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Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 (Indians)



Document 10

Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

5 Pet. 1 1831

Marshall, Ch. J., delivered the opinion of the court.--This bill is brought by the Cherokee nation, praying an injunction to restrain the state of Georgia from the execution of certain laws of that state, which, as is alleged, go directly to annihilate the Cherokee as a political society, and to seize for the use of Georgia, the lands of the nation which have been assured to them by the United States, in solemn treaties repeatedly made and still in force.

If courts were permitted to indulge their sympathies, a case better calculated to excite them can scarcely be imagined. A people, once numerous, powerful, and truly independent, found by our ancestors in the quiet and uncontrolled possession of an ample domain, gradually sinking beneath our superior policy, our arts and our arms, have yielded their lands, by successive treaties, each of which contains a solemn guarantee of the residue, until they retain no more of their formerly extensive territory than is deemed necessary to their comfortable subsistence. To preserve this remnant, the present application is made.

Before we can look into the merits of the case, a preliminary inquiry presents itself. Has this court jurisdiction of the cause? The third article of the constitution describes the extent of the judicial power. The second section closes an enumeration of the cases to which it is extended, with "controversies" "between a state or citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects." A subsequent clause of the same section gives the supreme court original jurisdiction, in all cases in which a state shall be a party. The party defendant may then unquestionably be sued in this court. May the plaintiff sue in it? Is the Cherokee nation a foreign state, in the sense in which that term is used in the constitution? The counsel for the plaintiffs have maintained the affirmative of this proposition with great earnestness and ability. So much of the argument as was intended to prove the character of the Cherokees as a state, as a distinct political society, separated from others, capable of managing its own affairs and governing itself, has, in the opinion of a majority of the judges, been completely successful. They have been uniformly treated as a state, from the settlement of our country. The numerous treaties made with them by the United States, recognise them as a people capable of maintaining the relations of peace and war, of being responsible in their political character for any violation of their engagements, or for any aggression committed on the citizens of the United States, by any individual of their community. Laws have been enacted in the spirit of these treaties. The acts of our government plainly recognise the Cherokee nation as a state, and the courts are bound by those acts.

A question of much more difficulty remains. Do the Cherokees constitute a foreign state in the sense of the constitution? The counsel have shown conclusively, that they are not a state of the Union, and have insisted that, individually, they are aliens, not owing allegiance to the United States. An aggregate of aliens composing a state must, they say, be a foreign state; each individual being foreign, the whole must be foreign.

This argument is imposing, but we must examine it more closely, before we yield to it. The condition of the Indians in relation to the United States is, perhaps, unlike that of any other two people in existence. In general, nations not owing a common allegiance, are foreign to each other. The term foreign nation is, with strict propriety, applicable by either to the other. But the relation of the Indians to the United States is marked by peculiar and cardinal distinctions which exist nowhere else. The Indian territory is admitted to compose a part of the United States. In all our maps, geographical treatises, histories and laws, it is so considered. In all our intercourse with foreign nations, in our commercial regulations, in any attempt at intercourse between Indians and foreign nations, they are considered as within the jurisdictional limits of the United States, subject to many of those restraints which are imposed upon our own citizens. They acknowledge themselves, in their treaties, to be under the protection of the United States; they admit, that the United States shall have the sole and exclusive right of regulating the trade with them, and managing all their affairs as they think proper; and the Cherokees in particular were allowed by the treaty of Hopewell, which preceded the constitution, "to send a deputy of their choice, whenever they think fit, to congress." Treaties were made with some tribes, by the state of New York, under a then unsettled construction of the confederation, by which they ceded all their lands to that state, taking back a limited grant to themselves, in which they admit their dependence. Though the Indians are acknowledged to have an unquestionable, and heretofore unquestioned, right to the lands they occupy, until that right shall be extinguished by a voluntary cession to our government; yet it may well be doubted, whether those tribes which reside within the acknowledged boundaries of the United States can, with strict accuracy, be denominated foreign nations. They may, more correctly, perhaps, be denominated domestic dependent nations. They occupy a territory to which we assert a title independent of their will, which must take effect in point of possession, when their right of possession ceases. Meanwhile, they are in a state of pupilage; their relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian. They look to our government for protection; rely upon its kindness and its power; appeal to it for relief to their wants; and address the president as their great father. They and their country are considered by foreign nations, as well as by ourselves, as being so completely under the sovereignty and dominion of the United States, that any attempt to acquire their lands, or to form a political connection with them, would be considered by all as an invasion of our territory and an act of hostility. These considerations go far to support the opinion, that the framers of our constitution had not the Indian tribes in view, when they opened the courts of the Union to controversies between a state or the citizens thereof and foreign states.

In considering this subject, the habits and usages of the Indians, in their intercourse with their white neighbors, ought not to be entirely disregarded. At the time the constitution was framed, the idea of appealing to an American court of justice for an assertion of right or a redress of wrong, had perhaps never entered the mind of an Indian or of his tribe. Their appeal was to the tomahawk, or to the government. This was well understood by the statesmen who framed the constitution of the United States, and might furnish some reason for omitting to enumerate them among the parties who might sue in the courts of the Union. Be this as it may, the pecular relations between the United States and the Indians occupying our territory are such, that we should feel much difficulty in considering them as designated by the term foreign state, were there no other part of the constitution which might shed light on the meaning of these words. But we think that in construing them, considerable aid is furnished by that clause in the eighth section of the third [first] article, which empowers congress to "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." In this clause, they are as clearly contradistinguished, by a name appropriate to themselves, from foreign nations, as from the several states composing the Union. They are designated by a distinct appellation; and as this appellation can be applied to neither of the others, neither can the application distinguishing either of the others be, in fair construction, applied to them. The objects to which the power of regulating commerce might be directed, are divided into three distinct classes--foreign nations, the several states, and Indian tribes. When forming this article, the convention considered them as entirely distinct. We cannot assume that the distinction was lost, in framing a subsequent article, unless there be something in its language to authorize the assumption.

