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Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears: Analytical essay on Cherokees

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Approximately 125,000 Southeast Indians lived farmed and prospered on ancestral land ranging in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida. December 1829 President Andrew Jackson requested federal monies to remove Southeast Indians (Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek) displacing indigenous tribes west of the Mississippi River. Vice president and secretary of state Martin Van Buren supported the uprooting of Indians stating that its a subject of great importance and deemed priority among presidential policy goals “First, the removal of the Indians from the vicinity of the white population and their settlement beyond the Mississippi.” (Hershberger, 1999) Legislation under President Jackson effectuated the exploitation and land cessions from Indians to white markets, by arguing two reasons for justification. The first: It was unaccepted to permit the free independent Indian Nation to live along or near the border of a state and secondly southeastern Indians needed to move west of the Mississippi far from white infringement leaving them inclined to extinction as whites relentlessly invaded their land and destroyed Indian life and culture (Hershberger, 1999).

Though strong opposition the House voted in favor of the Indian Removal Act, signed into law May 28 1830, by a slim margin of 102 to 97 sanctioning Jackson negotiation with tribes to trade their occupied land for land beyond the Mississippi River. Northeastern representatives strongly repelled all the while Northwestern delegates remained divided. However, to be expected the Southern representatives voted with the administration. $500,000 of federal funding was appropriated and a corp of federal removal agents assembled to facilitate the removal of southern Indians by constructing supply depots along the road leading west providing supplies and provisions. According to a letter from Andrew Jackson to John Pitchlynn: Choctaw Nation interpreter, advisor, and meditator. Jackson mentions he’s aware of the friendship and begs that Pitchlynn tell the Choctaws their prosperity happiness & peace depend solely on their cooperation. Jackson expressed that he believed Indians couldn’t assimilate to “live under the laws of the States.” (Pitchynn,1830) and if all liberal terms offered were refused tribes were “Liable for whatever evils & difficulties may arise.” (Pitchlynn, 1830) Ultimately the Choctaw Nation was removed in 1831.

A clause included in the Indian Removal Act guaranteed ‘nothing in this act contained shall be construed as authorizing or directing the violation of any existing treaty between the United States and any of the Indian tribes.’ (Cave, 2003) One can say without Jackson’s promise and guaranteed clause granting lawful protection for Indians who choose not to relocate, the removal act wouldn’t have passed the House of Representatives. Legislators and Representatives severely doubted Jackson’s honesty and integrity, fearing the unfair treatment of Indians. Not only did Jackson refused to honor the obligations negotiated in treaties by his predecessors he blatantly disregarded treaty agreements made within his administration. Under new negotiations, Indians were guaranteed federal protection from White squatters before land survey completion (Carlson, 2006). However, the Jackson administration along with Southern Politicians sought after their agenda. Motives for Western expansion were fueled by expanding slavery beyond the South to the West. With hopes to preserve their rights to remain on their land, the Creeks faced a devastating blow after the failure of the 1832 Treaty of Washington. In lieu, the Preemption laws of 1830 permitted squatters to pry reserves (lived on federal owned land) gain rights to purchase up to 160 acres for a low price through land fraud. Aware of the lands value white squatters flooded the region seizing the opportunity by illegally taking residence on Creek Indian (1836) lands: burning homes, destroying crops, looting towns. As land fraud worsened Indians suffered from crop shortages resulting in starvation a group of Lower Creeks defended themselves against white encroachment. As news of the Creeks efforts to reclaim what’s rightfully theirs sparked the beginning of the Second Creek War. The war quickly spread throughout Florida Georgia & East Alabama (Havemen, 2018). The Second Creek War gave Jackson all the ammunition he needed forcibly removing the Indians of their homeland West. Creeks were captured imprisoned and transported via steamboats suffering from anorexia nervosa to new Indian territory shackled by John W.A Sandford and Company (Havemen, 2018). Some Creeks fought their captures choosing suicide rather than face uncertainty of life in a strange land. Some escaped fleeing to the swamps of Alabama and Georgia while others attempted to overthrow their captors “determined to escape or die trying.” (Havemen, 2018) Despite their efforts, 3500 of 15000 Creeks didn’t survive the long haul to Oklahoma.

