Origins of Removal Policy
By the nineteenth century the Cherokees had lived in the interior Southeast, including north Georgia, for hundreds of years. Settlers of European ancestry began moving into Cherokee territory in the early eighteenth century; from that point forward, the colonial governments in the area began demanding that the Cherokees cede their territory. By the end of the Revolutionary War (1775-83), the Cherokees had surrendered more than half of their original territory to state and federal governments.
In the late 1780s U.S. officials began to urge the Cherokees to abandon hunting and their traditional ways of life and to instead learn how to live, worship, and farm like Christian American yeomen. Many Cherokees embraced this "civilization program." The Cherokees established
Despite these efforts, white people in Georgia and other southern states that abutted the Cherokee Nation refused to accept the Cherokee people as social equals and urged their political representatives to seize the Cherokees' land. The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 gave U.S. president Thomas Jefferson an opportunity to implement an idea he had contemplated for many years—the relocation of the eastern tribes beyond the Mississippi River. There, Jefferson suggested, Native Americans could acculturate at their own pace, retain their autonomy, and live free from the trespasses of American settlers. Although most Cherokees rejected Jefferson's entreaties, small groups moved west to the Arkansas River area in 1810 and 1817-19.
After the War of 1812, prominent southerners like General Andrew Jackson called for the United States to end what he called the "absurdity" of negotiating with the Indian tribes as sovereign nations. From that point forward, Georgia politicians, including George Troup, George R. Gilmer, and Wilson Lumpkin, increasingly raised the pressure on the federal government to fulfill the Compact of 1802, in which the federal government had agreed to extinguish the Indian land title and remove the Cherokees from the state.
The Cherokee government maintained that they constituted a sovereign nation independent of the American state and federal governments. As evidence, Cherokee leaders pointed to the Treaty of Hopewell (1785), which established borders between the United States and the Cherokee Nation, offered the Cherokees the right to send a "deputy" to Congress, and made American settlers in Cherokee territory subject to Cherokee law.
The Cherokee government
Between 1827 and 1831
The Trail of Tears
The Cherokee Nation subsequently divided between those who wanted to continue to resist the removal pressure and a "Treaty Party" that wanted to surrender and depart for the West. In 1835 the latter group, led by Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot, signed the Treaty of New Echota at the Cherokee capital without the authority of Principal Chief Ross or the Cherokee government. The treaty required the Cherokee Nation to exchange its national lands for a parcel in the "Indian Territory" and to relocate there within two years. This parcel, set aside by Congress in 1834, was located in what is now Oklahoma. The federal government promised to remit $5 million to the Cherokee Nation, compensate individuals for their buildings and fixtures, and pay for the costs of relocation and acclimation. The United States also promised to honor the title of the Cherokee Nation's new land, respect its political autonomy, and protect its tribe from future trespasses. Even though it was completed without the sanction of the Cherokee national government, the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty by a margin of one vote.
After Major Ridge
Tim Alan Garrison, The Legal Ideology of Removal: The Southern Judiciary and the Sovereignty of Native American Nations (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002).
William G. McLoughlin, Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986).
Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green, eds. The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents (Boston: St. Martin's Press, 1995).
Tim Alan Garrison, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon
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