The counsel for the plaintiffs contend, that the words "Indian tribes" were introduced into the article, empowering congress to regulate commerce, for the purpose of removing those doubts in which the management of Indian affairs was involved by the language of the ninth article of the confederation. Intending to give the whole power of managing those affairs to the government about to be instituted, the convention conferred it explicitly; and omitted those qualifications which embarrassed the exercise of it, as granted in the confederation. This may be admitted, without weakening the construction which has been intimated. Had the Indian tribes been foreign nations, in the view of the convention, this exclusive power of regulating intercourse with them might have been, and, most probably, would have been, specifically given, in language indicating that idea, not in language contradistinguishing them from foreign nations. Congress might have been empowered "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, including the Indian tribes, and among the several states." This language would have suggested itself to statesmen who considered the Indian tribes as foreign nations, and were yet desirous of mentioning them particularly.

It has been also said, that the same words have not necessarily the same meaning attached to them, when found in different parts of the same instrument; their meaning is controlled by the context. This is undoubtedly true. In common language, the same word has various meanings, and the peculiar sense in which it is used in any sentence, is to be determined by the context. This may not be equally true with respect to proper names. "Foreign nations" is a general term, the application of which to Indian tribes, when used in the American constitution, is, at best, extremely questionable. In one article, in which a power is given to be exercised in regard to foreign nations generally, and to the Indian tribes particularly, they are mentioned as separate, in terms clearly contradistinguishing them from each other. We perceive plainly, that the constitution, in this article, does not comprehend Indian tribes in the general term "foreign nations;" not, we presume, because a tribe may not be a nation, but because it is not foreign to the United States. When afterwards, the term "foreign state;" is introduced, we cannot impute to the convention, the intention to desert its former meaning, and to comprehend Indian tribes within it, unless the context force that construction on us. We find nothing in the context, and nothing in the subject of the article, which leads to it.

The court has bestowed its best attention on this question, and, after mature deliberation, the majority is of opinion, that an Indian tribe or nation within the United States is not a foreign state, in the sense of the constitution, and cannot maintain an action in the courts of the United States.

A serious additional objection exists to the jurisdiction of the court. Is the matter of the bill the proper subject for judicial inquiry and decision? It seeks to restrain a state from the forcible exercise of legislative power over a neighboring people, asserting their independence; their right to which the state denies. On several of the matters alleged in the bill, for example, on the laws making it criminal to exercise the usual powers of self-government in their own country, by the Cherokee nation, this court cannot interpose; at least, in the form in which those matters are presented.

That part of the bill which respects the land occupied by the Indians, and prays the aid of the court to protect their possession, may be more doubtful. The mere question of right might, perhaps, be decided by this court, in a proper case, with proper parties. But the court is asked to do more than decide on the title. The bill requires us to control the legislature of Georgia, and to restrain the exertion of its physical force. The propriety of such an interposition by the court may be well questioned; it savors too much of the exercise of political power, to be within the proper province of the judicial department. But the opinion on the point respecting parties makes it unnecessary to decide this question.

If it be true, that the Cherokee nation have rights, this is not the tribunal in which those rights are to be asserted. If it be true, that wrongs have been inflicted, and that still greater are to be apprehended, this is not the tribunal which can redress the past or prevent the future. The motion for an injunction is denied.

. . . . .

Baldwin, Justice.--As jurisdiction is the first question which must arise in every cause, I have confined my examination of this, entirely to that point, and that branch of it which relates to the capacity of the plaintiffs to ask the interposition of this court. I concur in the opinion of the court, in dismissing the bill, but not for the reasons assigned. In my opinion, there is no plaintiff in this suit; and this opinion precludes any examination into the merits of the bill, or the weight of any minor objections. My judgment stops me at the threshold, and forbids me to examine into the acts complained of.

As the reasons for the judgment of the court seem to me more important than the judgment itself, in its effects on the peace of the country, and the condition of the complainants, and as I stand alone on one question of vital concern to both; I must give my reasons in full. The opinion of this court is of high authority in itself; and the judge who delivers it has a support as strong in moral influence over public opinion, as any human tribunal can impart. The judge, who stands alone in decided dissent on matters of the infinite magnitude which this case presents, must sink under the continued and unequal struggle; unless he can fix himself by a firm hold on the constitution and laws of the country. He must be presumed to be in the wrong, until he proves himself to be in the right. Not shrinking even from this fearful issue, I proceed to consider the only question which I shall ever examine in relation to the rights of Indians to sue in the federal courts, until convinced of my error in my present convictions.

My view of the plaintiffs being a sovereign independent nation or foreign state, within the meaning of the constitution, applies to all the tribes with whom the United States have held treaties; for if one is a foreign nation or state, all others, in like condition, must be so, in their aggregate capacity; and each of their subjects or citizens, aliens, capable of suing in the circuit courts. This case, then, is the case of the countless tribes, who occupy tracts of our vast domain; who, in their collective and individual characters, as states or aliens, will rush to the federal courts, in endless controversies, growing out of the laws of the states or of congress.

