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As Americans settled new land in the southeast, politicians discussed what to do with the Indian tribes they encountered. Some advocated civilizing them—converting them to Christianity and a European-American way of life. Others, including President Andrew Jackson, favored forcible removal of the Indians to lands in the west. Removal won out.

Some tribes signed treaties to leave, others fought and were defeated. The Cherokee tribe, however, was removed by an illegitimate treaty. In 1833 several Cherokee, who did not represent the tribe as a whole, signed the Treaty of New Echota, agreeing to vacate the land. Other members of the tribe signed a petition protesting that that they had not authorized the men to negotiate—but Congress ignored their requests. By 1838 only 2,000 Cherokee had left and 16,000 remained. The U.S. government sent in 7,000 troops to force the Cherokee to walk to their new territory in Oklahoma. During this march, which became known as the Trail of Tears, 4,000 Cherokee died of cold, starvation, and disease.

Letter - Elias Boudinot

Source: The following letter was written in 1837 by Elias Boudinot, a Cherokee who supported the Treaty of New Echota. The letter is to John Ross, the leader of the opposition. For many years, Boudinot opposed Georgia’s attempt to take Cherokee land. But by 1833, he decided that it would be best to sign a treaty supporting removal.

Look at our people! They are wretched! Look, my dear sir, around you, and see the progress that vice and immorality have already made! See the misery!

If the darker picture which I have described here is a true one, can we see a brighter possibility ahead? In another country, and under other circumstances, there is a better prospect. Removal, then, is the only remedy, the only practical remedy. Our people may finally rise from their very ashes, to become prosperous and happy, and a credit to our race. I would say to my countrymen, fly from your life here that is destroying our nation.

What is your (John Ross) plan of relief? It is dark and gloomy beyond description. You want the Cherokee to live according the laws of Georgia, no matter how unfair they are? Instead of fix the evil, you would tie our people down in the chains of slavery. The final destiny of our race, under such circumstances is too revolting to think of. Take my word, it is the sure end of our race if you succeed in preventing the removal of your people. There will come a time when there will be few of us left as reminders of this brave and noble race. May God protect us from such a destiny.

Questions:

  1. Close Reading: What was life like for the Cherokee in Georgia, according to Boudinot?
  2. Close Reading: What does Boudinot hope will happen if the Cherokees move west?
  3. Close Reading: Why does Boudinot think John Ross is wrong about opposing the Treaty of New Echota?

State of the Union speech – Andrew Jackson

Source: Andrew Jackson, State of the Union speech. December 6, 1830.

It gives me great pleasure to announce to Congress that the Government’s benevolent policy of Indian removal has almost been achieved.

We have wept over the fate of the natives of this country, as one by one many tribes have disappeared from the earth. However, we must accept this the way we accept when an older generation dies and makes room for the younger.... We would not want to see this continent restored to the condition in which our forefathers found it. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and occupied by a few thousand savages to our great Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, decorated with art and industry, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?

The United States will pay to send the natives to a land where they may live longer and possibly survive as a people. No doubt it will be painful to leave the graves of their fathers; but how is this different from what our ancestors did and what our children are doing now?

Can it be cruel when this Government offers to purchase the Indian’s land, give him new and extensive territory, pay the expense of his removal, and support him for the first year in his new home? How many thousands of our own people would gladly embrace the opportunity of moving West under such conditions!

The policy of the Government towards the red man is not only liberal, but generous. The Indian is unwilling to follow the laws of the States and mingle with the population. To save him from utter annihilation, the Government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.

Questions:

  1. Close Reading: Why would he say, “We have wept over the fate of the natives of this country,” if he supports Indian Removal?
  2. Close Reading: Why does Jackson think the United States was better in 1830 than in 1609?
  3. Close Reading: Why does Jackson think his policy is kind and generous? Do you agree?

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