Worcester v. Georgia/Concurrence McLean
Mr Justice M'LEAN.
As this case involves principles of the highest importance, and may lead to consequences which shall have an enduring influence on the institutions of this country; and as there are some points in the case on which I wish to state, distinctly, my opinion, I embrace the privilege of doing so.
With the decision, just given, I concur.
The plaintiff in error was indicted under a law of Georgia, 'for residing in that part of the Cherokee nation attached, by the laws of said state, to the county of Gwinnett, without a license or permit from his excellency the governor of the state, or from any agent authorised by his excellency the governor to grant such permit or license, and without having taken the oath to support and defend the constitution and laws of the state of Georgia, and uprightly to demean himself as a citizen thereof.'
On this indictment the defendant was arrested, and, on being arraigned before the superior court for Gwinnett county, he filed, in substance, the following plea:
He admits that, on the 15th of July 1831, he was, and still continued to be, a resident in the Cherokee nation, and that the crime, if any were committed, was committed at the town of New Echota, in said nation, out of the jurisdiction of the court. That he is a citizen of Vermont, and that he entered the Indian country in the capacity of a duly authorised missionary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, under the authority of the president of the United States, and has not since been required by him to leave it. That he was, at the time of his arrest, engaged in preaching the gospel to the Cherokee Indians, and in translating the sacred Scriptures into their language, with the permission and approval of the Cherokee nation, and in accordance with the humane policy of the government of the United States, for the improvement of the Indians.
He then states, as a bar to the prosecution, certain treaties made between the United States and the Cherokee Indians, by which the possession of the territory they now inhabit was solemnly guarantied to them; and also a certain act of congress, passed in March 1802, entitled 'an act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes.' He also alleges, that this subject, by the constitution of the United States, is exclusively vested in congress; and that the law of Georgia, being repugnant to the constitution of the United States, to the treaties referred to, and to the act of congress specified, is void, and cannot be enforced against him.
This plea was overruled by the court, and the defendant pleaded not guilty.
The jury returned a verdict of guilty; and the defendant was sentenced, by the court, to be kept in close custody, by the sheriff of the county, until he could be transported to the penitentiary of the state, and the keeper thereof was directed to receive him into custody, and keep him at hard labour in the penitentiary, during the term of four years.
Another individual was included in the same indictment, and joined in the plea to the jurisdiction of the court, and was also included in the sentence; but his name is not adverted to, because the principles of the case are fully presented in the above statement.
To reverse this judgment, a writ of error was obtained, which, having been returned, with the record of the proceedings, is now before this court.
The first question which it becomes necessary to examine, is, whether the record has been duly certified, so as to bring the proceedings regularly before this tribunal.
A writ of error was allowed, in this case, by one of the justices of this court, and the requisite security taken. A citation was also issued, in the form prescribed, to the state of Georgia, a true copy of which, as appears by the oath of William Patten, was delivered to the governor, on the 24th day of November last; and another true copy was delivered, on the 22d day of the same month, to the attorney-general of the state.
The record was returned by the clerk, under the seal of the court, who certifies that it is a full and complete exemplification of the proceedings and judgment had in the case; and he further certifies, that the original bond, and a copy of the writ of error, were duly deposited and filed in the clerk's office of said court, on the 10th day of November last.
Is it necessary, in such a case, that the record should be certified by the judge who held the court?
In the case of Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, which was a writ of error to the court of appeals of Virginia, it was objected that the return to the writ of error was defective, because the record was not so certified; but the court, in that case, said, 'the forms of process, and the modes of proceeding in the exercise of jurisdiction, are, with few exceptions, left by the legislature to be regulated and changed as this court may, in its discretion, deem expedient.' By a rule of this court, 'the return of a copy of a record of the proper court, annexed to the writ of error, is declared to be a sufficient compliance with the mandate of the writ. The record, in this case, is duly certified by the clerk of the court of appeals, and annexed to the writ of error. The objection, therefore, which has been urged to the sufficiency of the return, cannot prevail.'-1 Wheat. 304.
In 9 Wheat. 526, in the case of Stewart v. Ingle and others, which was a writ of error to the circuit court for the district of Columbia, a certiorari was issued, upon a suggestion of diminution in the record, which was returned by the clerk with another record; whereupon, a motion was made for a new certiorari, on the ground that the return ought to have been made by the judge of the court below, and not by the clerk. The writ of certiorari, it is known, like the writ of error, is directed to the court.
Mr Justice Washington, after consultation with the judges, stated that, according to the rules and practice of the court, a return made by the clerk was a sufficient return.
To ascertain what has been the general course of practice on this subject, an examination has been made into the manner in which records have been certified from state courts to this court; and it appears that, in the year 1817, six causes were certified, in obedience to writs of error, by the clerk, under the seal of the court. In the year 1819, two were so certified, one of them being the case of M'Cullough v. The State of Maryland.
In the year 1821, three cases were so certified; and in the year 1823, there was one. In 1827, there were five, and in the ensuing year, seven.
In the year 1830, there were eight causes so certified, in five of which, a state was a party on the record. There were three causes thus certified in the year 1831, and five in the present year.
During the above periods, there were only fifteen causes from state courts, where the records were certified by the court or the presiding judge, and one of these was the case of Cohens v. The State of Virginia.
This court adopted the following rule on this subject in 1797:
'It is ordered by the court, that the clerk of the court to which any writ of error shall be directed, may make the return of the same, by transmitting a true copy of the record, and of all proceedings in the cause, under his hand, and the seal of the court.'
The power of the court to adopt this rule, cannot be questioned: and it seems to have regulated the practice ever since its adoption. In some cases, the certificate of the court, or the presiding judge, has been affixed to the record; but this court has decided, where the question has been raised, that such certificate is unnecessary.
So far as the authentication of the record is concerned, it is impossible to make a distinction between a civil and a criminal case. What may be sufficient to authenticate the proceedings in a civil case, must be equally so in a criminal one. The verity of the record is of as much importance in the one case as the other.
This is a question of practice; and it would seem that, if any one point in the practice of this court can be considered as settled, this one must be so considered.
In the progress of the investigation, the next inquiry which seems naturally to arise, is whether this is a case in which a writ of error may be issued.
By the twenty-fifth section of the judiciary act of 1789, it is provided, 'that a final judgment or decree in any suit in the highest court of law or equity of a state, in which a decision in the suit could be had, where is drawn in question the validity of a treaty, or statute of, or an authority exercised under, the United States, and the decision is against their validity; or where is drawn in question the validity of a statute of, or an authority exercised under, any state, on the ground of their being repugnant to the constitution, treaties, or laws, of the United States, and the decision is in favour of such their validity; or where is drawn in question the construction of any clause of the constitution, or of a treaty or statute of, or commission held under, the United States, and the decision is against the title, right, privilege, or exemption, specially set up or claimed by either party, under such clause of the said constitution, treaty, statute, or commission, may be re-examined, and reversed or affirmed, in the supreme court of the United States.'
