The writing was on the wall! By the early 1800’s, even Thomas Jefferson, who often cited the Great Law of Peace of the Iroquois Confederacy as the
model for the U.S. Constitution, supported Indian Removal as early as 1802. Many Cherokees, unsettled by white encroachment, decided to move west on their own. In 1817, a group that came to be known as the “Old Settlers” voluntarily moved to land given them in Arkansas where they established a new government and a lived in peace for a while. It was not to last. They were eventually forced to move again to Indian Territory.
Those that stayed and tried to save their land and culture created a Cherokee Nation constitution, their own syllabary for reading and writing Cherokee, and a Supreme Court. But, Andrew Jackson and the state of Georgia were united in their desire to relocate all Native Americans from their homelands and give their lands to white settlers and immigrants. The discovery of gold in northern Georgia sealed the fate of the Cherokee. Driven by “gold fever” and a lust for Cherokee land, many whites turned on their Cherokee neighbors. Despite the fact that President Andrew Jackson’s military command and almost certainly his life were saved thanks to the aid of Cherokee allies at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, Jackson incredibly authorized the Indian Removal Act of 1830 following the recommendation of President James Monroe in his final address to Congress in 1825.
Not everyone saw the native peoples as savages that must be removed to make room for white expansion. eloquent opposition. Senators Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Congressman David Crockett provided eloquent opposition. The Reverend Samuel Worcester, missionary to the Cherokees, challenged Georgia’s attempt to extinguish Indian title to land in the state and won a monumental case before the Supreme Court. Worcester vs. Georgia, 1832 and Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia, 1831 are considered the two most influential legal decisions in Indian law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled for Georgia in the 1831 case, but in Worcester vs. Georgia, the court affirmed Cherokee sovereignty. President Andrew Jackson was furious when the Marshall court upheld that Georgia laws that purported to seize Cherokee lands on which gold had been found violated federal treaties. Jackson responded: “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” He then ordered the removal, an act that established the U.S. government’s precedent for the future removal of many Native Americans from their ancestral homelands.
The U.S. government used the Treaty of New Echota in 1835 [refer to Preserving the Culture: Andrew Jackson] to justify the removal. The treaty, signed by about 100 Cherokees known as the Treaty Party, relinquished all lands east of the Mississippi River in exchange for land in Indian Territory and the promise of money, livestock, various provisions, tools and other benefits.
“When these pro-removal Cherokee leaders signed the Treaty of New Echota, they also signed their own death warrants, since the Cherokee Nation Council had earlier passed a law calling for the death of anyone agreeing to give up tribal land. The signing and the removal led to bitter factionalism and ultimately to the deaths of most of the Treaty Party leaders once the Cherokee arrived in Indian Territory.” –from A Brief History of the Trail of Tears, Cherokee Nation website:
“Chief John Ross, a mixed-blood of Scottish, the Ross party, led opposition to the removal and most Cherokees opposed the New Echota Treaty, but Georgia and the U.S. government prevailed and used it as justification to force almost all of the 17,000 Cherokees from their southeastern homeland.
“Under orders from President Jackson the U.S. Army began enforcement of the Removal Act. The Cherokee were rounded up in the summer of 1838 and loaded onto boats that traveled the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers into Indian Territory. Many were held in prison camps awaiting their fate.
“An estimated 4,000 died from hunger, exposure and disease. The journey became a cultural memory as the “trail where they cried” for the Cherokees and other removed tribes. Today it is widely remembered by the general public as the “Trail of Tears”. The Oklahoma chapter of the Trail of Tears Association has begun the task of marking the graves of Trail survivors with bronze memorials.”
In his book Don’t Know Much About History, Kenneth C. Davis writes:
Hollywood has left the impression that the great Indian wars came in the Old West during the late 1800’s, a period that many think of simplistically as the “cowboy and Indian” days. But in fact that was a “mopping up” effort. By that time the Indians were nearly finished, their subjugation complete, their numbers decimated. The killing, enslavement, and land theft had begun with the arrival of the Europeans. But it may have reached its nadir when it became federal policy under President (Andrew) Jackson.