It will be the fourth of July tomorrow, a day when Americans celebrate their freedom. I too will be going to my local 4th celebration, watching the fireworks and waving my flag. It’s America, I’m an American and proud to be one. Our forefathers fought for and gained independence and we can all be grateful to them. So saying, I’d just like for everyone to remember how we came to have this beautiful country full of natural wonders.
When the pilgrims landed on these shores in the early 1600’s, life was hard and winters especially harsh. For many winters the pilgrims relied upon the Native American’s knowledge of this land for their survival. When their help was no longer needed the relationship deteriorated.
More and more colonists continued to settle in America encroaching on Indian hunting grounds. Fighting between the two groups increased. I will make mention of one man who saw the Native Americans as equal. A Quaker named William Penn, founded the Colony of Pennsylvania in 1681. He established religious tolerance as a basic value in the American colonies. He also thought the ‘Indians’ were equal and he treated them fairly.
As time moved on, more and more settlers came to America, pushing the Native American people farther and farther west. Enter, Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act. The Great Cherokee Nation was not called ‘a civilized nation’ for no reason. Many of their leaders were well educated. Many more could read and write, they had their own written language, thanks to Sequoyah. They also had a constitution, schools, and their own newspaper. And they had adopted many skills of the white man to improve their living conditions.
They couldn’t understand why they should be expelled from their lands when they no longer offered any threat to the white man and could compete with them on many levels. The sent a delegation to Washington and petitioned Congress to protect them from the unjust laws of the state of Georgia. They also took their case before President Jackson and he curtly replied that he could do nothing.
They hired William Wirt to plead their case to the Supreme Court. In 1831, Chief Justice John Marshall handed down his decision. He rejected Wirt's argument that the Cherokees were a sovereign nation, but he also rejected Jackson's claim that they were subject to state law. The Indians were "domestic dependent nations," he ruled, subject to the United States as a ward to a guardian. Indian territory was part of the United States but not subject to action by individual states.
The Cherokees took this to mean they had won and that Georgia had no authority of their lands or lives and that the courts would protect them. They hadn’t counted on Andrew Jackson. In 1835 a bogus and fraudulent treaty was approved by the Senate (winning by one vote) even though, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Edward Everett argued forcefully against it. This treaty surrendered all the Cherokee lands, some 8 million acres for 4.5 million and gave the Cherokee two years to remove themselves from the land. 12,000 Cherokee signed a resolution denouncing the Treaty of New Echota and sent it to the Senate. Adding their voices against the treaty, 3,200 North Carolina Cherokee signed a petition urging rejection.
This did not work and the treaty passed. Some 2,000 Cherokee admitted defeat and moved west, the majority couldn’t bear to leave their homelands and remained in hopes that something could be done to prevent the removal. When the two year period was up, President Jackson left office and President Martin Van Buren ordered the removal to begin. The Cherokee were forcibly rounded up at gunpoint and herded into stockades. Their homes burned behind them, as scavengers followed the soldiers, looting cattle and
other possessions, even desecrating graves for silver.
In one week some 17,000 Cherokee were rounded up and stuck in stockades to await transport to the west. Many sickened and died. The first leg of the westward journey was by steam ship and then they were crammed into boxcars, causing the death of many from oppressive heat and cramped conditions. The last 800 miles of the trip was on foot and of the 18,000 Cherokees removed, it’s estimated that between 4,000 and 8,000 died along the way. It’s little wonder that this horrific march came to be called “The Trail of Tears.”
Although many will point out the fact that Andrew Jackson had left office when the removal took place, this is part of his legacy as he argued forcefully for the speedy removal of the Cherokee both before and after leaving office, regularly harassing Van Buren about enforcing the treaty. It was through his relentless efforts that this horrible deed was carried through and he was and remains in large part responsible.
Dedicated to my grandmother, a great lady of the Cherokee Nation
© Elizabeth Melton Parsons