Two landmark Supreme Court cases challenged the removal of the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), and Worcester v. Georgia (1832). Cherokee land comprised of modern-day southwest Virginia, the Cumberland Basin of Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas, northern Georgia, and Alabama. The sovereign Cherokee Nation fought to retain their homelands in the state of Georgia from swarming white squatters in search of gold. Georgian Legislature annexed all Cherokee land of the state dismantled the Cherokee government and re-distributed the majority of their land to white citizens. Missionaries Worcester & Butler worked with the Cherokee Nation to help defend their sovereignty and resist imposing Georgia laws. In return, Georgia legislature passed a law that outlawed “White persons” from living with the Cherokee without state granted permission. Worcester & Butler along with eleven missionaries refused to leave and were persecuted under Georgia law “Residing within the Limits of the Cherokee Nation.. Without taken an oath to support and defend the constitution and laws of the state of Georgia.” Worcester & Butler argued that forcing Cherokees to abide by Georgia state law was unconstitutional because only Congress can make treaties and deals with Indian tribes. March 3 1832, the Supreme court sided (5-1 ) with Worchester & Butler, Chief Justice John Marshall decreed the Cherokee nation was a ‘Distinct community.. over which the laws of Georgia were null and void and ordered that the missionaries be released” (Hershberger, 1999) Worcester & Butler remained imprisoned until they promised to stop helping the Cherokee nation resist Georgia laws. In response to this decision Jackson didn’t force the state of Georgia to comply, either the Cherokee Nation leave or fall in line. Though the Supreme Court’s decision was ignored Worcester v Georgia (1832) held great importance because it clarified the relationship Indians had with both state and federal governments despite living along the border of the States tribes governed themselves and carry out their laws.

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In 1835 the Treaty of New Echota was ratified in the Senate merely passing by one vote, removing the Cherokee Nation from the state of Georgia ceding Cherokee land in exchange for compensation. The Treaty of New Echota was negotiated by a minority Cherokee leader Major Ridge who claimed to represent the Cherokee when in fact he spoke on behalf of a small faction which viewed relocating west inevitable advocating for removal (Calrson, 2006). The majority of Cherokee people felt betrayed deeming the treaty fraudulent because Cherokee Chief John Ross didn’t authorize Ridge and few others approvals to sign the treaty. Despite thousands of Cherokee citizens efforts to petition February 1836 the Cherokee National Council voted against passing the treaty urging Congress to void the agreement, unfortunately, their efforts weren’t successful the Cherokee people were divided. Under the Treaty of New Echota Cherokees relinquished 7 million acres of ancestral land in exchange for $5 million and land in present-day Oklahoma. Many Cherokee members refused to leave and some evaded removal dwelling in the hills of North Carolina, Florida Seminoles remained in the Everglades and some members of the Choctaw Tribe remained in Mississippi (Carlson, 2006).

Two years after the ratification of the fraudulent treaty, Cherokee resistance ceased, President Martin Van Buren issued a two-year extension approximately only two thousand Cherokees left voluntarily. On May 24 1838, Cherokee people were subjected to military rule. By continuing to live on land belonging to white citizens according to the secretary of war Cherokees were a direct violation of the law. Thus giving way to the Trail of Tears (1838) Led by General Winfield Scott the United States Army deployed 7000 soldiers capturing sixteen thousand Cherokees imprisoning them in stockades Fort Hetzel & Fort Butler. The federal government also hired steamboats which transported Cherokees over nine hundred miles down the Mississippi to the Arkansas River to Fort Gibson (McLoughlin, 1989). Those who did not board filthy steamboats were forcibly marched along the “Trail of Tears”. Shabby overcrowded stockades lacked adequate shelter & water known as the “sickly season” the summer season was the worst time to travel west. What began as early as spring lasting through September contaminated drinking water further spread epidemic outbreaks: Smallpox, cholera, dysentery, and malaria were all too common among travelers resulting in mass deaths. Missionary Reverend Evan Jones letters and journals account for his experience as he accompanied the Cherokees from Georgia westward on the Trail of Tears “They were driven before the soldiers, through mud and water, with whooping and hallowing like droves of cattle. No regard was paid to the condition of helpless females, Several infants were born on the open road under the most revolting circumstances.” (McLoughlin, 1989) Indians were dragged from their homes not allowed to gather their belongings and take what little money they had, the land was sold before their very eyes, cattle and horses sold for little value, Indians were treated like cattle dehumanized and persecuted. More than 5000 Cherokees died during their journey west Cherokees were deprived of their liberty stripped entirely of their property a peaceful unarmed, unoffending people became victims of unfathomable barbarity.

Trekking over 5,043 miles covering nine states less than a year 1 year after the Indian Removal Act went into effect March 1839 the weary ill Cherokoees reached their new home. The federal government obliged to provide rations until they could grow their first crop but greedy private contractors robbed Cherokee of rations handing them scraps of what they were promised moldy corn, wheat and rotten meat (McLoughlin, 1989). The federal government assured tribes that new chartered land would remain solely theirs land yet the fight was not over Indians still rivaled with white settlements. Disease and sickness struck Indians death resulted from exhaustion over-exposure and malnutrition caused by trekking through harsh inhumane weather conditions.

In 1841 the Whig Party held control of both houses and Congress, once in favor of removal former President John Quincy Adams had a change of heart President and declined to chair the House Committee on Indian Affairs. Adams recounted the Jacksonian era as ‘Among the heinous sins of this nation, for which God will one day bring them to judgment.’ (Carlson,2006) concluding the injustices of the past were irreversible and shall forever tarnish American history.

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Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears: Analytical essay on Cherokees. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from
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