Doubts have been expressed whether a writ of error to a state court is not limited to civil cases. These doubts could not have arisen from reading the above section. Is not a criminal case, as much a suit as a civil case. What is a suit, but a prosecution; and can any one suppose that it was the intention of congress, in using the word suit, to make a distinction between a civil prosecution and a criminal one.
It is more important that jurisdiction should be given to this court in criminal than in civil cases, under the twenty-fifth section of the judiciary act. Would it not be inconsistent, both with the spirit and letter of this law, to revise the judgment of a state court, in a matter of controversy respecting damages, where the decision is against a right asserted under the constitution or a law of the United States; but to deny the jurisdiction, in a case where the property, the character, the liberty and life of a citizen may be destroyed, though protected by the solemn guarantees of the constitution?
But this is not an open question; it has long since been settled by the solemn adjudications of this court. The above construction, therefore, is sustained both on principle and authority. The provisions of the section apply as well to criminal as to civil cases, where the constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States come in conflict with the laws of a state; and the latter is sustained by the decision of the court.
It has been said, this this court can have no power to arrest the proceedings of a state tribunal in the enforcement of the criminal laws of the state. This is undoubtedly true, so long as a state court, in the execution of its penal laws, shall not infringe upon the constitution of the United States, or some treaty or law of the union.
Suppose a state should make it penal for an officer of the United States to discharge his duties within its jurisdiction; as, for instance, a land officer, an officer of the customs, or a postmaster, and punish the offender by confinement in the penitentiary: could not the supreme court of the United States interpose their power, and arrest or reverse the state proceedings? Cases of this kind are so palpable, that they need only to be stated to gain the assent of every judicious mind. And would not this be an interference with the administration of the criminal laws of a state?
This court have repeatedly decided, that they have no appellate jurisdiction in criminal cases from the circuit courts of the United States: writs of error and appeals are given from those courts only in civil cases. But, even in those courts, where the judges are divided on any point, in a criminal case, the point may be brought before this court, under a general provision in cases of division of opinion.
Jurisdiction is taken in the case under consideration exclusively by the provisions of the twenty-fifth section of the law which has been quoted. These provisions, as has been remarked, apply, indiscriminately, to criminal and civil cases, wherever a right is claimed under the constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States, and the decision, by the state court, is against such right. In the present case, the decision was against the right expressly set up by the defendant, and it was made by the highest judicial tribunal of Georgia.
To give jurisdiction in such a case, this court need look no further than to ascertain whether the right, thus asserted, was decided against by the state court. The case is clear of difficulty on this point.
The name of the state of Georgia is used in this case, because such was the designation given to the cause in the state court. No one ever supposed, that the state, in its sovereign capacity, in such a case, is a party to the cause. The form of the prosecution here must be the same as it was in the state court; but so far as the name of the state is used, it is matter of form. Under a rule of this court, notice was given to the governor and attorney-general of the state, because it is a part of their duty to see that the laws of the state are executed.
In prosecutions for violations of the penal laws of the union, the name of the United States is used in the same manner. Whethet the prosecution be under a federal or state law, the defendant has a right to question the constitutionality of the law.
Can any doubt exist as to the power of congress to pass the law, under which jurisdiction is taken in this case? Since its passage, in 1789, it has been the law of the land; and has been sanctioned by an uninterrupted course of decisions in this court, and acquiesced in by the state tribunals, with perhaps a solitary exception: and whenever the attention of the national legislature has been called to the subject, their sanction has been given to the law by so large a majority as to approach almost to unanimity.
Of the policy of this act there can be as little doubt as of the right of congress to pass it.
The constitution of the United States was formed, not, in my opinion, as some have contended, by the people of the United States, nor, as others, by the states; but by a combined power, exercised by the people, through their delegates, limited in their sanctions, to the respective states.
Had the constitution emanated from the people, and the states had been referred to, merely as convenient districts, by which the public expression could be ascertained, the popular vote throughout the union would have been the only rule for the adoption of the constitution. This course was not pursued; and in this fact, it clearly appears that our fundamental law was not formed, exclusively, by the popular suffrage of the people.
The vote of the people was limited to the respective states in which they resided. So that it appears there was an expression of popular suffrage and state sanction, most happily united, in the adoption of the constitution of the union.
Whatever differences of opinion may exist, as to the means by which the constitution was adopted, there would seem to be no ground for any difference as to certain powers conferred by it.
Three co-ordinate branches of the government were established; the executive, legislative, and judicial. These branches are essential to the existence of any free government, and that they should possess powers, in their respective spheres, co-extensive with each other.
If the executive have not powers which will enable him to execute the functions of his office, the system is essentially defective; as those duties must, in such case, be discharged by one of the other branches. This would destroy that balance which is admitted to be essential to the existence of free government, by the wisest and most enlightened statesmen of the present day.
It is not less important that the legislative power should be exercised by the appropriate branch of the government, than that the executive duties should devolve upon the proper functionary. And if the judicial power fall short of giving effect to the laws of the union, the existence of the federal government is at an end.
It is in vain, and worse than in vain, that the national legislature enact laws, if those laws are to remain upon the statute book as monuments of the imbecility of the national power. It is in vain that the executive is called to superintend the execution of the laws, if he have no power to aid in their enforcement.
Such weakness and folly are, in no degree, chargeable to the distinguished men through whose instrumentality the constitution was formed. The powers given, it is true, are limited; and no powers, which are not expressly given, can be exercised by the federal government: but, where given, they are supreme. Within the sphere allotted to them, the co-ordinate branches of the general government revolve, unobstructed by any legitimate exercise of power by the state governments. The powers exclusively given to the federal government are limitations upon the state authorities. But, with the exception of these limitations, the states are supreme; and their sovereignty can be no more invaded by the action of the general government, than the action of the state governments in arrest or obstruct the course of the national power.
It has been asserted that the federal government is foreign to the state governments; and that it must consequently be hostile to them. Such an opinion could not have resulted from a thorough investigation of the great principles which lie at the foundation of our system. The federal government is neither foreign to the state governments, nor is it hostile to them. It proceeds from the same people, and is as much under their control as the state governments.
Where, by the constitution, the power of legislation is exclusively vested in congress, they legislature for the people of the union, and their acts are as binding as are the constitutional enactments of a state legislature on the people of the state. If this were not so, the federal government would exist only in name. Instead of being the proudest mounment of human wisdom and patriotism, it would be the frail memorial of the ignorance and mental imbecility of its framers.
In the discharge of his constitutional duties, the federal executive acts upon the people of the union, the same as a governor of a state, in the performance of his duties, acts upon the people of the state. And the judicial power of the United States acts in the same manner on the people. It rests upon the same basis as the other departments of the government. The powers of each are derived from the same source, and are conferred by the same instrument. They have the same limitations and extent.