In the spirit of the maxim obsta principiis, I shall first proceed to the consideration of the proceedings of the old congress, from the commencement of the revolution up to the adoption of the constitution; so as to ascertain whether the Indians were considered and treated with, as tribes of savages, or independent nations, foreign states, on an equality with any other foreign state or nation, and whether Indian affairs were viewed as those of foreign nations, and in connection with this view, refer to the acts of the federal government on the same subject.

In 1781 (1 Laws U.S. 586), a department for foreign affairs was established, to which was intrusted all correspondence and communication with the ministers or other officers of foreign powers, to be carried on through that office; also with the governors and presidents of the several states; and to receive the applications of all foreigners, letters of sovereign powers, plans of treaties, conventions, &c., and other acts of congress relative to the department of foreign affairs; and all communications, as well to as from the United States in congress assembled, were to be made through the secretary, and all papers on the subject of foreign affairs to be addressed to him. The same department was established under the present constitution in 1789, and with the same exclusive control over all the foreign concerns of this government with foreign states or princes. (2 Laws U.S. 6, 7.) In July 1775, congress established a department of Indian affairs, to be conducted under the superintendence of commissioners. (1 Ibid. 597.) By the ordinance of August 1786, for the regulation of Indian affairs, they were placed under the control of the war department (Ibid. 614); continued there by the act of August 1789 (2 Ibid. 32, 33), under whose direction they have ever since remained. It is clear, then, that neither the old nor new government did ever consider Indian affairs, the regulation of our intercourse or treaties with them, as forming any part of our foreign affairs or concerns with foreign nations, states or princes.

I will next inquire, how the Indians were considered; whether as independent nations, or tribes with whom our intercourse must be regulated by the law of circumstances. In this examination, it will be found, that different words have been applied to them in treaties and resolutions of congress; nations, tribes, hordes, savages, chiefs, sachems and warriors of the Cherokees, for instance, or the Cherokee nation. I shall not stop to inquire into the effect which a name or title can give to a resolve of congress, a treaty or convention with the Indians, but into the substance of the thing done, and the subject-matter acted on; believing it requires no reasoning to prove, that the omission of the words prince, state, sovereignty or nation, cannot divest a contracting party of these national attributes, which are inherent in sovereign power pre- and self-existing, or confer them, by their use, where all the substantial requisites of sovereignty are wanting.

. . . . .

I now proceed to the instructions which preceded the treaty of Hopewell with the complainants, the treaty, and the consequent proceedings of congress. On the 15th March 1785, commissioners were appointed to treat with the Cherokees and other Indians, southward of them, within the limits of the United States, or who have been at war with them, for the purpose of making peace with them, and of receiving them into the favor and protection of the United States, &c. They were instructed to demand that all prisoners, negroes and other property, taken during the war, be given up; to inform the Indians of the great occurrences of the last war; of the extent of country relinquished by the late treaty of peace with Great Britain; to give notice to the governors of Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia, that they may attend, if they think proper; and were authorized to expend $4000 in making presents to the Indians; a matter well understood in making Indian treaties, but unknown, at least, in our treaties with foreign nations, princes or states, unless on the Barbary coast. A treaty was accordingly made, in November following, between the commissioners plentipotentiaries of the United States, of the one part, and the headmen and warriors of all the Cherokees, of the other. The word nation is not used in the preamble, nor any part of the treaty, so that we are left to infer the capacity in which the Cherokees contracted, whether as an independent nation, or foreign state, or a tribe of Indians, from the terms of the treaty, its stipulations and conditions. "The Indians, for themselves and their respective tribes and towns, do acknowledge all the Cherokees to be under the protection of the United States." (Art. 3, 1 Laws U.S. 322.) "The boundary allotted to the Cherokees for their hunting-grounds between the said Indians and the citizens of the United States, within the limits of the United States, is and shall be the following," viz. (as defined in Art. 4.) "For the benefit and comfort of the Indians, and for the prevention of injuries and aggressions on the part of the citizens or Indians, the United States, in congress assembled, shall have the sole and exclusive right of regulating the trade with the Indians, and managing all their affairs in such manner as they shall think proper." (Art. 9.) "That the Indians may have full confidence in the justice of the United States respecting their interests, they shall have the right to send a deputy of their choice, whenever they think fit, to congress." (Art. 12.)

This treaty is, in the beginning, called "article:" the word "treaty" is only to be found in the concluding line, where it is called "this definitive treaty." But article or treaty, its nature does not depend upon the name given it. It is not negotiated between ministers on both sides, representing their nations; the stipulations are wholly inconsistent with sovereignty; the Indians acknowledge their dependent character; hold the lands they occupy as an allotment of hunting-grounds; give to congress the exclusive right of regulating their trade, and managing all their affairs, as they may think proper. So it was understood by congress, as declared by them in their proclamation of 1st September 1788 (1 U.S. Laws 619), and so understood at the adoption of the constitution.

The meaning of the words "deputy to congress" in the twelfth article, may be as a person having a right to sit in that body, as, at that time, it was composed of delegates or deputies from the states, not as at present, representatives of the people of the states; or it may be as an agent or minister. But if the former was the meaning of the parties, it is conclusive to show, that he was not and could not be the deputy of a foreign state, wholly separated from the Union. If he sat in congress as a deputy from any state, it must be one having a political connection with, and within the jurisdiction of, the confederacy; if as a diplomatic agent, he could not represent an independent or sovereign nation, for all such have an unquestioned right to send such agents, when and where they please. The securing the right, by an express stipulation of the treaty; the declared objects in conferring the right, especially, when connected with the ninth article; show beyond a doubt, it was not to represent a foreign state or nation, or one to whom the least vestige of independence or sovereignty as to the United States appertained. There can be no dependence so anti-national, or so utterly subversive, of national existence, as transferring to a foreign government the regulation of its trade, and the management of all their affairs, at their pleasure. The nation or state, tribe or village, headmen or warriors of the Cherokees, call them by what name we please; call the articles they have signed a definitive treaty, or an indenture of servitude; they are not, by its force or virtue, a foreign state, capable of calling into legitimate action the judicial power of this Union, by the exercise of the original jurisdiction of this court, against a sovereign state, a component part of this nation. Unless the constitution has imparted to the Cherokees a national character, never recognised under the confederation; and which, if they ever enjoyed, was surrendered by the treaty of Hopewell; they cannot be deemed, in this court, plaintiffs in such a case as this.

