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5.1.7 Constitution of Cherokee Nation, 1827 p.1

23 pages handwritten in ink that comprise the Cherokee Constitution of 1827. This early copy may have been written by Sam Houston. It was found in the 1827 Tennessee legislative papers and may have been given to the State of Tennessee in exchange for copies of Tennessee documents.


Constitution of Cherokee Nation, 1827 July 24 (p.1), Tennessee State Library and Archives,

The Cherokee traditionally organized themselves into clans, divided by wartime or peacetime villages, each with its own leader. Leaders came together in council meetings. Cherokee leaders made treaties and negotiated with European and US officials for generations as a Native nation. In 1828 the Cherokee created a new government based on the model of the United States, with a single leader, an elected council, and a court system. Read the excerpt of the transcript of the Cherokee Constitution. What was the structure of the Cherokee government under the new constitution? How did it change from the older, traditional organization structures? What stayed the same? 

The Cherokee adopted the Constitution of the Cherokee Nation to protect their sovereignty (their ability to make decisions for themselves and have their own independent government). At the time, the State of Georgia, where the Cherokee Nation was centered, threatened the sovereignty of the Cherokee. The Cherokee used the US legal system to sue Georgia to stop the enforcement of restrictive and discriminatory laws aimed at their people. In the case of Worcester v. Georgia (1832), Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the majority opinion that essentially recognized the sovereignty of Native Nations. He wrote:

“From the commencement of our government Congress has passed acts to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indians; which treat them as nations, respect their rights, and manifest a firm purpose to afford that protection which treaties stipulate. All these acts . . . manifestly consider the several Indian nations as distinct political communities, having territorial boundaries, within which their authority is exclusive, and having a right to all the lands within those boundaries, which is not only acknowledged, but guaranteed by the United States. . . .”

Encourage students to consider the ways the Cherokee developed a system of government that resembled governments in the United States. How did John Marshall’s words support Cherokee sovereignty? 

WE THE REPRESENTATIVES of the people of the CHEROKEE NATION in Convention assembled, in order to establish justice, ensure tranquility, promote our common welfare, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty, acknowledging with humility and gratitude the goodness of the sovereign Ruler of the Universe, in offering as an opportunity so favorable to the design, and imploring his aid and direction in its accomplishment, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Government of the Cherokee Nation.

Sec. 1. THE BOUNDARIES of this nation, embracing the lands solemnly guarantied and reserved forever to the Cherokee Nation by the Treaties concluded with the United States, are as follows; and shall forever hereafter remain unalterably the same-to wit- Beginning on the North Bank of Tennessee River at the upper part of the Chickasaw old fields; thence along the main channel of said river, including all the islands therein, to the mouth of the Hiwassee River, thence up the main channel of said river, including islands, to the first hill which closes in on said river, about two miles above Hiwassee Old Town; thence along the ridge which divides the waters of the Hiwassee and Little Tellico, to the Tennessee River at Tallasasei, thence along the main channel, including islands, to the junction of the Cowee and Nanteyalee; thence along the ridge in the fork of said river, to the top of the Blue Ridge;