National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1825-1849: We become a land of the common man, though not yet a democracy for all

May 23, 1838
U.S. troops force the Cherokee from their land

Justice Joseph Story

The Court has done its duty. Let the nation now do theirs.
—Justice Joseph Story

The Cherokee have lived on their own lands for generations, a right protected by a 1791 treaty with the United States. But Georgians are after Cherokee lands—especially since they found gold there—and they’ve passed state laws to take control.

The Supreme Court said the Constitution protects valid treaties, so the “laws of Georgia can have no force” in Cherokee territory.

But Georgia flatly ignored the ruling, and the President did nothing to enforce it.

The tribe held on for six years, but finally lost its battle to stay. Using a dubious new treaty, the government is forcing the Cherokee to abandon their property, livestock and burial grounds. Federal troops are rounding them up for removal to the West.

It seems that our resolve to live by law and the Constitution has its limits.

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