The significance of the name "Trail of Tears" differs by historical perspectives. It may be geographic, temporal, emotional, political, or all at once.
Westward expansion was a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the administrations of Presidents Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) and Martin Van Buren (1837-1841). Policy and related practice focused on providing land to white settlers, generally by taking it from Native Americans. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing treaty agreements and forced relocation of Native peoples. The major phase occurred between 1835 and 1839, as Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Ponca, and Seminole people were forcibly moved from the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama to the "Indian territory" of Oklahoma. Of the approximately 70,000 people who walked on foot, some 16,000 died along the way.
After the treks ended, survivors and their descendants used various phrases referring to the sorrow and crying along the way. Collectively, the experience—the physical path, the time when it occurred, the injustice, and the violence—are all referenced by the name "Trail of Tears."
In 1987, the U.S. government designated a National Historic Trail, stretching 2,200 miles through nine states. September 16 is designated Trail of Tears Commemoration Day, and organized walks are often held on portions of the route.