The supreme court of a state, when required to give effect to a statute of the state, will examine its constitution, which they are sworn to maintain, to see if the legislative act be repugnant to it; and if a repugnancy exist, the statute must yield to the paramount law.
The same principle governs the supreme tribunal of the union. No one can deny, that the constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land; and consequently, no act of any state legislature, or of congress, which is repugnant to it, can be of any validity.
Now if an act of a state legislature be repugnant to the constitution of the state, the state court will declare it void; and if such act be repugnant to the constitution of the union, or a law made under that constitution, which is declared to be the supreme law of the land, is it not equally void? And, under such circumstances, if this court should shrink from a discharge of their duty, in giving effect to the supreme law of the land, would they not violate their oaths, prove traitors to the constitution, and forfeit all just claim to the public confidence?
It is sometimes objected, if the federal judiciary may declare an act of a state legislature void, because it is repugnant to the constitution of the United States, it places the legislation of a state within the power of this court. And might not the same argument be urged with equal force against the exercise of a similar power, by the supreme court of a state. Such an argument must end in the destruction of all constitutions, and the will of the legislature, like the acts of the parliament of Great Britain, must be the supreme, and only law of the land.
It is impossible to guard an investiture of power so that it may not, in some form, be abused: an argument, therefore, against the exercise of power, because it is liable to abuse, would go to the destruction of all governments.
The powers of this court are expressly, not constructively, given by the constitution; and within this delegation of power, this court are the supreme court of the people of the United States, and they are bound to discharge their duties, under the same responsibilities as the supreme court of a state; and are equally, within their powers, the supreme court of the people of each state.
When this court are required to enforce the laws of any state, they are governed by those laws. So closely do they adhere to this rule, that during the present term, a judgment of a circuit court of the United States, made in pursuance of decisions of this court, has been reversed and annulled, because it did not conform to the decisions of the state court, in giving a construction to a local law. But while this court conforms its decisions to those of the state courts, on all questions arising under the statutes and constitutions of the respective states, they are bound to revise and correct those decisions, if they annul, either the constitution of the United States, or the laws made under it.
It appears, then, that on all questions arising under the laws of a state, the decisions of the courts of such state form a rule for the decisions of this court, and that on all questions arising under the laws of the United States, the decisions of this court form a rule for the decisions of the state courts. Is there any thing unreasonable in this? Have not the federal, as well as the state courts, been constituted by the people? Why then should one tribunal more than the other, be deemed hostile to the interests of the people.
In the second section of the third article of the constitution, it is declared, that 'the judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under the constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority.
Having shown that a writ of error will lie in this case, and that the record has been duly certified, the next inquiry that arises is, what are the acts of the United States which relate to the Cherokee Indians and the acts of Georgia; and were these acts of the United States sanctioned by the federal constitution?
Among the enumerated powers of congress, contained in the eighth section of the first article of the constitution, it is declared 'that congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the Indian tribes.' By the articles of confederation, which were adopted on the 9th day of July 1778, it was provided 'that the United States, in congress assembled, shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck, by their own authority, or by that of the respective states; fixing the standard of weight and measures throughout the United States; regulating the trade and management of all affairs with the Indians, not members of any of the states: Provided, that the legislative right of any state, within its own limits, be not infringed or violated.'
As early as June 1775, and before the adoption of the articles of confederation, congress took into their consideration the subject of Indian affairs. The Indian country was divided into three departments, and the superintendence of each was committed to commissioners, who were authorised to hold treaties with the Indians, make disbursements of money for their use, and to discharge various duties, designed to preserve peace and cultivate a friendly feeling with them towards the colonies. No person was permitted to trade with them without a license from one or more of the commissioners of the respective departments.
In April 1776, it was 'resolved, that the commissioners of Indian affairs in the middle department, or any one of them, be desired to employ, for reasonable salaries, a minister of the gospel, to reside among the Delaware Indians, and instruct them in the Christian religion; a school master, to teach their youth reading, writing, and arithmetic; also, a blacksmith, to do the work of the Indians.' The general intercourse with the Indians continued to be managed under the superintendence of the continental congress.
On the 28th of November 1785, the treaty of Hopewell was formed, which was the first treaty made with the Cherokee Indians. The commissioners of the United States were required to give notice to the executives of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, in order that each might appoint one or more persons to attend the treaty, but they seem to have had no power to act on the occasion.
In this treaty it is stipulated, that 'the commissioners plenipotentiary of the United States in congress assembled, give peace to all the Cherokees, and receive them into the favour and protection of the United States of America, on the following conditions:'
1. The Cherokees to restore all prisoners and property taken during the war.
2. The United States to restore to the Cherokees all prisoners.
3. The Cherokees acknowledge themselves to be under the protection of the United States, and of no other sovereign whatsoever.
4. The boundary line between the Cherokees and the citizens of the United States was agreed to as designated.
5. If any person, not being an Indian, intrude upon the land 'allotted' to the Indians, or, being settled on it, shall refuse to remove within six months after the ratification of the treaty, he forfeits the protection of the United States, and the Indians were at liberty to punish him as they might think proper.
6. The Indians are bound to deliver up to the United States any Indian who shall commit robbery, or other capital crime, on a white person living within their protection.
7. If the same offence be committed on an Indian by a citizen of the United States, he is to be punished.
8. It is understood that the punishment of the innocent, under the idea of retaliation, is unjust, and shall not be practised on either side, except where there is a manifest violation of this treaty; and then it shall be preceded, first, by a demand of justice; and, if refused, then by a declaration of hostilities.
'That the Indians may have full confidence in the justice of the United States respecting their interests, they shall have a right to send a deputy of their choice, whenever they think fit, to congress.'
The treaty of Holston was entered into with the same people, on the 2d day of July 1791.
This was a treaty of peace, in which the Cherokees again placed themselves under the protection of the United States, and engaged to hold no treaty with any foreign power, individual state, or with individuals of any state. Prisoners were agreed to be delivered up on both sides; a new Indian boundary was fixed; and a cession of land made to the United States on the payment of a stipulated consideration.
A free, unmolested road, was agreed to be given through the Indian lands, and the free navigation of the Tennessee river. It was agreed that the United States should have the exclusive right of regulating their trade, and a solemn guarantee of their land, not ceded, was made. A similar provision was made, as to the punishment of offenders, and as to all persons who might enter the Indian territory, as was contained in the treaty of Hopewell. Also, that reprisal or retaliation shall not be committed, until satisfaction shall have been demanded of the aggressor.
On the 7th day of August 1786, an ordinance for the regulation of Indian affairs was adopted, which repealed the former system.
