Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine tha t the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. -Martin Luther King. The trail of tears was an event that occurred in 1838 and cost the lives of thousands of Native Americans. Tribes such as Choctaw, Creeks, and the Cherokee were forced from their land by the U.S. government to what is known today as Oklahoma. Some traveled by water, most of them traveled by land. It took the Cherokee six months to complete the 800 miles distance to their destination.
This event will forever shape the history of the Native Americans who lost their land and their lives. Between 1790 and 1830 the population of Georgia increased exponentially. White Americans feared and resented Native Americans. They seemed unfamiliar, alien people who occupied land that white settlers wanted and believed they deserved. Native Americans land was in parts of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee, which was considered valuable. It grew more coveted as white settlers flooded the region.
Many yearned to make their fortune by growing cotton. They would do anything to gain the Native Americans land, which was steal livestock, burn and looted houses and towns, as well as squatting on land that did not belong to them. The Georgians took American Indian land and force both the Cherokee Indians and the Creek Indians into the frontier. Cherokees had long called western Georgia home. In 1827 the Cherokees established a constitutional government, and by 1828 they were not nomadic savages. They had adopted many European-style customs, including the wearing of gowns by Cherokee women.
They built roads, schools, churches, had a system of representational government were farmers and cattle ranchers. It was in 1828 that the Cherokee Nation sought an injunction from the Supreme Court to prevent the state of Georgia from enforcing a series of laws stripping the Cherokee people of their rights and displacing them from their land; they argued that the laws violated treaties the Cherokees had negotiated with the United States. In the case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the court ruled that the Cherokees did not constitute a foreign nation within the meaning of the Article III of the constitution. It extended the judicial power of the United States to cases between a state and a foreign nation, and that it; therefore, lacked jurisdiction to hear the claims of an Indian nation against the state in which it resided, resulting in the case being dismissed.
In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act signed by Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830. It gave authorization to the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. A few tribes went peacefully, but many resisted the relocation. President Andrew Jackson said in his second annual message to Congress, December 6, 1830: It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation.
Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress, and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages. Many Americans were against it, including Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett. He wrote a letter expressing his complaints about President Andrew Jackson’s forced removal of the Cherokees from their homes to Oklahoma. He opposed the policy and feared Vice President Martin Van Buren would continue if elected.
He even went as far as saying that if Van Buren was elected he would leave the U.S. for the wilds of Texas. I also condemned the Course parsued to the Southern Indians I love to sustain the honour of my Country and I will do it while I live in or out of Congress In the winter of 1831 under the threat of the US army invasion, the Choctaw became the first nation to be expelled from their land. It was a journey on foot without food, supplies or help from the government, thousands died. It was the Choctaw leader that told the Alabama newspaper a “trail of tears and death.” In 1831, Samuel Worcester, a white missionary living among the Cherokee was arrested, and was convicted of, failing to obtain a Georgia state permit to live on Cherokee land.
He appealed his case, claiming the Cherokee were an independent nation and didn’t have to answer to Georgia law; the case then went to the US Supreme Court. In 1832 the Supreme Court heard the case Worcester v. Georgia, where they held that the Cherokee Indians constituted a nation holding distinct sovereign powers. The Cherokees argued that the law violated their sovereign rights as a nation and illegally intruded into their treaty relationship with the United States. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that the Cherokees constituted a “domestic, dependent nation” that existed under the guardianship of the United States.
In 1835 Andrew Jackson sent a letter to the Cherokee Nation about the benefits of voluntary removal. In the letter he urged for the Cherokee nation to give up the fight for their homeland. He argued that the Cherokee people would be better off if they relocated to land west of the Mississippi River. Calling the natives uneducated and their young intoxicated. He expressed the hope that they will accept the advice that he claimed to give them as a friend. In 1836 the federal government drove the Creeks from their land. Out of the fifteen thousand who set out for Oklahoma, three thousand five-hundred did not survive.
Andrew Jackson stated if no one intended to enforce the Supreme Court rulings, which he himself did not, the decision would fall stillborn. Before his presidency he campaigned for the removal of Native Americans, he then pushed harder after he was elected into presidency. The Cherokee Nation was divided on what to do, whether they should stay or leave. The treaty of New Echota was signed 1835 thus ceding the Cherokee land to the U.S. in exchange for compensation. It was signed by Major Ridge who claimed to represent the Cherokee Nation, when in fact he spoke only for a small fraction. The Cherokee Nation sent the U.S. Congress a letter of protest, a delegation led by Chief Ross.
He discussed the outline and history agreements between the US and Cherokee in objection to activities of Georgia against the Cherokee Nation. Significant evidence of oppression and mistreatment are offered as evidence of Georgia’s overstepping is legitimate authority. This delegation protested the Treaty of New Echota. Even with a petition with 16,000 signatures Congress still upheld the treaty. The Cherokee killed Major Ridge and his son Elias Boudinot for signing the treaty of New Echota.
It was in 1838 the United States began the removal to Oklahoma, fulfilling a promise the government made to Georgia in 1802. General John Wool resigned his post in protest, which caused a small delay. Replacement General Winfield Scott arrived in New Echota on May 17, 1838. They forced out men, women, and children with little to no food or water. The Natives were not allowed to take their belongings, and their homes were looted by white settlers. It was during the brutal winter of 1838-39.
The weak and sick were the first to pass away. Whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera, and starvations were epidemics along the way it was estimated more than 5,000 Cherokee died as a result from the journey. By the 1840’s tens of thousands of Natives had been driven off their land in the south eastern states and forced to move across the Mississippi to Indian Territory.
The federal government had made a promise that their new land would remain unmolested forever; however, as the line of white settlement pushed westward “Indian Country” got smaller and smaller. In 1907, Oklahoma became a state with no recognized Indian Territory. The Trail of Tears was a devastating event that occurred in the United States. The Natives were not treated fairly, as they truly were a sovereign nation. Though Congress agreed it didn’t stop the President from pushing them out from their homes. Even now Native Americans, have small claims to land. This event truly shaped and sealed the fates of the Native Americans in the United States.