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Epilogue The Cherokee Lawyer Our story concludes, fittingly (as this is a book about America), with a lawsuit. In the spring of 1830, the Baltimore attorney William Wirt was approached by a delegation from the government of the Cherokee Indian nation asking him to serve as their counsel. The Cherokee had not approached Wirt randomly—he was recommended by some of the most powerful opponents of President Andrew Jackson, and his opinion of the situation of the Cherokee Nation was a matter of some record. Six years before, in 1824, when Wirt was attorney general of the United States, he had authored an opinion for the secretary of war about the legality of taxes the Cherokee nation had been imposing on white traders who operated within its boundaries. While he found the Cherokees’ taxes to be in violation of federal law, Wirt had also noted that the extent of development and ‘‘civilization’’ among the Cherokees was a sign that the federal government should probably rethink its ‘‘paternalistic’’ relationship with the Indian nation. While it is unclear how many would have been aware of Wirt’s sympathies with the Cherokee cause, nearly every American was familiar with Wirt from his service as the federal government’s prosecutor in the 1807 trial of Aaron Burr for treason. Despite Burr’s acquittal, Wirt’s performance had won him a national reputation as an orator, which, combined with his subsequent twelve years of service as the attorney general of the United States, had solidified his reputation as one of the best lawyers in America. The Cherokee were hiring well. And in 1830, the Cherokee nation needed a good lawyer desperately.∞ In the spring of 1830, the Cherokee nation confronted a crisis in which its 208 Revolutionary Negotiations very survival was at stake. The inauguration of Andrew Jackson as president a year earlier had e√ected a revolution in how the United States related to the Indian nations. Desirous of facilitating the transfer of the remaining lands under American Indian sovereignty east of the Mississippi to the hands of the federal government and the states, the Jackson administration had proposed the Indian Removal Bill to Congress in December 1829, and it had been formally introduced by the Tennessee delegation a month later. The Removal Bill gave the secretary of war the power and the imperative to begin negotiating with all the remaining Indian nations on the eastern side of the Mississippi River to arrange their relocation to the western side of the river. The bill also required that Congress fund the negotiations, compensate the Indian nations for their lands, and pay for the transportation of the Indian peoples and their property to the westward. The debate over the bill had raged for months, with divisions emerging along party and sectional lines. The National Republicans (the future Whig Party) generally opposed the bill, with Jackson’s Democrats supporting it. Westerners and southerners tended to support the bill (the southerners almost unanimously), with northeasterners generally opposed. Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Jackson on 28 May 1830, the Indian Removal Act accomplished two main objectives, one ideological and the other practical. Ideologically and intellectually, the act changed the guiding principle behind the United States government’s interaction with American Indian peoples in the East from the promotion of ‘‘civilization’’ to forced removal and relocation. No matter how much an Indian nation had acculturated and accommodated itself to Euro-American norms (the ostensible goal of American policy from the administrations of George Washington through John Quincy Adams), it would no longer have a place in eastern North America. At the same time, the Indian Removal Act had immediate practical e√ects. For years, the state of Georgia had wanted to take possession of lands within its boundaries held by the Cherokee and Creek Indians (as had been promised it by the federal government in the Georgia Compact of 1802). The government of Georgia saw the Removal Act as a green light, and in accordance with previously enacted state laws providing for the organization and distribution of the Cherokee lands, Georgia dispatched 320 surveyors into the Cherokee nation , where they began to survey and map tracts of land for sale to white settlers. Georgia refused to recognize the political and legal institutions of the Cherokee nation and the legal rights of individual Cherokees. The Epilogue 209 governing council of the Cherokee nation quickly realized that Georgia’s actions needed to be stopped if the nation...


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