In 1794 another treaty was made with the Cherokees, the object of which was to carry into effect the treaty of Holston. And on the plains of Tellico, on the 2d the October 1798, the Cherokees, in another treaty, agreed to give a right of way, in a certain direction, over their lands. Other engagements were also entered into, which need not be referred to.
Various other treaties were made by the United States with the Cherokee Indians, by which, among other arrangements, cessions of territory were procured and boundaries agreed on.
In a treaty made in 1817, a distinct wish is expressed by the Cherokees, to assume a more regular form of government, in which they are encouraged by the United States. By a treaty held at Washington, on the 27th day of February 1819, a reservation of land is made by the Cherokees for a school fund, which was to be surveyed and sold by the United States for that purpose. And it was agreed, that all white persons, who had intruded on the Indian lands, should be removed.
To give effect to various treaties with this people, the power of the executive has frequently been exercised; and at one time General Washington expressed a firm determination to resort to military force to remove intruders from the Indian territories.
On the 30th of March 1802, congress passed an act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes, and to preserve peace on the frontiers.
In this act it is provided, that any citizen or resident in the United States, who shall enter into the Indian lands to hunt, or for any other purpose, without a license, shall be subject to a fine and imprisonment. And if any person shall attempt to survey, or actually survey, the Indian lands, he shall be liable to forfeit a sum not exceeding one thousand dollars, and be imprisoned not exceeding twelve months. No person is permitted to reside as a trader within the Indian boundaries, without a license or permit. All persons are prohibited, under a heavy penalty, from purchasing the Indian lands; and all such purchases are declared to be void. And it is made lawful for the military force of the United States to arrest offenders against the provisions of the act.
By the seventeenth section, it is provided, that the act shall not be so construed as to 'prevent any trade or intercourse with Indians living on lands surrounded by settlements of the citizens of the United States, and being within the ordinary jurisdiction of any of the individual states; or the unmolested use of a road, from Washington district to Mero district, or to prevent the citizens of Tennessee from keeping in repair said road.' Nor was the act to be so construed as to prevent persons from travelling from Knoxville to Price's settlement, provided they shall travel in the tract or path which is usually travelled, and the Indians do not object; but if they object, then all travel on this road to be prohibited, after proclamation by the president, under the penalties provided in the act.
Several acts, having the same object in view, were passed prior to this one; but as they were repealed either before, or by the act of 1802, their provisions need not be specially noticed.
The acts of the state of Georgia, which the plaintiff in error complains of, as being repugnant to the constitution, treaties, and laws of the United States, are found in two statutes.
The first act was passed the 12th of December 1829; and is entitled 'an act to add the territory lying within the chartered limits of Georgia, and now in the occupancy of the Cherokee Indians, to the counties of Carroll, Dekalb, Gwinnett and Habersham; and to extend the laws of the state over the same, and to annul all laws made by the Cherokee nation of Indians, and to provide for the compensation of officers serving legal process in said territory, and to regulate the testimony of Indians, and to repeal the ninth section of the act of 1828 on this subject.'
This act annexes the territory of the Indians, within the limits of Georgia, to the counties named in the title; and extends the jurisdiction of the state over it. It annuls the laws, ordinances, orders and regulations, of any kind, made by the Cherokees, either in council or in any other way, and they are not permitted to be given in evidence in the courts of the state. By this law, no Indian, or the descendant of an Indian, residing within the Creek or Cherokee nation of Indians, shall be deemed a competent witness in any court of the state, to which a white person may be a party, except such white person reside within the nation. Offences under the act are to be punished by confinement in the penitentiary, in some cases not less than four nor more than six years, and in others not exceeding four years.
The second act was passed on the 22d day of December 1830, and is entitled 'an act to prevent the exercise of assumed and arbitrary power, by all persons, on pretext of authority from the Cherokee Indians and their laws; and to prevent white persons from residing within that part of the chartered limits of Georgia, occupied by the Cherokee Indians; and to provide a guard for the protection of the gold mines, and to enforce the laws of the state within the aforesaid territory.'
By the first section of this act, it is made a penitentiary offence, after the 1st day of February 1831, for any person or persons, under colour or pretence of authority from the said Cherokee tribe, or as headmen, chiefs or warriors of said tribe, to cause or procure, by any means, the assembling of any council or other pretended legislative body of the said Indians, for the purpose of legislating, &c.
They are prohibited from making laws, holding courts of justice, or executing process. And all white persons, after the 1st of March 1831, who shall reside within the limits of the Cherokee nation, without a license or permit from his excellency the governor, or from such agent as his excellency the governor shall authorize to grant such permit or license, or who shall not have taken the oath hereinafter required, shall be guilty of a high misdemeanour; and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by confinement to the penitentiary at hard labour, for a term not less than four years. From this punishment, agents of the United States are excepted, white females, and male children under twenty-one years of age.
Persons who have obtained license, are required to take the following oath: 'I, A. B., do solemnly swear, that I will support and defend the constitution and laws of the state of Georgia, and uprightly demean myself as a citizen thereof. So help me God.'
The governor is authorized to organize a guard, which shall not consist of more than sixty persons, to protect the mines in the Indian territory, and the guard is authorized to arrest all offenders under the act.
It is apparent that these laws are repugnant to the treaties with the Cherokee Indians which have been referred to, and to the law of 1802. This repugnance is made so clear by an exhibition of the respective acts, that no force of demonstration can make it more palpable.
By the treaties and laws of the United States, rights are guarantied to the Cherokees, both as it respects their territory and internal polity. By the laws of Georgia these rights are abolished; and not only abolished, but an ignominious punishment is inflicted on the Indians and others; for the exercise of them. The important question then arises, which shall stand, the laws of the United States, or the laws of Georgia? No rule of construction, or subtlety of argument, can evade an answer to this question. The response must be, so far as the punishment of the plaintiff in error is concerned, in favour of the one or the other.
Not to feel the full weight of this momentous subject, would evidence an ignorance of that high responsibility which is devolved upon this tribunal, and upon its humblest member, in giving a decision in this case.
Are the treaties and law which have been cited, in force? and what, if any, obligations, do they impose on the federal government within the limits of Georgia?
A reference has been made to the policy of the United States on the subject of Indian affairs, before the adoption of the constitution, with the view of ascertaining in what light the Indians have been considered by the first official acts, in relation to them, by the United States. For this object, it might not be improper to notice how they were considered by the European inhabitants, who first formed settlements in this part of the continent of America.
The abstract right of every section of the human race to a reasonable portion of the soil, by which to acquire the means of subsistence, cannot be controverted. And it is equally clear, that the range of nations or tribes, who exist in the hunter state, may be restricted within reasonable limits. They shall not be permitted to roam, in the pursuit of game, over an extensive and rich country, whilst in other parts, human beings are crowded so closely together, as to render the means of subsistence precarious. The law of nature, which is paramount to all other laws, gives the right to every nation, to the enjoyment of a reasonable extent of country, so as to derive the means of subsistence from the soil.
