What Was the Worcester V. Georgia Court Case?

The New Georgia Encyclopedia explains that Worcester v. Georgia was a U.S. Supreme Court case held in 1832 that established that the Cherokee Indians inhabiting territory in Georgia had sovereign powers. The name "Worcester" belonged to a white missionary, Samuel Worcester, who became a close political advisor and legal advocate to the Cherokee Nation.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Samuel Worcester was a minister sent to the Cherokee Nation by the American Board of Foreign Ministries. His mission was to translate the Bible into Cherokee, but he eventually became implicated in the ongoing territory battle between Georgia and the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Nation v. Georgia ruled in 1831 that the Cherokee Nation had no sovereign power. The Cherokee Indians brought the state of Georgia to court because the Georgia legislature refused to acknowledge the Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty. Georgia threatened to remove the Cherokee Indians from their territory, but the indigenous group refused to evacuate.

Worcester arrived after the Cherokee Indians lost their case, and his presence stirred a controversy that caused the Georgia legislature to pass a law requiring whites to have state permission to live with the Cherokee Indians. Worcester was arrested on March 12, 1831, for not complying with the law. Worcester aided the Cherokee resistance and was arrested two more times before Cherokee lawyers took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Even though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Worcester and the Cherokee Nation, Georgia did not follow the court’s ruling. Worcester was not released from prison until 1833, and the Cherokee Nation was forcibly removed from its territory in 1838.