Andrew Jackson's Presidency

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How did the Cherokee attempt to resist removal by the United States?

Cherokee attempts at resisting the removal by the United States included creating a formal Cherokee constitution, negotiating the Treat of 1819, and proceeding with legal action within the Supreme Court. These actions proved futile when Andrew Jackson was elected President and forcibly removed them for their land.

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The Cherokee government had long maintained that they were a private, sovereign nation. In fact, the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell specifically stipulated that the Cherokee were an independent nation within American borders, and if American settlers ventured onto Cherokee land, they were subject to Cherokee laws. However, the United States regularly encroached upon Cherokee territory, more severely as time went on.

The Cherokee and their principal chief, John Ross, worked hard to resist American encroachment. Ross helped negotiate the Treaty of 1819, or the Adams-Onis Treaty, which defined the limits of the Louisiana Purchase. The Cherokee also began to refuse U.S. cession requests and adopted a formal written constitution that further sought to safeguard their people against removal.

In 1828 Andrew Jackson was elected president, and his administration essentially laid waste to the progress the Cherokee had made. He immediately declared removal of eastern tribes as a national objective, and two years later Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. Ross and the Cherokee fought back, bringing their battle all the way to the Supreme Court. The court actually held in favor of the Cherokee, but nonetheless, Jackson defied their ruling and went ahead with removal, leading to the infamous Trail of Tears.

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United States settlers coveted the land belonging to the Cherokee people in Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama long before the forced removal of these Native American people in the atrocity that came to be known as the Trail of Tears. The problem became more acute when white settlers realized the high agricultural value of the land, and especially after the Georgia Gold Rush, which began in 1829.

The Cherokee generally attempted to resist removal by the United States through negotiations and legal proceedings. In 1825, the Cherokee established a capital in Georgia, created a written constitution, and declared themselves a sovereign nation. In 1830, when the state of Georgia attempted to confiscate Cherokee lands, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in two separate cases. The court refused to hear The Cherokee Nation v. Georgia because the Native Americans were not looked upon as an independent nation. However in Worchester v. State of Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that only the federal government had authority concerning Indian affairs, and so Georgia could not impose laws upon the Cherokee. President Andrew Jackson belittled the court's decision, but nevertheless in 1835 Chief John Ross of the Cherokees met with President Jackson to attempt to negotiate some kind of settlement.

Although removal was delayed, relocation became inevitable due to the overwhelming pressure. At first, most Cherokees refused to leave their land, but eventually some voluntarily relocated. Most of the rest were rounded up into internment camps under terrible conditions and forcibly marched westward. Thousands died on their way to the new Indian Territory in Oklahoma. About 1,000 Cherokee resisted removal by fleeing into the mountains.

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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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