In this view perhaps, our ancestors, when they first migrated to this country, might have taken possession of a limited extent of the domain, had they been sufficiently powerful, without negotiation or purchase from the native Indians. But this course is believed to have been nowhere taken. A more conciliatory mode was preferred, and one which was better calculated to impress the Indians, who were then powerful, with a sense of the justice of their white neighbours. The occupancy of their lands was never assumed, except upon the basis of contract, and on the payment of a valuable consideration.
This policy has obtained from the earliest white settlements in this country, down to the present time. Some cessions of territory may have been made by the Indians, in compliance with the terms on which peace was offered by the whites; but the soil, thus taken, was taken by the laws of conquest, and always as an indemnity for the expenses of the war, commenced by the Indians.
At no time has the sovereignty of the country been recognized as existing in the Indians, but they have been always admitted to possess many of the attributes of sovereignty. All the rights which belong to self government have been recognized as vested in them. Their right of occupancy has never been questioned, but the fee in the soil has been considered in the government. This may be called the right to the ultimate domain, but the Indians have a present right of possession.
In some of the old states, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and others, where small remnants of tribes remain, surrounded by white population, and who, by their reduced numbers, had lost the power of self government, the laws of the state have been extended over them, for the protection of their persons and property.
Before the adoption of the constitution, the mode of treating with the Indians was various. After the formation of the confederacy, this subject was placed under the special superintendence of the United Colonies; though, subsequent to that time, treaties may have been occasionally entered into between a state and the Indians in its neighbourhood. It is not considered to be at all important to go into a minute inquiry on this subject.
By the constitution, the regulation of commerce among the Indian tribes is given to congress. This power must be considered as exclusively vested in congress, as the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, to coin money, to establish post offices, and to declare war. It is enumerated in the same section, and belongs to the same class of powers.
This investiture of power has been exercised in the regulation of commerce with the Indians, sometimes by treaty, and, at other times, by enactments of congress. In this respect they have been placed by the federal authority, with but few exceptions, on the same footing as foreign nations.
It is said that these treaties are nothing more than compacts, which cannot be considered as obligatory on the United States, from a want of power in the Indians to enter into them.
What is a treaty? The answer is, it is a compact formed between two nations or communities, having the right of self government.
Is it essential that each party shall possess the same attributes of sovereignty, to give force to the treaty? This will not be pretended: for, on this ground, very few valid treaties could be formed. The only requisite is, that each of the contracting parties shall possess the right of self government, and the power to perform the stipulations of the treaty.
Under the constitution, no state can enter into any treaty; and it is believed that, since its adoption, no state, under its own authority, has held a treaty with the Indians.
It must be admitted, that the Indians sustain a peculiar relation to the United States. They do not constitute, as was decided at the last term, a foreign state, so as to claim the right to sue in the supreme court of the United States: and yet, having the right of self government, they, in some sense, form a state. In the management of their internal concerns, they are dependent on no power. They punish offences under their own laws, and, in doing so, they are responsible to no earthly tribunal. They make war, and form treaties of peace. The exercise of these and other powers, gives to them a distinct character as a people, and constitutes them, in some respects, a state, although they may not be admitted to possess the right of soil.
By various treaties, the Cherokees have placed themselves under the protection of the United States: they have agreed to trade with no other people, nor to invoke the protection of any other sovereignty. But such engagements do not divest them of the right of self government, nor destroy their capacity to enter into treaties or compacts.
Every state is more or less dependent on those which surround it; but, unless this dependence shall extend so far as to merge the political existence of the protected people into that of their protectors, they may still constitute a state. They may exercise the powers not relinquished, and bind themselves as a distinct and separate community.
The language used in treaties with the Indians should never be construed to their prejudice. If words be made use of which are susceptible of a more extended meaning than their plain import, as connected with the tenor of the treaty, they should be considered as used only in the latter sense. To contend that the word 'allotted,' in reference to the land guarantied to the Indians in certain treaties, indicates a favour conferred, rather than a right acknowledged, would, it would seem to me, do injustice to the understanding of the parties. How the words of the treaty were understood by this unlettered people, rather than their critical meaning, should form the rule of construction.
The question may be asked, is no distinction to be made between a divilized and savage people? Are our Indians to be placed upon a footing with the nations of Europe, with whom we have made treaties?
The inquiry is not, what station shall now be given to the Indian tribes in our country? but, what relation have they sustained to us, since the commencement of our government?
We have made treaties with them; and are those treaties to be disregarded on our part, because they were entered into with an uncivilized people? Does this lessen the obligation of such treaties? By entering into them, have we not admitted the power of this people to bind themselves, and to impose obligations on us?
The president and senate, except under the treaty-making power, cannot enter into compacts with the Indians, or with foreign nations. This power has been uniformly exercised in forming treaties with the Indians.
Nations differ from each other in condition, and that of the same nation may change by the revolutions of time, but the principles of justice are the same. They rest upon a base which will remain beyond the endurance of time.
After a lapse of more than forty years since treaties with the Indians have been solemnly ratified by the general government, it is too late to deny their binding force. Have the numerous treaties which have been formed with them, and the ratifications by the president and senate, been nothing more than an idle pageantry?
By numerous treaties with the Indian tribes, we have acquired accessions of territory, of incalculable value to the union. Except by compact, we have not even claimed a right of way through the Indian lands. We have recognised in them the right to make war. No one has ever supposed that the Indians could commit treason against the United States. We have punished them for their violation of treaties; but we have inflicted the punishment on them as a nation, and not on individual offenders among them as traitors.
In the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government, we have admitted, by the most solemn sanctions, the existence of the Indians as a separate and distinct people, and as being vested with rights which constitute them a state, or separate community-not a foreign, but a domestic community-not as belonging to the confederacy, but as existing within it, and, of necessity, bearing to it a peculiar relation.
But, can the treaties which have been referred to, and the law of 1802, be considered in force within the limits of the state of Georgia?
In the act of cession, made by Georgia to the United States, in 1802, of all lands claimed by her west of the line designated, one of the conditions was, 'that the United States should, at their own expense, extinguish, for the use of Georgia, as early as the same can be peaceably obtained, on reasonable terms, the Indian title to lands within the state of Georgia.'
One of the counsel, in the argument, endeavoured to show, that no part of the country now inhabited by the Cherokee Indians, is within what is called the chartered limits of Georgia.
It appears that the charter of Georgia was surrendered by the trustees, and that, like the state of South Carolina, she became a regal colony. The effect of this change was, to authorise the crown to alter the boundaries, in the exercise of its discretion. Certain alterations, it seems, were subsequently made: but I do not conceive it can be of any importance to enter into a minute consideration of them. Under its charter, it may be observed, that Georgia derived a right to the soil, subject to the Indian title, by occupancy. By the act of cession, Georgia designated a certain line as the limit of that cession, and this line, unless subsequently altered, with the assent of the parties interested, must be considered as the boundary of the state of Georgia. This line having been thus recognized, cannot be contested on any question which may incidentally arise for judicial decision.
