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The Trail of Tears is one of the biggest genocides of all time and is widely overlooked in American history. In order to understand the situation Native Americans were put through, it is important to know the events that led up to this horrific time in our nation’s history. There is an English saying that goes “those who do not know their past, are condemned to repeat it”. With all the immigration and racial issues going on in our nation today, it is imperative that we, as the American people, remember our past mistakes and we learn from them so we do not repeat them and end up in a similar situation. The American Indians fought for their rights and beliefs through the American court system. Their other objective other than fighting for their rights was but, in the end, they were forced out of their homes to move west of the Mississippi River (Foner, 2012).
Beginning in the 1830’s nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida, the land their ancestors had occupied and cultivated for generations. By the end of the 1830’s, very few Native Americans remained in any parts of the Southeastern United States. The federal government forced the natives to leave their homes and their land and walk thousands of miles to a designated “Indian Territory” across the Mississippi River. Though the United States claimed that they believed that if the tribes could show that they were civilized Indians and they could be assimilated into the American population they would be allowed to remain on their land, the American people seen the land as theirs and would use whatever force necessary to take it. Even though the Cherokee people had shown their willingness to abide by the treaties set forth by becoming Indian Removal Act In 1830, the Jackson administration instated the Indian Removal Act (Kidwell, 2010).
This point in our nation’s history begins with the presidency of Andrew Jackson. President Jackson gained fame as an Indian fighter and as a hero of the Battle of New Orleans and later moved to Tennessee as a wealthy planter and a slave owner. Like most white settlers at the time, Jackson sympathized with land-hungry citizens who were impatient to take over lands owned by Native Americans. Jackson believed in democracy, however, it did not extend to Native Americans. The law at the time required the government to negotiate removal treaties with the natives fairly, voluntarily, and peacefully. This meant that it did not permit the President or other of his officials to coerce the natives into giving up their lands.
President Jackson and his government frequently ignored this law and forced Native Americans to leave lands that they had owned and lived on for generations. Jackson thought that the most humane solution to deal with the Natives was to compel them to leave their homelands and to resettle in the area West of the Mississippi River. Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law in the year 1830; this forced thousands of Native Americans to leave their homes and resettle elsewhere. In the winter of 1831, the U.S. Army threatened to invade the Choctaw. This led to them becoming the first of the Native Americans to be evicted from their lands. The Choctaw made their way westward on foot to the new “Indian Territory”. Some natives were bound in chains and forced to march in double files. They went on this journey without food, supplies, or aid from the government that forced them from their homelands. Thousands of natives died along the way and thus, began the trail of tears.
A vast majority of politicians in the states believed in the policy of Indian Removal. Georgia was among some of the states that required the Cherokee Nation to migrate West. They challenged the state in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831). The Supreme Court ruled that Cherokees were not a foreign nation with the right to sue in a federal court. In a second case, Worcester v. Georgia (1832), the court ruled that the laws of Georgia had no force within the boundaries of the Cherokee territory. By 1835, most tribes had reluctantly complied to the Indian Removal Act and moved West. In 1836, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was created to assist the resettled Native American tribes. The Cherokees repudiated resettlement in 1835 in the new Indian territory. At this time a few self-appointed representatives of the Cherokee negotiated the Treaty of New Echota. This treaty traded all lands east of the Mississippi for $5 million, relocation assistance, and compensation for lost property.
The federal government saw this as a great victory. However, many from the Cherokee nation felt that they had been betrayed. The Cherokee believed that the negotiators did not represent the tribal government or anyone else. The Cherokee nation’s principal chief, John Ross, sent a letter to the U.S. Senate protesting the treaty and sent along with it a petition with nearly 16,000 signatures from the Cherokee who opposed the treaty. Congress ignored their efforts and approved the treaty anyways.
In 1836, the federal government drove the Creeks from their homeland for good. 3,500 of the 15,000 of the Creeks who set out for Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears did not survive the journey. At this time, the Cherokee nation had become divided among themselves. Their main issue was to find the best way to handle the government’s determination to get its hands on their territory. Some wanted to stay and fight, and others thought it would be more reasonable to agree to leave in exchange for money and other concessions.
In the end, tens of thousands of Cherokee people were forced by federal soldiers to leave their homes a move west from Georgia to Oklahoma in what many know as the “trail of tears” (Foner, 2012) Seminoles Other tribes such as the Seminoles stayed in Florida and fought for their land alongside slaves that had escaped from Georgia. Georgia sent militiamen into Florida to fight the Indians and African Americans. Hundreds lost their lives on both sides during the Seminole War from 1835 – 1842. In the end, the Seminole people were forced from their land and made to move west of the Mississippi River as other tribes had been. (Foner, 2012) Conclusion By 1840, the entire eastern coast of the United States were inhabited by whites. The Indian Removal Act had served its purpose. The white people moved further south and were more widespread than ever. They viewed the American Indians as American history, not as people that had been forced from their land by the American Government by going back on what the Constitution has been put in place to do; Federal law over ruling State laws. The American Indians continued to live and thrive in the west but as Americans began moving further west, their freedom to live as peaceful people would again be threatened.
In 1838, after Andrew Jackson had left office, the U.S. Army forced 15,000 Cherokees to leave Georgia. The hardships of the Trail of Tears were so great that 4,000 Cherokees died during the journey.
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