I was born for a storm, and a calm does not suit me.
Over time U.S. officials grew impatient with the prospects of Indian assimilation and, by the 1820s, some states started aggressive policies to remove Indian nations from within their state boundaries.
Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi even extended their laws over Indian nations living on land within their borders. In 1830 the controversial Indian Removal Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress. The Act, which authorized the president to remove Indians from their homelands to land in Indian Territory (present day Kansas and Oklahoma), was debated for six months. While the press pointed out the obvious moral dilemmas of Indian removal, activists Catharine Beecher and Lydia Sigourney organized a national women's campaign that flooded Congress with petitions opposing the Act and supporting Indian land rights. In the end, with strong support from President Andrew Jackson, Congress narrowly passed the Indian Removal Act.
In December 1830, Jackson told Congress: "The consequences of a speedy removal will be important to the United States, to individual States, and to the Indians themselves. . . It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy, and enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power. It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community."
The southern states quickly increased their pressure on tribes to move.
In 1832, the Supreme Court decided an important case, Worcester v. Georgia, in favor of the Indians. In the case, lawyers for Samuel Austin Worcester, a missionary living in Cherokee Indian Country, argued that Georgia did not have the authority to create laws governing sovereign Indian Territory. The Court ruled that the Cherokee nation was a distinct self-governing community and not subject to Georgia's laws. The Court also upheld the notion that the federal government, not individual states, had authority in Indian affairs. While the Cherokee won an important precedent for contemporary American Indian law, the Court left it up to Jackson to enforce the decision.
Now Jackson had a dilemma. Over the past decade, the southern states had started to argue that they did not have to obey any federal law they felt was unconstitutional. When South Carolina formally adopted this nullification doctrine, much of the slave-owning south threatened to leave the union if the federal government forced them to obey 'unconstitutional" laws. Jackson worried that if he sided against a southern state like Georgia and enforced the Supreme Court decision, the entire union would fall apart. Jackson also knew many leaders of the Cherokee Nation, many of whom fought under his command in the Creek War. Some, like the famous Major Ridge, had even been officers. The president eventually invited Major Ridge's son, John Ridge, to the White House and explained that if he enforced the Court's decision against Georgia it could lead to civil war. Jackson advised the Cherokee leaders to submit to removal.
A small group of Cherokee led by Major Ridge and others eventually agreed to the Treaty of New Echota, which paid them for their lands in the east and gave them land in Indian Territory. But Ridge and the others were not the recognized leaders of the Cherokee nation. Many Cherokee, including Chief John Ross and more than 15,000 others who signed a petition in protest, fought unsuccessfully to have the treaty voided. In late 1838, the U.S. Army rounded up these dissenters and marched them to Indian Territory. The trip became known as the "Trail of Tears" because more than twenty percent of the people, many very young and very old, died on the trail. The Cherokee Trail of Tears took place under President Martin Van Buren, Jackson's handpicked successor, who enforced many removal treaties Jackson had negotiated.