Andrew Jackson's Presidency

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What was the Trail of Tears?

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The Trail of Tears is the name given to the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their rightful lands in the Southeastern United States to new territory in what is now Oklahoma, west of the Mississippi River.  The march was ordered by President Andrew Jackson and occurred in the years 1838 and 1839 as per both the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Treaty of New Echota in 1835.

In 1830, Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law, which allowed him to exchange lands occupied by Native American tribes in existing states for unsettled lands west of the Mississippi River.  This meant relocating entire tribes thousands of miles away from their native lands, and few were willing to undergo the change.  Many, such as the Seminoles in Florida, attempted to resist with military action; these uprising were violently quelled, and noting the ineffectiveness of such a strategy the Cherokees instead approached the problem administratively.  The Cherokee tribe of the Southeastern United States were highly organized and had their own elected government representatives, and they took the issue to federal court.  The Supreme Court ruled the forced extradition of the Cherokee people was unconstitutional, and yet Jackson refused to adhere to this ruling; amid an environment in which other tribes were being removed from their homes and shown no mercy along the way, some Cherokee citizens agreed to the Treaty of New Echota, accepting payment and new lands as compensation for the relocation.  This treaty gave Jackson the leverage he needed to force the entirety of the Cherokee nation – some fifteen thousand individuals – to undertake the long, hard road from Georgia to an area in present-day Oklahoma.  The Native Americans suffered immensely during the journey, almost a quarter of them losing their lives along the way.  The devastation and sorrow this relocation caused led the Cherokees to give the journey the name “The Trail of Tears,” a moniker embraced by history as testament to the injustice faced by these individuals.

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