In considering the bearing of the constitution on their rights, it must be borne in mind, that a majority of the states represented in the convention had ceded to the United States the soil and jurisdiction of their western lands, or claimed it to be remaining in themselves; that congress asserted, as to the ceded, and the states, as to the unceded territory, their right to the soil absolutely, and the dominion in full sovereignty, within their respective limits, subject only to Indian occupancy, not as foreign states or nations, but as dependent on, and appendant to the state governments; that before the convention acted, congress had erected a government in the north-western territory, containing numerous and powerful nations or tribes of Indians, whose jurisdiction was contemned, and whose sovereignty was overturned, if it ever existed, except by permission of the states or congress, by ordaining, that the territorial laws should extend over the whole district; and directing divisions for the execution of civil and criminal process in every part; that the Cherokees were then dependents, having given up all their affairs to the regulation and management of congress, and that all the regulations of congress over Indian affairs, were then in force over an immense territory, under a solemn pledge to the inhabitants, that whenever their population and circumstances would admit, they should form constitutions, and become free, sovereign and independent states, on equal footing with the old component members of the confederation; that by the existing regulations and treaties, the Indian tenure to their land was their allotment as hunting-grounds, without the power of alienation, that the right of occupancy was not individual, that the Indians were forbidden all trade or intercourse with any person, not licensed, or at a post not designated by regulation; that Indian affairs formed no part of the foreign concerns of the government, and that though they were permitted to regulate their internal affairs in their own way, it was not by any inherent right, acknowledged by congress or reserved by treaty, but because congress did not think proper to exercise the sole and exclusive right, declared and asserted in all their regulations from 1775 to 1788, in the articles of confederation, in the ordinance of 1787, and the proclamation of 1788; which the plaintiffs solemnly recognised and expressly granted by the treaty of Hopewell, in 1785, as conferred on congress, to be exercised as they should think proper.

To correctly understand the constitution, then, we must read it with reference to this well-known existing state of our relations with the Indians; the United States asserting the right of soil, sovereignty and jurisdiction, in full dominion; the Indians, occupancy of allotted hunting-grounds.

We can thus expound the constitution, without a reference to the definitions of a state or nation by any foreign writer, hypothetical reasoning, or the dissertations of the Federalist. This would be to substitute individual authority in place of the declared will of the sovereign power of the Union, in a written fundamental law. Whether it is the emanation from the people or the states, is a moot question, having no bearing on the supremacy of that supreme law which, from a proper source, has rightfully been imposed on us by sovereign power. Where its terms are plain, I should, as a dissenting judge, deem it judicial sacrilege to put my hands on any of its provisions, and arrange or construe them according to any fancied use, object, purpose or motive, which, by any ingenious train of reasoning I might bring my mind to believe was the reason for its adoption by the sovereign power, from whose hands it comes to me as the rule and guide to my faith, my reason and judicial oath. In taking out, putting in, or varying the plain meaning of a word or expression, to meet the results of my poor judgment, as to the meaning and intention of the great charter, which alone imparts to me my power to act as a judge of its supreme injunctions, I should feel myself acting upon it by judicial amendments, and not as one of its executors. I will not add unto these things; I will not take away from the words of this book of prophecy; I will not impair the force or obligation of its enactments, plain and unqualified in its terms, by resorting to the authority of names; the decisions of foreign courts; or a reference to books or writers. The plain ordinances are a safe guide to my judgment. When they admit of doubt, I will connect the words with the practice, usages and settled principles of this government, as administered by its fathers, before the adoption of the constitution; and refer to the received opinion and fixed understanding of the high parties who adopted it; the usage and practice of the new government, acting under its authority; and the solemn decisions of this court, acting under its high powers and responsibility; nothing fearing, that in so doing, I can discover some sound and safe maxims of American policy and jurisprudence, which will always afford me light enough to decide on the constitutional powers of the federal and state governments, and all tribunals acting under their authority. They will, at least, enable me to judge of the true meaning and spirit of plain words, put into the forms of constitutional provisions, which this court, in the great case of Sturges v. Crowninshield, say, "is to be collected chiefly from its words. It would be dangerous in the extreme, to infer from extrinsic circumstances, that a case for which the words of an instrument expressly provide, shall be exempted from its operation. Where words conflict with each other, where the different clauses of an instrument bear upon each other, and would be inconsistent, unless the natural and common import of words be varied, constructions become necessary, and a departure from the obvious meaning of words is justifiable." But the absurdity and injustice of applying the provision to the case, must be so monstrous, that all mankind would, without hesitation, unite in rejecting the application. 4 Wheat. 202--3. In another great case, Cohens v. Virginia, this court say, "the jurisdiction of this court then, being extended, by the letter of the constitution, to all cases arising under it, or under the laws of the United States, it follows, that those who would withdraw any case of this description from that jurisdiction, must sustain the exemption they claim, on the spirit and true meaning of the constitution, which spirit and true meaning must be so apparent as to overrule the words which its framers have employed." 6 Wheat. 379--80. The principle of these cases is my guide in this. Sitting here, I shall always bow to such authority; and require no admonition to be influenced by no other, in a case where I am called on to take a part in the exercise of the judicial power over a sovereign state.

