The tragedy of the Cherokee nation has haunted American consciences since the arrival of Andrew Jackson’s Presidency in March of 1829. The events that had transpired after the implementation of his Indian policy are indeed heinous and continually pose questions of morality for all generations. Ancient Native American tribes were forced from their ancestral homes in an effort to increase the aggressive expansionism of white settlers during the early years of the United States. The most notable example of this was the “Trail of Tears,” whereby the Cherokee nation, along with other tribes, such as the Choctaws, Chickasaw, Seminoles, and the Creeks, were forced to emigrate into lands west of the Mississippi river against their will. During this journey it was estimated that over 60,000 Indians were forced from their homelands. Approximately 4000 Cherokee Indians perished as a result of this journey, due to famine and disease. They were forced to travel incessant distances during the arduous winters of 1838-1839 (A). This is by far one of the saddest events in American history, yet we can not forget this tragedy; we must obtain the justification for these heinous crimes against humanity.
In order to completely understand this obvious lack of morality on the part of the US government, we must fully examine the actions taken by the US government and by its opponents. We need to explore why such an inhumane act was endowed upon the Cherokee nation. The seeds of this “invention” are rooted in colonial times and continued to grow during the early years of the American republic. To comprehend this momentous tragedy we must first examine the historical background of the Indian “problem” and seek some sort of rationale for the American government’s actions. This includes looking at the men who politically justified the expulsion of the Cherokee nation and those who argued against it.
It is generally believed that the Cherokee nation first expanded into Northern Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, and North Carolina around 1450 AD. The Cherokee’s first glimpse of white people was during the Spanish exploration, whereby they openly traded with the foreign invaders and evoked peaceful negotiations. The Cherokees predominantly relied upon hunting as their sole source of food, and lived peacefully with the Creek tribes, with whom they shared hunting grounds. Their hunting grounds extended from the Mississippi river to the Blue Ridge mountains, and from Central Georgia all the way up north to Ohio River (ed. Filler 1). During the American revolution the Cherokees were discontent with the colonists’ expansionary habits and sided with the British. In the early periods of the Revolutionary War, Southern militiamen attacked the Cherokee people. This rendered a peace treaty on May 20, 1777, acknowledging defeat at the hand of the Americans. The Cherokee nation ceded particular amounts of land in the Carolinas and Eastern Georgia. Gen. Elijah Clarke again attacked the Cherokee nation on behalf of the American “revolutionaries” and prompted the Cherokee nation to cede more land in Northeastern Georgia.
After the Revolutionary War the Cherokee Nation “placed itself under the protection of the United States and agreed to specified boundaries for its territory” (ed. Filler 2) by the Treaty of Hopewell in 1785. This was a very important action in the history of the Cherokee nation that the opponents of Indian removal used to justify nullifying any acts of removal. The first treaty with the constitutional American government was signed in 1793. It was endorsed by George Washington, who guaranteed the same rights obtained in the Treaty of Hopewell. With the presidency of Washington the American government began to alter their policies towards Indians. The Indians began to be regulated under the Secretary of War Henry Knox, and the government began a policy of “Indian civilization.”. It wanted to create a race of Indian people that relied less on hunting and more on agricultural. The government continually entertained the notion that once the Indians were proficient in agrarian sciences, they would be capable to cede their lands in the east and move westward. The process of Indian civilization was nonetheless a ploy to move Indians off their ancestral homes and move them to areas where they would supposedly live in more “harmony” (west of the Mississippi). Certain Cherokees refused to assimilate