It is important, on this part of the case, to ascertain in what light Georgia has considered the Indian title to lands, generally, and particularly, within her own boundaries; and also, as to the right of the Indians to self-government.
In the first place, she was a party to all the treaties entered into between the United States and the Indians, since the adoption of the constitution. And prior to that period, she was represented in making them, and was bound by their provisions, although it is alleged that she remonstrated against the treaty of Hopewell. In the passage of the intercourse law of 1802, as one of the constituent parts of the union, she was also a party.
The stipulation made in her act of cession, that the United States should extinguish the Indian title to lands within the state, was a distinct recognition of the right in the federal government, to make the extinguishment; and also, that, until it should be made, the right of occupancy would remain in the Indians.
In a law of the state of Georgia, 'for opening the land office and for other purposes,' passed in 1783, it is declared that surveys made on Indian lands were null and void; a fine was inflicted on the person making the survey, which, if not paid by the offender, he was punished by imprisonment. By a subsequent act, a line was fixed for the Indians, which was a boundary between them and the whites. A similar provision is found in other laws of Georgia, passed before the adoption of the constitution. By an act of 1787, severe corporeal punishment was inflicted on those who made or attempted to make surveys, 'beyond the temporary line designating the Indian hunting ground.'
On the 19th of November 1814, the following resolutions were adopted by the Georgia legislature.
'Whereas, many of the citizens of this state, without regard to existing treaties between the friendly Indians and the United States, and contrary to the interest and good policy of this state, have gone, and are frequently going over, and settling and cultivating the lands allotted to the friendly Indians for their hunting ground, by which means the state is not only deprived of their services in the army, but considerable feuds are engendered between us and our friendly neighbouring Indians:
'Resolved, therefore, by the senate and house of representatives of the state of Georgia in general assembly met, that his excellency, the governor, be, and is hereby requested to take the necessary means to have all intruders removed off the Indian lands, and that proper steps be taken to prevent future aggressions.'
In 1817, the legislature refused to take any steps to dispose of lands acquired by treaty with the Indians, until the treaty had been ratified by the senate; and, by a resolution, the governor was directed to have the line run between the state of Georgia and the Indians, according to the late treaty. The same thing was again done in the year 1819, under a recent treaty.
In a memorial to the president of the United States, by the legislature of Georgia, in 1819, they say, 'it has long been the desire of Georgia, that her settlements should be extended to her ultimate limits.' 'That the soil within her boundaries should be subjected to her control; and, that her police organization and government should be fixed and permanent.' 'That the state of Georgia claims a right to be jurisdiction and soil of the territory within her limits.' 'She admits, however, that the right is inchoate-remaining to be perfected by the United States, in the extinction of the Indian title; the United States pro hac vice as their agents.'
The Indian title was also distinctly acknowledged by the act of 1796, repealing the Yazoo act. It is there declared, in reference to certain lands, that 'they are the sole property of the state, subject only to the right of the treaty of the United States, to enable the state to purchase, under its pre-emption right, the Indian title to the same;' and also, that the land is vested in the 'state, to whom the right of pre-emption to the same belongs, subject only to the controlling power of the United State, to authorise any treaties for, and to superintend the same.' This language, it will be observed, was used long before the act of cession.
On the 25th of March 1825, the governor of Georgia issued the following proclamation:
'Whereas it is provided in said treaty, that the United States shall protect the Indians against the incroachments, hostilities, and impositions of the whites, so that they suffer no imposition, molestation, or injury in their persons, goods, effects, their dwellings, or the lands they occupy, until their removal shall have been acomplished, according to the terms of the treaty,' which had been recently made with the Indians.
'I have therefore thought proper to issue this my proclamation, warning all persons, citizens of Georgia or others, against trespassing or intruding upon lands occupied by the Indians, within the limits of Georgia, either for the purpose of settlement or otherwise, as every such act will be in direct violation of the provisions of the treaty aforesaid, and will expose the aggressors to the most certain and summary punishment, by the authorities of the state, and the United States.' 'All good citizens, therefore, pursuing the discates of good faith, will unite in enforcing the obligations of the treaty, as the supreme law,' &c.
Many other references might be made to the public acts of the state of Georgia, to show that she admitted the obligation of Indian treaties, but the above are believed to be sufficient. These acts do honour to the character of that highly respectable state.
Under the act of cession, the United States were bound, in good faith, to extinguish the Indian title to lands within the limits of Georgia, so soon as it could be done peaceably and on reasonable terms.
The state of Georgia has repeatedly remonstrated to the president on this subject, and called upon the government to take the necessary steps to fulfil its engagement. She complained that, whilst the Indian title to immense tracts of country had been extinguished elsewhere, within the limits of Georgia but little progress had been made; and this was attributed, either to a want of effort on the part of the federal government, or to the effect of its policy towards the Indians. In one or more of the treaties, titles in fee simple were given to the Indians, to certain reservations of land; and this was complained of, by Georgia, as a direct infraction of the condition of the cession. It has also been asserted, that the policy of the government, in advancing the cause of civilization among the Cherokees, and inducing them to assume the forms of a regular government and of civilized life, was calculated to increase their attachment to the soil they inhabit, and to render the purchase of their title more difficult, if not impracticable.
A full investigation of this subject may not be considered as strictly within the scope of the judicial inquiry which belongs to the present case. But, to some extent, it has a direct bearing on the question before the court; as it tends to show how the rights and powers of Georgia were construed by her public functionaries.
By the first president of the United States, and by every succeeding one, a strong solicitude has been expressed for the civilization of the Indians. Through the agency of the government, they have been partially induced, in some parts of the union, to change the hunter state for that of the agriculturist and herdsman.
In a letter addressed by Mr Jefferson to the Cherokees, dated the 9th of January 1809, he recommends them to adopt a regular government, that crimes might be punished and property protected. He points out the mode by which a council should be chosen, who should have power to enact laws; and he also recommended the appointment of judicial and executive agents, through whom the law might be enforced. The agent of the government, who resided among them, was recommended to be associated with their council, that he might give the necessary advice on all subjects relating to their government.
In the treaty of 1817, the Cherokees are encouraged to adopt a regular form of government.
Since that time, a law has been passed making an annual appropriation of the sum of ten thousand dollars, as a school fund, for the education of Indian youths, which has been distributed among the different tribes where schools had been established. Missionary labours among the Indians have also been sanctioned by the government, by granting permits, to those who were disposed to engage in such a work, to reside in the Indian country.
