On this dayJan 16, 1832

Alabama Declares State Law Sovereign Over Creek and Cherokee People

Book Illustration (1912)

On January 16, 1832, the General Assembly of Alabama enacted provisions prohibiting the Creek and Cherokee people from practicing customs or making laws that conflicted with Alabama law. The provision stated, “All laws, usages and customs now used, enjoyed, or practiced, by the Creek and Cherokee nations of Indians, within the limits of this State, contrary to the constitution and laws of this State, be, and the same are hereby abolished.”

This statute was created just three years after another law effectively extended the jurisdiction of Alabama into Creek territory. In response to that first law, and white settlers’ increasing unlawful encroachment into the Creek Nation, the Creek Council repeatedly–yet unsuccessfully–petitioned the federal government for assistance and protection.

Even without federal support, many Creeks refused to succumb to mounting pressure to emigrate west of the Mississippi River, and their leaders continued organizing efforts to secure their tribal lands. This 1832 law frustrated those efforts by declaring it illegal for tribal leaders to “meet in any counsel, assembly, or convention” and create “any law for said tribe, contrary to the laws and constitution of this State.” Punishment for violating this law was imprisonment “in the common jail of the proper county, for not less than two, nor more than four, months.”

The 1832 law also provided that the Cherokee and Creek could only testify in court in suits involving other Cherokee and Creek, effectively ensuring that Creeks defrauded and illegally deprived of their land by white intruders would have no recourse in the Alabama courts. White settlers, speculators, and those intending to illegally occupy tribal lands were enticed by the law preventing any suit for trespass and traveled to Creek territory in Alabama to take advantage of the law. Both the Alabama and federal government hoped to remove tribal communities from Alabama to the Western Territory and this law furthered those aims.

Alabama's extension of state laws over Creek country complicated efforts to bring order to the new territory and ended up encouraging intrusions. . . . Then early in 1832 before the Treaty of Cusseta was signed, [the Alabama legislature] invalidated the authority of the National Council and placed Creeks under state law. Designated free people of color, or second-class citizens, Creeks, like African Americans, could not testify against white Alabamians in court, including the speculators and squatters who cheated them out of their allotments. As an ardent states rights advocate, Dixon Hall Lewis, the Alabama House representative from Montgomery, supported the extension of state law on philosophical grounds but he also made clear the underlying intent. When the Creeks "see and feel the full impact of state law," he said, "their veneration for their own law and customs will induce them speedily to remove to that region of the country west of Mississippi."

Daniel S. Dupre, Alabama's Frontiers and the Rise of the Old South

By 1837, 23,000 Creeks had been forced out of the Southeast.

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