Guided by these principles, I come to consider the third clause of the second section of the first article of the constitution; which provides for the apportionment of representatives and direct taxes "among the several states which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, excluding Indians not taxed." This clause embraces not only the old but the new states to be formed out of the territory of the United States, pursuant to the resolutions and ordinances of the old congress, and the conditions of the cession from the states, or which might arise by the division of the old. If the clause excluding Indians not taxed had not been inserted, or should be stricken out, the whole free Indian population of all the states would be included in the federal numbers, co-extensively with the boundaries of all the states included in this Union. The insertion of this clause conveys a clear definite declaration, that there were no independent sovereign nations or states, foreign or domestic, within their boundaries, which should exclude them from the federal enumeration, or any bodies or communities within the states, excluded from the action of the federal constitution, unless by the use of express words of exclusion. The delegates who represented the states in the convention well knew the existing relations between the United States and the Indians, and put the constitution in a shape for adoption, calculated to meet them; and the words used in this clause exclude the existence of the plaintiffs as a sovereign or foreign state or nation, within the meaning of this section, too plainly to require illustration or argument.

The third clause of the eighth article shows most distinctly the sense of the convention in authorizing congress to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes. The character of the Indian communities had been settled by many years of uniform usage, under the old government; characterized by the names of nations, towns, villages, tribes, head-men and warriors, as the writers of resolutions or treaties might fancy; governed by no settled rule, and applying the word nation to the Catawbas as well as the Cherokees. The framers of the constitution have thought proper to define their meaning to be, that they were not foreign nations nor states of the Union, but Indian tribes; thus declaring the sense in which they should be considered, under the constitution, which refers to them as tribes only, in this clause. I cannot strike these words from the book; nor construe Indian tribes, in this part of the constitution, to mean a sovereign state, under the first clause of the second section of the third article. It would be taking very great liberty, in the exposition of a fundamental law, to bring the Indians under the action of the legislative power as tribes, and of the judicial, as foreign states. The power conferred to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes, is the same given to the old congress, by the ninth article of the old confederation, "to regulate trade with the Indians." The raising the word "trade" to the dignity of commerce, regulating it with Indians or Indian tribes, is only a change of words. Mere phraseology cannot make Indians nations, nor Indian tribes, foreign states.

The second clause of the third section of the fourth article of the constitution is equally convincing. "The congress shall have power to dispose of, and make all needful regulations and rules respecting, the territory of the United States." What that territory was, the rights of soil, jurisdiction and sovereignty claimed and exercised by the states and the old congress, has been already seen. It extended to the formation of a government whose laws and process were in force within its whole extent, without a saving of Indian jurisdiction. It is the same power which was delegated to the old congress, and according to the judicial interpretation given by this court in Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 209, the word "to regulate" implied, in its nature, full power over the thing to be regulated; it excludes, necessarily, the action of all others that would perform the same operation on the same thing. Applying this construction to commerce and territory, leaves the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the Indian tribes wholly out of the question. The power given in this clause is of the most plenary kind. Rules and regulations respecting the territory of the United States--they necessarily include complete jurisdiction. It was necessary to confer it, without limitation, to enable the new government to redeem the pledge given by the old, in relation to the formation and powers of the new states. The saving of "the claims" of "any particular states," is almost a copy of a similar provision, part of the ninth article of the old confederation; thus delivering over to the new congress the power to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes, and regulate the territory they occupied, as the old had done, from the beginning of the revolution.

The only remaining clause of the constitution to be considered is the second clause in the sixth article. "All treaties made, or to be made, shall be the supreme law of the land." In Chirac v. Chirac, this court declared, that it was unnecessary to inquire into the effect of the treaty with France in 1778, under the old confederation, because the confederation had yielded to our present constitution, and this treaty had been the supreme law of the land. 2 Wheat. 271. I consider the same rule as applicable to Indian treaties, whether considered as national compacts between sovereign powers, or as articles, agreements, contracts, or stipulations on the part of this government, binding and pledging the faith of the nation to the faithful observance of its conditions. They secure to the Indians the enjoyment of the rights they stipulate to give or secure, to their full extent, and in the plenitude of good faith; but the treaties must be considered as the rules of reciprocal obligations. The Indians must have their rights; but must claim them in that capacity in which they received the grant or guarantee. They contracted, by putting themselves under the protection of the United States, accepted of an allotment of hunting-grounds, surrendered and delegated to congress the exclusive regulation of their trade, and the management of all their own affairs, taking no assurance of their continued sovereignty, if they had any before, but relying on the assurance of the United States that they might have full confidence in their justice respecting their interests; stipulating only for the right of sending a deputy of their own choice to congress. If, then, the Indians claim admission to this court, under the treaty of Hopewell, they cannot be admitted as foreign states, and can be received in no other capacity.

The legislation of congress under the constitution, in relation to the Indians, has been in the same spirit, and guided by the same principles, which prevailed in the old congress, and under the old confederation. In order to give full effect to the ordinance of 1787, in the north-west territory, it was adapted to the present constitution of the United States in 1789 (1 U.S. Stat. 50); applied as the rule for its government to the territory south of the Ohio in 1790, except the sixth article (Ibid. 123); to the Mississippi territory in 1798 (Ibid. 549); and with no exception, to Indiana in 1800 (2 Ibid. 58); to Michigan in 1805 (Ibid. 309); to Illinois in 1809 (Ibid. 514).

