About the Trail of Tears

After the American Revolution, and the creation of the United States, the Native Americans were thought of as a separate nation within a sovereign country even though they wanted a peaceful coexistence with the white settlers. Eventually the white settlers became more concerned with the resources that the Native Americans sat on, then with the people themselves. This American greed led to the formation of events that led to the Trail of Tears. During the time of the Trail of Tears, Native Americans were forced to leave their homelands and travel to areas out west deemed as Indian Territory. An estimation of four thousand Native Americans died because they were faced starvation, dehydration, and exhaustion along with several other factors. Because the mortality rate was high on this long journey, it was known as the Trail of Tears. Andrew Jackson, John Ridge and John Ross were three of the key leaders during the Trail of Tears regarding the Cherokee people.

While running for president, Andrew Jackson was motivated by greed. His greed only grew when the discovery of gold on the Cherokee land brought over thousands of prospectors. In his campaign, Andrew Jackson promised to make this prosperous land available to the white settlers by removing the Cherokee people. Shortly after taking office, Andrew Jackson responded to “the clamoring of whites in Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida” (Davis 49) by pushing the Indian Removal Act through Congress, which would “uproot the so-called five “Civilized Tribes” of the South” (49). He justified removing the Native American tribes from their current homelands because “he described them as children in need of guidance” (Public Broadcasting Service) and he thought that the removal process would be beneficial for not only the American people, but also the Native Americans. On May 18, 1830 Congress officially passed Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act, which gave him the power to force the Cherokee tribe off their homelands and onto a long and harsh route towards where their new home would be.

Even after all the atrocious events that followed the Cherokees relocation, Andrew Jackson made it known that he believed he had made right decision. In his farewell address in 1837, Andrew Jackson states that “this unhappy race–the original dwellers in our land–are now placed in a situation where we may well hope that they will share in the blessings of civilization” (President Jackson’s Farewell Address to the American People). He then goes on to say “while the safety and comfort of our own citizens have been greatly promoted by their removal, the philanthropist will rejoice that the remnant of that ill-fated race has been at length placed beyond the reach of injury or oppression” (President Jackson’s Farewell Address to the American People). Years later, we now know that instead of providing the Cherokee people with a plentiful future he condemned thousands of them to death.

John Ridge was from a prominent family of the Cherokee nation and he was a member of the Cherokee National Council, where he had political influence. At first John Ridge, along with every other Cherokee Indian opposed the removal. After the Worcester v. Georgia court case, he began to understand the importance of the removal. He, along with his father and cousin, supported the treaty with the United States because they believed that the removal of the Cherokee people would come whether they were onboard or not. John Ridge believed that siding with the United States government would help avoid a large war and to protect Cherokee rights.

Opposition to the removal was led by Chief John Ross and much of the Cherokee tribe sided with John Ross rather than with John Ridge. The Treaty of New Echota was ratified anyways because President Jackson saw John Ridge’s signature, and the Supreme Court ignored John Ross’ petition. This meant that the remaining Cherokee people had two years to surrender their lands east of the Mississippi and move exchange west towards what was deemed Indian Territory. Although the treaty lacked the signature of Chief John Ross, the United States ratified it and by doing so, they gave President Andrew Jackson something to use to justify the forced Cherokee removal.

In 1827, after the Cherokee created a “government modeled on that of the United States” (New Georgia Encyclopedia), John Ross was chosen to lead the new Cherokee nation as Principal Chief. Around the same time, white settlers were growing more aggressive as their demands for the removal of the Native Americans also grew. When President Andrew Jackson began pushing the Indian Removal Act through Congress, John Ross kept faith that since the new Cherokee nation had a republican government they would not be forced to leave. When John Ridge went behind John Ross and signed the New Echota treaty, Ross and his Congress allies tried to prevent it. Even though they failed to stop the treaty from going through, John Ross still believed that they would not be removed. Soon after this, Chief John Ross “cancelled the tribal elections and the Council impeached Ridge, and a member of the Ridge Party was murdered” (Legends of America). John Ross made several visits to Washington D.C. on behalf, of the Cherokee people and he even managed to present his case in front of the Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee people, President Andrew Jackson refused to send troops to protect them on their native lands. John Ross did not want to fight back with violence and weapons, instead he went to the press and to the courts in order to get his message heard. He kept fighting against the United States until it was clear that the Cherokee people would not win the fight.

Despite the continuous efforts of John Ross, Andrew Jackson and John Ridge helped push the United States to switch its efforts of wanting to civilize the Native Americans to wanting to relocate them. President Andrew Jackson was the main driving force behind the start up of the Indian Removal Act, while John Ridge was the inside source to getting the Cherokee tribe removed from their homelands. The white settlers had escaped the oppression in Europe and created a constitution to guarantee every man have basic liberties and freedoms. But the treatment of the Cherokee people was in direct contrast to the constitution they had created because they so easily trampled on the freedom and rights of the Native Americans. What is very interesting is that the treatment of the Cherokee people was in direct contrast of what the constitution says. Even though something like the Trail of Tears is unlikely to occur today, it is an event that cannot be overlooked because of how much history was created within such a short span of time.

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