That the means adopted by the general government to reclaim the savage from his erratic life, and induce him to assume the forms of civilization, have had a tendency to increase the attachment of the Cherokees to the country they now inhabit, is extremely probable; and that it increased the difficulty of purchasing their lands, as by act of cession the general government agreed to do, is equally probable.
Neither Georgia, nor the United States, when the cession was made, contemplated that force should be used in the extinguishment of the Indian title; nor that it should be procured on terms that are not reasonable. But, may it not be said, with equal truth, that it was not contemplated by either party that any obstructions to the fulfilment of the compact should be allowed, much less sanctioned, by the United States?
The humane policy of the government towards these children of the wilderness must afford pleasure to every benevolent feeling; and if the efforts made have not proved as successful as was anticipated, still much has been done. Whether the advantages of this policy should not have been held out by the government to the Cherokees within the limits of Georgia, as an inducement for them to change their residence and fix it elsewhere, rather than by such means to increase their attachment to their present home, as has been insisted on, is a question which may be considered by another branch of the government. Such a course might, perhaps, have secured to the Cherokee Indians all the advantages they have realized from the paternal superintendence of the government; and have enabled it, on peaceable and reasonable terms, to comply with the act of cession.
Does the intercourse law of 1802 apply to the Indians who live within the limits of Georgia? The nineteenth section of that act provides, 'that it shall not be construed to prevent any trade or intercourse with Indians living on lands surrounded by settlements of the citizens of the United States, and being within the ordinary jurisdiction of any of the individual states? This provision, it has been supposed, excepts from the operation of the law the Indian lands which lie within any state. A moment's reflection will show that this construction is most clearly erroneous.
To constitute an exception to the provisions of this act, the Indian settlement, at the time of its passage, must have been surrounded by settlements of the citizens of the United States, and within the ordinary jurisdiction of a state; not only within the limits of a state, but within the common exercise of its jurisdiction.
No one will pretend that this was the situation of the Cherokees who lived within the state of Georgia in 1802; or, indeed, that such is their present situation. If, then, they are not embraced by the exception, all the provisions of the act of 1802 apply to them.
In the very section which contains the exception, it is provided, that the use of the road from Washington district to Mero district should be enjoyed, and that the citizens of Tennessee, under the orders of the governor, might keep the road in repair. And in the same section, the navigation of the Tennessee river is reserved, and a right to travel from Knoxville to Price's settlement, provided the Indians should not object.
Now, all these provisions relate to the Cherokee country; and can it be supposed, by any one, that such provisions would have been made in the act, if congress had not considered it as applying to the Cherokee country, whether in the state of Georgia, or in the state of Tennessee?
The exception applied, exclusively, to those fragments of tribes which are found in several of the states, and which came literally within the description used.
Much has been said against the existence of an independent power within a sovereign state; and the conclusion has been drawn, that the Indians, as a matter of right, cannot enforce their own laws within the territorial limits of a state. The refutation of this argument is found in our past history.
That fragments of tribes, having lost the power of self-government, and who lived within the ordinary jurisdiction of a state, have been taken under the protection of the laws, has already been admitted. But there has been no instance, where the state laws have been generally extended over a numerous tribe of Indians, living within the state, and exercising the right of self-government, until recently.
Has Georgia ever, before her late laws, attempted to regulate the Indian communities within her limits? It is true, New York extended her criminal laws over the remains of the tribes within that state, more for their protection than for any other purpose. These tribes were few in number, and were surrounded by a white population. But, even the state of New York has never asserted the power, it is believed, to regulate their concerns beyond the suppression of crime.
Might not the same objection to this interior independent power, by Georgia, have been urged, with as much force as at present, ever since the adoption of the constitution? Her chartered limits, to the extent claimed, embraced a great number of different nations of Indians, all of whom were governed by their own laws, and were amenable only to them. Has not this been the condition of the Indians within Tennessee, Ohio, and other states?
The exercise of this independent power surely does not become more objectionable, as it assumes the basis of justice and the forms of civilization. Would it not be a singular argument to admit, that, so long as the Indians govern by the rifle and the tomahawk, their government may be tolerated; but, that it must be suppressed, so soon as it shall be administered upon the enlightened principles of reason and justice?
Are not those nations of Indians who have made some advances in civilization, better neighbours than those who are still in a savage state? And is not the principle, as to their self government, within the jurisdiction of a state, the same?
When Georgia sanctioned the constitution, and conferred on the national legislature the exclusive right to regulate commerce or intercourse with the Indians, did she reserve the right to regulate intercourse with the Indians within her limits? This will not be pretended. If such had been the construction of her own powers, would they not have been exercised? Did her senators object to the numerous treaties which have been formed with the different tribes, who lived within her acknowledged boundaries? Why did she apply to the executive of the union, repeatedly, to have the Indian title extinguished; to establish a line between the Indians and the state, and to procure a right of way through the Indian lands?
The residence of Indians, governed by their own laws, within the limits of a state, has never been deemed incompatible with state sovereignty, until recently. And yet, this has been the condition of many distinct tribes of Indians, since the foundation of the federal government.
How is the question varied by the residence of the Indians in a territory of the United States? Are not the United States sovereign within their territories? And has it ever been conceived, by any one, that the Indian governments, which exist in the territories, are incompatible with the sovereignty of the union?
A state claims the right of sovereignty, commensurate with her territory; as the United States claim it, in their proper sphere, to the extent of the federal limits. This right or power, in some cases, may be exercised, but not in others. Should a hostile force invade the country, at its most remote boundary, it would become the duty of the general government to expel the invaders. But it would violate the solemn compacts with the Indians, without cause, to dispossess them of rights which they possess by nature, and have been uniformly acknowledged by the federal government.
Is it incompatible with state sovereignty to grant exclusive jurisdiction to the federal government over a number of acres of land, for military purposes? Our forts and arsenals, though situated in the different states, are not within their jurisdiction.
Does not the constitution give to the United States as exclusive jurisdiction in regulating intercourse with the Indians, as has been given to them over any other subjects? Is there any doubt as to this investiture of power? Has it not been exercised by the federal government, ever since its formation, not only without objection, but under the express sanction of all the states?
The power to dispose of the public domain is an attribute of sovereignty. Can the new states dispose of the lands within their limits, which are owned by the federal government? The power to tax is also an attribute of sovereignty; but, can the new states tax the lands of the United States? Have they not bound themselves, by compact, not to tax the public lands, nor until five years after they shall have been sold? May they violate this compact, at discretion?
Why may not these powers be exercised by the respective states? The answer is, because they have parted with them, expressly for the general good. Why may not a state coin money, issue bills of credit, enter into a treaty of alliance or confederation, or regulate commerce with foreign nations? Because these powers have been expressly and exclusively given to the federal government.