In 1802, congress passed the act regulating trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes, in which they assert all the rights exercised over them under the old confederation, and do not alter in any degree their political relations. (2 U.S. Stat. 139.) In the same year, Georgia ceded her lands west of her present boundary to the United States; and by the second article of the convention, the United States ceded to Georgia whatever claim, right or title they may have to the jurisdiction or soil of any lands south of Tennessee, North or South Carolina and east of the line of the cession by Georgia. So that Georgia now has all the rights attached to her by her sovereignty, within her limits, and which are saved to her by the second section of the fourth article of the constitution, and all the United States could cede either by their power over the territory, or their treaties with the Cherokees.

The treaty with the Cherokees, made at Holston, in 1791, contains only one article which has a bearing on the political relations of the contracting parties. In the second article, the Cherokees stipulate "that the said Cherokee nation will not hold any treaty with any foreign power, individual state, or with individuals of any state." (7 U.S. Stat. 39.) This affords an instructive definition of the words nation and treaty. At the treaty of Hopewell, the Cherokees, though subdued and suing for peace, before divesting themselves of any of the rights or attributes of sovereignty which this government ever recognised them as possessing by the consummation of the treaty, contracted in the name of the head-men and warriors of all the Cherokees; but at Holston, in 1791, in abandoning their last remnant of political right, contracted as the Cherokee nation, thus ascending in title as they descended in power, and applying the word treaty to a contract with an individual: this consideration will divest words of their magic.

In thus testing the rights of the complainants as to their national character, by the old confederation, resolutions and ordinances of the old congress, the provisions of the constitution, treaties held under the authority of both, and the subsequent legislation thereon, I have followed the rule laid down for my guide by this court, in Foster v. Neilson, 2 Pet. 307, in doing it "according to the principles established by the political department of the government." "If the course of the nation has been a plain one, its courts would hesitate to pronounce it erroneous. However individual judges may construe them (treaties), it is the province of the court to conform its decisions to the will of the legislature, if that will has been clearly expressed." That the existence of foreign states cannot be known to this court judicially, except by some act or recognition of the other departments of this government is, I think, fully established in the case of United States v. Palmer, 3 Wheat. 634--5; The Divina Pastora, 4 Ibid. 63; and The Anna, 6 Ibid. 193.

I shall resort to the same high authority as the basis of my opinion on the powers of the state governments. "By the revolution, the duties as well as the powers of government devolved on the people of (Georgia) New Hampshire. It is admitted, that among the latter were comprehended the transcendent powers of parliament, as well as those of the executive department." Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 651; 4 Ibid. 192; Green v. Biddle, 8 Ibid. 98; Ogden v. Saunders, 12 Ibid. 254, &c. "The same principle applies, though with no greater force, to the different states of America; for though they form a confederated government, yet the several states retain their individual sovereignties, and with respect to their municipal regulations, are to each other foreign." Buckner v. Findley, 2 Pet. 591. The powers of government, which thus devolved on Georgia by the revolution, over her whole territory, are unimpaired by any surrender of her territorial jurisdiction, by the old confederation or the new constitution, as there was in both an express saving, as well as by the tenth article of amendments.

But if any passed to the United States by either, they were retroceded by the convention of 1802. Her jurisdiction over the territory in question is as supreme as that of congress, over what the nation has acquired by cession from the states, or treaties with foreign powers, combining the rights of the state and general government. Within her boundaries, there can be no other nation, community or sovereign power, which this department can judicially recognise as a foreign state, capable of demanding or claiming our interposition, so as to enable them to exercise a jurisdiction incompatible with a sovereignty in Georgia, which has been recognised by the constitution, and every department of this government acting under its authority. Foreign states cannot be created by judicial construction; Indian sovereignty cannot be roused from its long slumber, and awakened to action by our fiat. I find no acknowledgment of it by the legislative or executive power. Until they have done so, I can stretch forth no arm for their relief, without violating the constitution. I say this with great deference to those from whom I dissent; but my judgment tells me, I have no power to act, and imperious duty compels me to stop at the portal, unless I can find some authority in the judgments of this court, to which I may surrender my own.

Indians have rights of occupancy to their lands, as sacred as the fee-simple, absolute title of the whites; but they are only rights of occupancy, incapable of alienation, or being held by any other than common right, without permission from the government. 8 Wheat. 592. In Fletcher v. Peck, this court decided, that the Indian occupancy was not absolutely repugnant to a seisin in fee in Georgia; that she had good right to grant land so occupied; that it was within the state, and could be held by purchasers under a law, subject only to extinguishment of the Indian title. 6 Cranch 88, 142; 9 Ibid. 11. In the case of Johnson v. McIntosh, 8 Wheat. 543, 571, the nature of the Indian title to lands on this continent, throughout its whole extent, was mostly ably and elaborately considered; leading to conclusions satisfactory to every jurist, clearly establishing that, from the time of discovery under the royal government, the colonies, the states, the confederacy and this Union, their tenure was the same occupancy, their rights occupancy, and nothing more; that the ultimate absolute fee, jurisdiction and sovereignty was in the government, subject only to such rights; that grants vested soil and dominion, and the powers of government, whether the land granted was vacant or occupied by Indians.

