We are overwhelmed; our hearts are sickened; our utterance is paralyzed, when we reflect on the condition in which we are placed by the audacious practices of unprincipled men ...
—Memorial from the Cherokee Nation
The year after President Andrew Jackson left office, the majority of the Cherokee people were forced from their ancestral homeland and escorted to current day Oklahoma, then the frontier of American civilization, on what became known as the "Trail of Tears."The 1838 forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from their homeland. The Cherokee, like all other Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River, had been under heavy pressure to give up their lands in the east in exchange for lands in the west. Bitterly opposed by the tribes, this "Indian removal" policy was nonetheless implemented by threats and coercion. The removal of the Indians opened new territories for white settlement and allowed white farmers free to fulfill the dream, outlined by Jackson in 1830 in a message to CongressAn excerpt from Jackson's speech in support of Indian Removal., of an "extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, occupied by more than 12 million happy people, and filled with the blessing of liberty, civilization, and religion."
"What sort of hope have we from a president with an inclination to disregard laws and treaties? We have nothing to expect from such a president."
—Elias Boudinote, the Cherokee Nation
Like Jefferson before him, Jackson regarded the expansion of independent, white farmers as the key to the continued success of the United States. So important was this goal to Jackson, that he slighted the accomplishments of the Cherokee Nation, and defied a Supreme Court ruling An excerpt from the Supreme Court decision favoring the Cherokee. that recognized the Cherokees' right to remain on their lands.
In 1830, Congress narrowly passed the Indian Removal ActThe act empowered the president to negotiate removal treaties with Indian nations. , which funded and legalized what essentially produced the forced, westward migration of Native Americans. Historian Kathryn Braund recognizes the importance of the Act to Southern politicians and landowners: "In order to keep expanding the cotton and slave economy, Americans needed Indian land."
Many white Americans had deep-seated fear of Native Americans, in part because earlier Indian hostilities against white settlers by Indians had received enormous publicity for decades, while brutal treatment of Native Americans by whites had been ignored. Many whites completely ignored the fact that the Indians of the southeast had adopted many ideals of the dominant culture, including literacy and Christianity-as well a commercial agriculture and race-based slavery. When they were removed from Georgia, a far higher percentage of Cherokees could read and write than could the white settlers who took their land. What many Americans seemed to fear and resent most was lack of access to prime agricultural land that, under Indian sovereignty, would forever remain beyond their reach. And what many Americans seemed to respect the least was their own constitution and the rights of a culturally distinct minority.