On this dayJan 16, 1832

Alabama Claims Sovereignty Over Muscogee and Cherokee People; Bars Tribal Customs and Autonomy

Book Illustration (1912)

On January 16, 1832, in an effort designed to make aspects of daily life illegal and drive Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee people from their land through abuse and fraud, the General Assembly of Alabama enacted provisions prohibiting them 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 Muscogee territory. In response to that first law, and white settlers' increasing unlawful encroachment into the Muscogee Nation, the Muscogee Council repeatedly—yet unsuccessfully—petitioned the federal government for assistance and protection.

Even without federal support, many Muscogee people 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 Cherokee and Muscogee people could only testify in court in suits involving other members of the Cherokee and Muscogee nations, effectively ensuring that Muscogee people 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 by Muscogee people and traveled to Muscogee territory in Alabama to take advantage of the law, stealing land without consequence. Both the Alabama and federal government hoped to remove tribal communities from Alabama to the Western Territory and this law furthered those aims. Indeed, Dixon Hall Lewis, an Alabama House representative, argued for the passage of the 1832 law by specifically noting that when the Muscogee people "see and feel some palpable act of legislation under the authority of the state, that their veneration for their own law and customs will induce them speedily to remove to that region of the country west of Mississippi."

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

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