresponding Secretary Samuel Worcester), his former teacher Jeremiah Evarts and the American Board, formulated a plan to fight the encroachment in court, their last hope.
The missionaries ““Resolved, As our unanimous opinion, that the establishment of the jurisdiction of Georgia and other states over the Cherokee people, against their will, would be an immense and irreparable injury.” (Worcester)
No other civil authority would support the Cherokee right to live on the land they called home for hundreds of years. The board hired former U.S. Attorney General William Wirt to defend George Tassel, a Cherokee convicted of murder in Hall County. (About North Georgia)
But President Andrew Jackson’s program of ‘Indian removal’ – forced marches to lands across the Mississippi – soon led to a confrontation between the ABCFM and the US government.
In 1830, ABCFM missionaries Samuel Worcester and Elizur Butler ended up in the Georgia State Penitentiary for resisting these unjust policies.
They were tried on September 16, 1831, for violation of Georgia law. The jury brought a quick verdict of guilty, and Worcester was condemned to 4 years of hard labor in a penitentiary.
“The imprisoned missionaries were treated with all the kindness which the rules of the prison would allow. Except that all letters sent or received by them must be seen by some officer of the prison, they corresponded freely with their friends; and Mr. Worcester still continued to give advice and directions concerning the management of the mission.”
“Severe tasks were not imposed upon them; and when any peculiarly unpleasant work was to be performed, some of the other convicts often begged the privilege of doing it in their stead. Still, they did their full share of labor, and refused every indulgence which could distinguish them invidiously from their fellow prisoners.”
“Their case was brought, by a writ of error, before the Supreme Court of the United States, and argued by William Wirt and John Sargeant on the 20th, 21st and 23d of February. No one appeared before the Court in behalf of Georgia.”
“On the 3d of March (1832), Chief Justice Marshall pronounced the decision of the Court in favor of the missionaries, declaring the laws of Georgia, extending her jurisdiction over the Cherokee country, to be repugnant to the constitution, treaties and laws of the United States, and, therefore, null and void.”
“The mandate of the Court was immediately issued, reversing and annulling the judgment of the Superior Court of Georgia, and ordering that all proceedings on the indictment against the missionaries ‘do forever surcease,’ and that they ‘be, and hereby are, dismissed therefrom.’”
“Meanwhile, the work of taking possession of the Cherokee country went on. A law of Georgia forbade the Cherokee government to act, or to exist. An armed force was sent, to arrest the members of the national council, if they should attempt to meet; and the meeting was thus prevented.”
“The country was laid out into lots of 140 acres each, to be distributed by lottery. Possession was to be given immediately, except in cases of lots on which Cherokees were actually residing.”
“White men crowded into the nation to take possession of the vacant lots, even before the lottery was drawn. Some of these were appointed justices of the peace, and a show was made of enforcing the civil code of Georgia.”
“The drawing of the lottery commenced on the 22d of October, and, after a short suspension, to investigate certain frauds in the manner of conducting it, was soon completed. The legislature met early in November.”
“The Governor in his message, stated what progress had been made in taking possession of the Cherokee lands, and the legislature repealed the law, under which the missionaries had been imprisoned.” (Worcester)
“Suppose we have gained nothing. Ought we therefore to repent of having made the attempt? Are we never to make efforts and sacrifices for the accomplishment of an important object, without the certainty of success?”
“No. If we have gained nothing else, we have at least gained a very cheerful testimony of our consciences, that we have done what we could, for the preservation of injustice, oppression, and robbery, and the preservation of the national faith.” (Letter of Defense, Samuel Worcester and Elizur Butler, CongressionalLibary)
In 1838, Butler joined the ‘Trail of Tears’ to Oklahoma, a march which took the lives of 4,000-Cherokees and Butler’s own infant daughter – and eventually fueled a public backlash against Indian removal. (CongressionalLibary)