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In the years following the War of 1812, Native Americans east of the Mississippi would begin to face an astounding amount of pressure from white settlers encroaching onto their land. This hunger for land along with an anti-Indian cabinet in the White House would lead to the persecution and eventual removal for Indian groups east of the Mississippi. Perhaps the most important Indian group affected by the removal was the Cherokees of Georgia and Alabama. The actions of the U.S. government and the Cherokees during this time period would have wide ranging consequences that would affect U.S.-Indian relations for several following decades. This critical period of U.S history would come to be known as the Removal Era.
To examine the reasons why the Cherokee removal occurred, we must separately examine the different groups that pushed for the removal. The most influential group in forcing the removal of the Cherokees was both the Legislature and citizens of the state of Georgia. The main reason for the pressure for removal from Georgia was the fact that a significant amount of the accepted Cherokee land was within Georgia’s boundary. This would prevent two problems for the Georgia legislature. Firstly, by having part of Georgia’s acreage claimed as Indian land it greatly hindered Georgia’s rapidly growing population in their efforts to continue and expand western settlement within their state. Many, including Chief Justice John Marshall believed the Cherokees were entitled to this land, therefore making it unavailable to Georgia settlers. In his ruling about Cherokee sovereignty Marshall would state “the Indian nations possessed a full right to the lands they occupied, until that right should be extinguished by the United States, with their consent: that their territory was separated from that of any state within whose chartered limits they might reside”. (82) This not only slowed the progress of the growing state, but it also a lot of pressure was put of Georgia’s legislature by the land hungry citizens of the state. The other problem the Cherokee land caused for the Georgia legislature was the fact that the Cherokee Nation viewed themselves as sovereign and therefore under no obligation to the laws of the state. There are several examples within the Cherokee Constitution where it shows this including in Sec. 15 where it states “The General Council shall have power to make all laws and regulations, which they shall deem necessary and proper for the good of the Nation”. (64) This section of the Constitution shows how the Cherokees viewed themselves as a completely sovereign nation and therefore not restricted by the laws set for by the state of Georgia. Statements like these would’ve greatly angered the Georgia legislature and influenced them to hasten the Cherokees removal. These are the two main reasons why the state of Georgia favored removal.
One surprising group that favored Removal was a significant fraction of the Cherokee people themselves. This is interesting because it shows how some part of the Cherokee population believed that removal would be better for them as a people. These removalists believed that they could no longer survive on their current land due to the pressures forced on them by Georgia. In Georgia’s attempt to force the Cherokees removal, they passed many discriminatory laws against the Cherokee. For example, the legislature passed a law stating “it shall not be lawful for any person or persons under pretext of authority from the Cherokee tribe to meet, or assemble as a council for the purpose of making laws or regulations for said tribe”. (78) The document would go on to provide a means of punishment for those who break this code “imprisonment in the Penitentiary at hard labour for the space of four years”. (78) Laws such as this one were meant to harass the Cherokee to the point where they would be forced to accept Removal. Discriminatory laws such as these are one of the reasons why many Cherokees were in favor of Removal.
The final party that influenced the Removal was the federal government and more specifically the cabinet of President Andrew Jackson. One of the main reasons why the National government favored removal was the portrayal of the Cherokees as savages. This is portrayed by an influential Cherokee John Ridge in his letter to Federal official when he states “Indians are not addicted to as much revenge as they have been represented”. (42) This quote shows an attempt by Ridge to refute the stereotype of Natives as bloodthirsty savages. Ridge would go on to say “In regard to Intemperance, we as a nation are grossly degraded.” (42)These quotes show how the Cherokees were often thought of as subordinate peoples during this time period. These negative stereotypes would provide justification for the national government for their removal west of the Mississippi.
With all the pressure to move west of the Mississippi many Cherokees would attempt to hold fast to their homeland. Their reasons for opposing the Removal idea varied greatly. One reason many Cherokee opposed Removal is that they had seen the terrible hardships incurred by other Native groups as they made their trek west of the Mississippi. These tribes were often subject to disease, inclement weather, lack of supplies, and a plethora of other hardships. This would lead to an astounding loss of lives as they made their trip westward. These hardships would also be eminent in the Cherokee Removal. One example of this is shown by a Cherokee child Rebecca Neugin as she later recollected the terrible journey westward. “When the soldiers came to our house my father wanted to fight, but someone told him that the soldiers would kill him if he did and we surrendered”. (179) As shown by this most of the soldiers on this journey were far concerned with accomplishing their mission than with ensuring the well-being of the Cherokees. Rebecca would go on to describe some of the hardships she witnessed on the trek west, “There was much sickness among the emigrants and a great many little children died of whooping cough.” (179) Disease was one of the many dangers those on the Trail of Tears faced and by the time the Removal was complete almost a fourth of the Cherokee population has perished. The terrible hardships faced on those going west was one of the reasons why many Cherokees should have opposed Removal.
Another reason why many Cherokee opposed removal is that they were encouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Worchester v. Georgia. In this case, a missionary stationed in Cherokee country refused to abide by Georgia law as he was under the authority of the Cherokee Nation. In siding with Worchester, the Supreme Court recognized that the Cherokee were sovereign and therefore not subject to Georgia’s state law. In providing reasoning for his decision John Marshall would state “the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter, but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves, or in conformity with treaties”. (83) This statement from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would provide some Cherokees with a sense of optimism, that they would be able to stop Georgia’s encroachment onto their land.
The final reason why many Cherokees opposed removal is simply that it was their home. These people had been on these lands for generations and many Cherokee had never even been on non-Cherokee land. They found it appalling that they would be forced to move hundreds of miles away from the place they had lived all their lives. Their Cherokee people’s fear of the potential loss of their land was summed up in an article published by Congress in 1817. In a section of the article it would state “Their devoted attachment to their native country has not been, nor ever can be, eradicated from their breast.” (91) This statement represents the feelings all Cherokees, especially the older generation felt at the prospect of giving up their homeland for a parcel of land hundreds of miles away that most of them had never seen. These are some of the main reasons why the Cherokees opposed the removal process.
My opinion on the Cherokee removal is that it never should have been allowed to happen. However, you cannot put this blame on the Cherokee people or their leaders. Even those who supported Removal did so because they thought it was the best thing for their people, and maybe in a sense they were correct. The blame for this terrible event should be placed on those who disregarded past agreements and the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in order to further advance their own goals. The people of Georgia were so land hungry that they were willing to displace Native men, women, and children just so they could have more farmland. However, I believe the majority of blame must be placed on the Federal government. Not only should the blame be put on President Jackson who neglected his duty as president by refusing to enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling, but also on previous lawmakers who agreed with Georgia to give them all Native land within their boundary in exchange for Georgia giving up its claim of western land. This agreement between the Federal government and the state of Georgia is simply another example of a non-Indian giving up Indian land that wasn’t theirs to begin with. These are the main reasons why I believe the Cherokee Removal shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.
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