The Trail of Tears was a journey of fear endured by the Indians of the Eastern Cherokee Nation. The exodus ripped through southeastern America during the prime of winter in 1838-1839. Thousands of lives were lost all for the insignificant benefits that would be granted to the United States government with the displacement of the Indians. The Cherokee people were forced to leave their homeland under unfavorable circumstances to take part in one of the worst horrors in history experienced by a group of human beings, resulting in a rough transition in geography and eventual demolition to the tribal nation.
In the early 1800s, the Cherokees began altering their culture by adopting many American behaviors. Their traditional religion, language, education, clothing, farming, and even inter-tribal media began to blend and harmonize with American culture. The transition in lifestyle was most directly triggered by the newly developed Cherokee Alphabet, which came in 1819. The Alphabet, brought about by Sequoyah, inspired a rapid increase in Cherokee literacy (Thomas 308). They became known as one of the Five Civilized TribesSeminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Cherokeeas a result of the United States government civilization program (Goodwin). The Cherokee even modified their government to model that of the United States.
The Cherokees were increasingly aware S. NealisPage 2of the tension their American neighbors felt towards their distinct lifestyle. By assimilating with American culture, the Cherokee people hoped to maintain peaceful relations. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which called for all Indians living east of the Mississippi River to be moved to present-day Oklahoma in Indian Territory (Goodwin).Order now
Though the Choctaws and Chickasaws acquiesced, the Cherokees rightfully protested. In 1831, they appealed to the Supreme Court against the state of Georgia. They asserted that they had a right to govern themselves as a separate nation. Chief Justice John Marshall shot this theory down by firmly explaining that the United States Constitution reads that no new state can be formed within the boundaries of an existing state. (Chapman) However, the following year in the Worcester v. Georgia case, the Court ruled that the Cherokee was a distinct community within its own territorial boundaries that the laws and citizens of Georgia cannot interfere (Peters 515-517).
The contradictions set the United States up for opposition. The Cherokees pleaded for the right to remain on the land of their ancestors. Missionaries and strong religious advocates fought on behalf of the Cherokees, but the outraged American citizens derogatory remarks against the government pushed President Jackson over the edge. He gave S.
NealisPage 3a highly influential speech stressing the importance of a speedy removal to the United States, the individual States, and to the Cherokee themselves. The speech was delivered in his Second Annual Message to Congress. Here he stated several positive aspects of the removal: it would put an end to all disagreements between General and State Governments on account of Indians; it would place a civilized population in large tracts of uncivilized wilderness; it would strengthen the southwestern frontier; it would allow Mississippi and Alabama to advance in population, wealth, and power; it would separate the Indians from white settlement and power of the States; it would enable the Indians to pursue happiness in their own way; and, it would let the Indians further develop an interesting, civilized, and Christian community (Richardson 519-523). The American government made up its mind to carry out the Indian Removal Act. The majority of Cherokees stood firm on holding their ground, but a few of them felt they should give in before being forced to leave under much worse conditions (Niles Weekly Register).
This small group wrote and signed the Treaty of New Echota, ceding all Cherokee territory in the southern Appalachians to the United States in exchange for $5 million and land in Indian Territory. It was approved in late May of 1836, sparking mass rebellion among the Cherokee and American nations. S. NealisPage 4Finally, two years later, federal troops were ordered to prepare for roundup (Chapman). May of 1838 bore the worst drought in recorded American history; May also served as the beginning of the Trail of Tears (Rose City Net).