Trail Of Tears

The Trail of Tears is the symbolic name given to the forced removal and relocation of Native American Indians from their homelands in the South East to the Western side of the Mississippi river between 1830 and 1838. This apparent eviction from their traditional lands followed the Indian Removal Act which was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in 1830. These forced relocations involved what was then known as the Five Civilized Tribes who until then existed as autonomous nations side by side with the independent states of America. These Five Civilized Tribes were the Choctaw, the Seminole, the Chickasaw, the Cherokee and the Tuskegee. The removals were carried out in the following order: Choctaw in 1831, Seminoles a year later, the Creek two years after, and finally, the Cherokee in 1838.

Background to the Removals

Prior to 1830, the Five Civilized Tribes existed as autonomous nations within the United States. However, pressures arising from increased need for land for agricultural purposes and for the establishment of White settlers along with the discovery of gold in Dahlonega, Georgia, caused the white population to exercise pressure on the United States Government to enact legislation which would essentially empower the government to relocate the native Indians from their ancestral homes in order to create room for the economic and land demands of the white settlers to be actualized.

Before then, there had been many instances of White settlers encroaching on lands owned by Native Americans. Even though there was opposition to the bill in Congress, President Andrew Jackson succeeded in getting the bill approved by the Congress setting the stage for the events that would be described as The Trail of Tears. The phrase emanated from the forced relocation of the Choctaw nation in 1831 because almost 35 percent of the more than sixteen thousand people that were evicted died on the way. Many of these people died from harsh weather conditions, disease and starvation.

Legal Implications of the Removal Act of 1830

The passage of the Removal Act in 1830 empowered the President of the United States to exchange lands belonging to Native Americans with lands owned by the States as well as to provide better infrastructure and facilities within those exchanged lands. It also gave the President power to pay for relocation costs should any of the Native Americans choose to relocate. However, forceful relocation and confiscation of these Native American lands without treaty was not covered by the Act. President Andrew Jackson essentially disobeyed a Supreme Court order prohibiting the forcible removal of the Cherokee nation in 1838.