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Doctrine of Discovery


The 1493 Doctrine of Discovery guided the colonization of the Americas and became part of U.S. law, history, and Euro-American dominant culture. This doctrine is a set of papals from the late 1400’s put out by the Pope.

They are the legal basis for the theft of lands in the non-European world by colonizing European powers and legal justification for genocide of any non-Christian culture. They are based on the principle of “terra nullius” which describes land belonging to non-Christians as empty and could be acquired through occupation.

They were codified into U.S. law with a series of Supreme Court cases commonly known as The Marshall Trilogy. In 1823, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Johnson v. M’Intosh that the discovery rights of European sovereigns had been transferred to the new United States.

These cases gave way to the Removal Era of U.S. Federal Policy during President Andrew Jackson which all Indigenous Nations East of the Mississippi River were to be removed from their homelands and sent west.

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