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The Cherokee had always resisted American expansion, and had faced a series of destructive raids by Patriot forces during the American Revolution. After the Revolution, the Cherokee saw their best hope at maintaining control of their homelands in following the "civilization" policy espoused by President George Washington and his successors, especially Thomas Jefferson. The Cherokee, who inhabited western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and Northern Georgia, adopted many western ways, including plantation market-based agriculture, a central government with a capital at New Echota, and most famously, a written alphabet.
With rising cotton prices and a gold discovery on Cherokee lands, whites began to covet those lands, and began to take advantage of factions that formed within the Cherokee nation. States concluded treaties with small parties within the Nation that were then held to apply to all Cherokee. The Cherokee nation, led by John Ross, announced in the 1820s that it would no longer honor any treaty that surrendered Cherokee lands. The election of Andrew Jackson, who had risen to fame in no small part due to his leadership in the Red Stick War against the Creeks, meant that removal was basically inevitable. Jackson secured the passage of the Indian Removal Act, which gave federal sanction to the treaties concluded between states and Indian tribes, and asserted that all Indians who did not abide by these treaties were subject to state law, which allowed settlers to take Indian lands with impunity.
Some Cherokee, including John Ridge and Elias Boudinot, advocated simply accepting removal, but Ross continued to push for resistance. The Cherokee responded to a treaty concluded between Georgia and members of the removal faction through legal resistance, suing the state of Georgia. In the 1832 decision Worcester v. Georgia, the United States Supreme Court ruled that states had no authority to conclude such treaties. Andrew Jackson ignored the decision and instructed Indian removal to go ahead after the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, signed by the Ridge faction, agreed to relocate thousands of Cherokee people to Indian territory in Oklahoma. Ross and other leaders resisted removal until the last, trying to persuade the federal government to listen to the voices of all Cherokee, not just a single faction. While there were many incidents of violent resistance to white settlers, the Cherokee, having lost much in the eighteenth century through armed resistance, decided not to engage in military resistance. Many bands of Cherokee did flee to western territory rather than face armed removal, and many more, especially in North Carolina, went into hiding in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
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