By the treaty of peace, the powers of government, and the rights of soil, which had previously been in Great Britain, passed definitively to these states. 8 Wheat. 584. They asserted these rights, and ceded soil and jurisdiction to the United States. The Indians were considered as tribes of fierce savages; a people with whom it was impossible to mix, and who could not be governed as a distinct society. They are not named or referred to in any part of the opinion of the court, as nations or states, and nowhere declared to have any national capacity or attributes of sovereignty, in their relations to the general or state governments. The principles established in this case have been supposed to apply to the rights which the nations of Europe claimed to acquire by discovery, as only relative between themselves, and that they did not assume thereby any rights of soil or jurisdiction over the territory in the actual occupation of the Indians. But the language of the court is too explicit to be misunderstood. "This principle was, that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects or by whose authority it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession." Those relations which were to subsist between the discoverer and the natives were to be regulated by themselves. The rights thus acquired being exclusive, no other power could interpose between them.

While the different nations of Europe respected the rights of the natives, as occupants, they asserted the ultimate dominion to be in themselves; and claimed and exercised, as a consequence of this ultimate dominion, a power to grant the soil, while yet in the possession of the natives. These grants have been understood by all, to convey a title to the grantees, subject only to the Indian rights of occupancy. The history of America, from its discovery to the present day proves, we think, the universal recognition of these principles. 8 Wheat. 574. I feel it my duty, to apply them to this case. They are in perfect accordance with those on which the governments of the united and individual states have acted in all their changes; they were asserted and maintained by the colonies, before they assumed independence. While dependent themselves on the crown, they exercised all the rights of dominion and sovereignty over the territory occupied by the Indians; and this is the first assertion by them of rights as a foreign state, within the limits of a state. If their jurisdiction within their boundaries has been unquestioned, until this controversy; if rights have been exercised, which are directly repugnant to those now claimed; the judicial power cannot divest the states of rights of sovereignty, and transfer them to the Indians, by decreeing them to be a nation, or foreign state, pre-existing and with rightful jurisdiction and sovereignty over the territory they occupy. This would reverse every principle on which our government have acted for fifty-five years; and force, by mere judicial power, upon the other departments of this government, and the states of this Union, the recognition of the existence of nations and states, within the limits of both, possessing dominion and jurisdiction paramount to the federal and state constitutions. It will be a declaration, in my deliberate judgment, that the sovereign power of the people of the United States and Union must hereafter remain incapable of action over territory to which their rights in full dominion have been asserted with the most rigorous authority, and bow to a jurisdiction hitherto unknown; unacknowledged by any department of the government; denied by all, through all time; unclaimed till now; and now declared to have been called into exercise, not by any change in our constitution, the laws of the Union or the states; but preexistent and paramount over the supreme law of the land.

I disclaim the assumption of a judicial power so awfully responsible. No assurance or certainty of support in public opinion can induce me to disregard a law so supreme; so plain to my judgment and reason. Those who have brought public opinion to bear on this subject, act under a mere moral responsibility; under no oath, which binds their movements to the straight and narrow line drawn by the constitution. Politics or philanthropy may impel them to pass it; but when their objects can be effectuated only by this court, they must not expect its members to diverge from it, when they cannot conscientiously take the first step, without breaking all the high obligations under which they administer the judicial power of the constitution. The account of my executorship cannot be settled before the court of public opinion, or any human tribunal. None can release the balance which will accrue by the violation of my solemn conviction of duty.

Thompson, Justice. (Dissenting.)--Entertaining different views of the questions now before us in this case, and having arrived at a conclusion different from that of a majority of the court, and considering the importance of the case and the constitutional principle involved in it; I shall proceed, with all due respect for the opinion of others, to assign the reasons upon which my own has been formed.

In the opinion pronounced by the court, the merits of the controversy between the state of Georgia and the Cherokee Indians have not been taken into consideration. The denial of the application for an injunction has been placed solely on the ground of want of jurisdiction in this court to grant the relief prayed for. It became, therefore, unnecessary to inquire into the merits of the case. But thinking as I do, that the court has jurisdiction of the case, and may grant relief, at least, in part; it may become necessary for me, in the course of my opinion, to glance at the merits of the controversy; which I shall, however, do very briefly, as it is important only so far as relates to the present application.

Before entering upon the examination of the particular points which have been made and argued, and for the purpose of guarding against any erroneous conclusions, it is proper that I should state, that I do not claim for this court, the exercise of jurisdiction upon any matter properly falling under the denomination of political power. Relief to the full extent prayed by the bill may be beyond the reach of this court. Much of the matter therein contained, by way of complaint, would seem to depend for relief upon the exercise of political power; and as such, appropriately devolving upon the executive, and not the judicial, department of the government. This court can grant relief so far only as the rights of person or property are drawn in question, and have been infringed.

It would very ill become the judicial station which I hold, to indulge in any remarks upon the hardship of the case, or the great injustice that would seem to have been done to the complainants, according to the statement in the bill, and which, for the purpose of the present motion, I must assume to be true. If they are entitled to other than judicial relief, it cannot be admitted, that in a government like ours, redress is not to be had in some of its departments; and the responsibility for its denial must rest upon those who have the power to grant it. But believing as I do, that relief to some extent falls properly under judicial cognisance, I shall proceed to the examination of the case under the following heads. 1. Is the Cherokee nation of Indians a competent party to sue in this court? 2. Is a sufficient case made out in the bill, to warrant this court in granting any relief? 3. Is an injunction the fit and appropriate relief?

