The Cherokee Removal

The Cherokee Removal was a part of the Trail of Tears; it was the forced relocation of the Cherokees from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas to Oklahoma. This resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 Cherokee Indians.

Before the Removal took place in 1836, the Cherokees were split with what to do: should they refuse to leave, as they had assimilated to the Euro-American way of life, or should they relocate to the Oklahoma territory and have their own land?

There were two parties within the Cherokee Nation and both parties believed that they had the right idea for what to do concerning this problem.
  • Treaty Party--the Treaty Party supported the Treaty of New Echota and believed that the Removal would be the key to self-government and for the Cherokee Nation to continue to build itself up.
  • National Party--the National Party was against the Treaty of New Echota and they believed that they should not be removed from their ancestral lands.


What were the beliefs that led to the Cherokee Removal and what were the consequences of the Removal?



Post-War Fed Policy Towards Indian People

  •  Early 1780s—treat then as defeated enemies (Cherokee—Treaty of Hopewell, 1785)
  •    1790s—more peaceful approach; recognize each as a “sovereign independent nation

Internal Divisions

  •  Cherokees struggle in post-revolutionary period—ongoing divisions not well-healed between Chickamauga and Cherokee
  •   Intermarriage with traders; Cherokee women’s kin connections


Assumptions of Federal Civilization Policy

  • Indians are inferior culturally
  • Indians can change
  • Indians must change or die out
  • Indians (transformed culturally) can and should become US citizens—tribes will become relevant
  • Government has  a role to play in helping this happen—cost savings, help them to “enlighten” rural backcountry whites at the same time and pit interest groups against one another
  • