On this day in WNC history: On July 26, 1827, in New Echota (modern Georgia) the Cherokee Nation adopted a formal constitution, “in order to establish justice, ensure tranquility, promote our common welfare, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty.”
By this point, the Cherokee had been pushed from much of their lands through colonization, violence and treaties. They once resided in portions of modern NC, SC, GA, TN, KY, VA, WV and AL, but after several wars, continual encroachment, and treaties with states and the federal government, lost a great portion of their home. The discovery of gold in northeast Georgia (where James Smith, owner of the Smith-McDowell House, soon operated a mine) also added urgency in their attempt to maintain sovereignty and territory. Just a few years prior, Sequoyah developed a writing system (a syllabary) and the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper circulated beginning in 1828. During this period of change Cherokees adopted many white American customs as well as legal strategies for defending their home. They even modeled their constitution around the American one, establishing executive, legislative, and judicial branches of governance. s
The constitution was not well-received by many individuals, including several Cherokee who viewed it as a threat to their traditional ways. The state of Georgia also disliked the Cherokee attempt to undermine their authority. Just three years later, Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, eventually forcing tribes in the southeast to vacate their lands for artificial reservations in the Oklahoma Territory. The Cherokee steadfastly fought this removal for eight years, pointing to their constitution which asserted “the lands therein are, and shall remain, the common property of the Nation” and that Cherokee citizens “shall possess no right nor power to dispose of their improvements in any manner whatsoever to the United States, individual states, nor individual citizens thereof.” The Supreme Court even upheld in Worcester v Georgia that Georgia had violated Cherokee sovereignty. Nevertheless, under increasing federal pressure, one group of Cherokees eventually acquiesced, without the approval of the larger nation. Despite 16,000 Cherokee signatures against removal, President Van Buren forcibly evicted the large majority of Cherokees from their homes in 1838.
Cherokee Constitution in Cherokee Phoenix, Hunter Library Digital Collections, Western Carolina University
1884 Royce Map, Library of Congress