1. By the constitution of the United States it is declared (Art. 3, § 2), that the judicial power shall extend to all cases in law and equity, arising under this constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made or which shall be made under their authority, &c.; to controversies between two or more states, &c., and between a state or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects. The controversy in the present case is alleged to be between a foreign state, and one of the states of the Union; and does not, therefore, come within the 11th amendment of the constitution, which declares that the judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States, by citizens of another state, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state. This amendment does not, therefore, extend to suits prosecuted against one of the United States by a foreign state. The constitution further provides, that in all cases where a state shall be a party, the supreme court shall have original jurisdiction. Under these provisions in the constitution, the complainants have filed their bill in this court, in the character of a foreign state, against the state of Georgia; praying an injunction to restrain that state from committing various alleged violations of the property of the nation, claimed under the laws of the United States, and treaties made with the Cherokee nation.

That a state of this Union may be sued by a foreign state, when a proper case exists and is presented, is too plainly and expressly declared in the constitution, to admit of doubt; and the first inquiry is, whether the Cherokee nation is a foreign state, within the sense and meaning of the constitution. The terms state and nation are used in the law of nations, as well as in common parlance, as importing the same thing; and imply a body of men, united together, to procure their mutual safety and advantage, by means of their union. Such a society has its affairs and interests to manage; it deliberates, and takes resolutions in common, and thus becomes a moral person, having an understanding and a will peculiar to itself, and is susceptible of obligations and laws. Vattel 1. Nations being composed of men naturally free and independent, and who, before the establishment of civil societies, live together in the state of nature, nations or sovereign states; are to be considered as so many free persons, living together in a state of nature. Vattel 2, § 4. Every nation that governs itself, under what form soever, without any dependence on a foreign power, is a sovereign state. Its rights are naturally the same as those of any other state. Such are moral persons who live together in a natural society, under the law of nations. It is sufficient, if it be really sovereign and independent: that is, it must govern itself by its own authority and laws. We ought, therefore, to reckon in the number of sovereigns those states that have bound themselves to another more powerful, although by an unequal alliance. The conditions of these unequal alliances may be infinitely varied; but whatever they are, provided the inferior ally reserves to itself the sovereignty or the right to govern its own body, it ought to be considered an independent state. Consequently, a weak state, that, in order to provide for its safety, places itself under the protection of a more powerful one, without stripping itself of the right of government and sovereignty, does not cease, on this account, to be placed among the sovereigns who acknowledge no other power. Tributary and feudatory states do not thereby cease to be sovereign and independent states, so long as self-government, and sovereign and independent authority, is left in the administration of the state. Vattel, c. 1, pp. 16, 17.

Testing the character and condition of the Cherokee Indians by these rules, it [is] not perceived how it is possible to escape the conclusion, that they form a sovereign state. They have always been dealt with as such by the government of the United States; both before and since the adoption of the present constitution. They have been admitted and treated as a people governed solely and exclusively by their own laws, usages, and customs, within their own territory, claiming and exercising exclusive dominion over the same; yielding up by treaty, from time to time, portions of their land, but still claiming absolute sovereignty and self-government over what remained unsold. And this has been the light in which they have, until recently, been considered, from the earliest settlement of the country, by the white people. And indeed, I do not understand, that it is denied by a majority of the court, that the Cherokee Indians form a sovereign state, according to the doctrine of the law of nations; but that, although a sovereign state, they are not considered a foreign state, within the meaning of the constitution.

Whether the Cherokee Indians are to be considered a foreign state or not, is a point on which we cannot expect to discover much light from the law of nations. We must derive this knowledge chiefly from the practice of our own government, and the light in which the nation has been viewed and treated by it. That numerous tribes of Indians, and among others the Cherokee nation, occupied many parts of this country, long before the discovery by Europeans, is abundantly established by history; and it is not denied, but that the Cherokee nation occupied the territory now claimed by them, long before that period. It does not fall within the scope and object of the present inquiry, to go into a critical examination of the nature and extent of the rights growing out of such occupancy, or the justice and humanity with which the Indians have been treated, or their rights respected. That they are entitled to such occupancy, so long as they choose quietly and peaceably to remain upon the land, cannot be questioned. The circumstance of their original occupancy is here referred to, merely for the purpose of showing, that if these Indian communities were then, as they certainly were, nations, they must have been foreign nations, to all the world; not having any connection, or alliance of any description, with any other power on earth. And if the Cherokees were then a foreign nation; when or how have they lost that character, and ceased to be a distinct people, and become incorporated with any other community?

They have never been, by conquest, reduced to the situation of subjects to any conqueror, and thereby lost their separate national existence, and the rights of self-government, and become subject to the laws of the conqueror. Whenever wars have taken place, they have been followed by regular treaties of peace, containing stipulations on each side, according to existing circumstances; the Indian nation always preserving its distinct and separate national character. And notwithstanding we do not recognise the right of the Indians to transfer the absolute title of their lands to any other than ourselves, the right of occupancy is still admitted to remain in them, accompanied with the right of self-government, according to their own usages and customs; and with the competency to act in a national capacity, although placed under the protection of the whites, and owing a qualified subjection, so far as is requisite for public safety. But the principle is universally admitted, that this occupancy belongs to them as a matter of right, and not by mere indulgence. They cannot be disturbed in the enjoyment of it, or deprived of it, without their free consent; or unless a just and necessary war should sanction their dispossession.

In this view of their situation, there is as full and complete recognition of their sovereignty, as if they were the absolute owners of the soil. The progress made in civilization by the Cherokee Indians cannot surely be considered as in any measure destroying their national or foreign character, so long as they are permitted to maintain a separate and distinct government; it is their political condition that constitutes their foreign character, and in that sense must the term foreign be understood, as used in the constitution. It can have no relation to local, geographical or territorial position.


The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 (Indians), Document 10
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