Has not the power been as expressly conferred on the federal government, to regulate intercourse with the Indians; and is it not as exclusively given, as any of the powers above enumerated? There being no exception to the exercise of this power, it must operate on all communities of Indians, exercising the right of self-government; and consequently, include those who reside within the limits of a state, as well as others. Such has been the uniform construction of this power by the federal government, and of every state government, until the question was raised by the state of Georgia.
Under this clause of the constitution, no political jurisdiction over the Indians, has been claimed or exercised. The restrictions imposed by the law of 1802, come strictly within the power to regulate trade; not as an incident, but as a part of the principal power. It is the same power, and is conferred in the same words, that has often been exercised in regulating trade with foreign countries. Embargoes have been imposed, laws of non-intercourse have been passed, and numerous acts, restrictive of trade, under the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations.
In the regulation of commerce with the Indians, congress have exercised a more limited power than has been exercised in reference to foreign countries. The law acts upon our own citizens, and not upon the Indians, the same as the laws referred to act upon our own citizens in their foreign commercial intercourse.
It will scarcely be doubted by any one, that, so far as the Indians, as distinct communities, have formed a connexion with the federal government, by treaties; that such connexion is political, and is equally binding on both parties. This cannot be questioned, except upon the ground, that in making these treaties, the federal government has transcended the treaty-making power. Such an objection, it is true, has been stated, but it is one of modern invention, which arises out of local circumstances; and is not only opposed to the uniform practice of the government, but also to the letter and spirit of the constitution.
But the inquiry may be made, is there no end to the exercise of this power over Indians within the limits of a state, by the general government? The answer is, that, in its nature, it must be limited by circumstances.
If a tribe of Indians shall become so degraded or reduced in numbers, as to lose the power of self-government, the protection of the local law, of necessity, must be extended over them. The point at which this exercise of power by a state would be proper, need not now be considered: if indeed it be a judicial question. Such a question does not seem to arise in this case. So long as treaties and laws remain in full force, and apply to Indian nations, exercising the right of self-government, within the limits of a state, the judicial power can exercise no discretion in refusing to give effect to those laws, when questions arise under them, unless they shall be deemed unconstitutional.
The exercise of the power of self-government by the Indians, within a state, is undoubtedly contemplated to be temporary. This is shown by the settled policy of the government, in the extinguishment of their title, and especially by the compact with the state of Georgia. It is a question, not of abstract right, but of public policy. I do not mean to say, that the same moral rule which should regulate the affairs of private life, should not be regarded by communities or nations. But, a sound national policy does require that the Indian tribes within our states should exchange their territories, upon equitable principles, or, eventually, consent to become amalgamated in our political communities.
At best they can enjoy a very limited independence within the boundaries of a state, and such a residence must always subject them to encroachments from the settlements around them; and their existence within a state, as a separate and independent community, may seriously embarrass or obstruct the operation of the state laws. If, therefore, it would be inconsistent with the political welfare of the states, and the social advance of their citizens, that an independent and permanent power should exist within their limits, this power must give way to the greater power which surrounds it, or seek its exercise beyond the sphere of state authority.
This state of things can only be produced by a co-operation of the state and federal governments. The latter has the exclusive regulation of intercourse with the Indians; and, so long as this power shall be exercised, it cannot be obstructed by the state. It is a power given by the constitution, and sanctioned by the most solemn acts of both the federal and state governments: consequently, it cannot be abrogated at the will of a state. It is one of the powers parted with by the states, and vested in the federal government. But, if a contingency shall occur, which shall render the Indians who reside in a state, incapable of self-government, either by moral degradation or a reduction of their numbers, it would undoubtedly be in the power of a state government to extend to them the aegis of its laws. Under such circumstances, the agency of the general government, of necessity, must cease.
But, if it shall be the policy of the government to withdraw its protection from the Indians who reside within the limits of the respective states, and who not only claim the right of self government, but have uniformly exercised it; the laws and treaties which impose duties and obligations on the general government should be abrogated by the powers competent to do so. So long as those laws and treaties exist, having been formed within the sphere of the federal powers, they must be respected and enforced by the appropriate organs of the federal government.
The plaintiff who prosecutes this writ of error, entered the Cherokee country, as it appears, with the express permission of the president, and under the protection of the treaties of the United States, and the law of 1802. He entered, not to corrupt the morals of this people, nor to profit by their substance; but to teach them, by precept and example, the Christian religion. If he be unworthy of this sacred office; if he had any other object than the one professed; if he sought, by his influence, to counteract the humane policy of the federal government towards the Indians, and to embarrass its efforts to comply with its solemn engagement with Georgia; though his sufferings be illegal, he is not a proper object of public sympathy.
It has been shown, that the treaties and laws referred to come within the due exercise of the constitutional powers of the federal government; that they remain in full force, and consequently must be considered as the supreme laws of the land. These laws throw a shield over the Cherokee Indians. They guarantied to them their rights of occupancy, of self-government, and the full enjoyment of those blessings which might be attained in their humble condition. But, by the enactments of the state of Georgia, this shield is broken in pieces-the infant institutions of the Cherokees are abolished, and their laws annulled. Infamous punishment is denounced against them, for the exercise of those rights which have been most solemnly guarantied to them by the national faith.
Of these enactments, however, the plaintiff in error has no right to complain, nor can he question their validity, except in so far as they affect his interests. In this view and in this view only, has it become necessary, in the present case, to consider the repugnancy of the laws of Georgia to those of the union.
Of the justice or policy of these laws, it is not my province to speak: such considerations belonging to the legislature by whom they were passed. They have, no doubt, been enacted under a conviction of right, by a sovereign and independent state, and their policy may have been recommended, by a sense of wrong under the compact. Thirty years have elapsed since the federal government engaged to extinguish the Indian title, within the limits of Georgia. That she has strong ground of complaint arising from this delay, must be admitted; but such considerations are not involved in the present case; they belong to another branch of the government. We can look only to the law, which defines our power, and marks out the path of our duty.
Under the administration of the laws of Georgia, a citizen of the United States has been deprived of his liberty; and, claiming protection under the treaties and laws of the United States, he makes the question, as he has a right to make it, whether the laws of Georgia, under which he is now suffering an ignominious punishment, are not repugnant to the constitution of the United States, and the treaties and laws made under it. This repugnancy has been shown; and it remains only to say, what has before been often said by this tribunal of the local laws of many of the states in this union, that, being repugnant to the constitution of the United States, and to the laws made under it, they can have no force to divest the plaintiff in error of his property or liberty.
Mr Justice BALDWIN dissented: stating that in his opinion, the record was not properly returned upon the writ of error; and ought to have been returned by the state court, and not by the clerk of that court. As to the merits, he said his opinion remained the same as was expressed by him in the case of the Cherokee Nation v. The State of Georgia, at the last term.
The opinion of Mr Justice Baldwin was not delibered to the reporter.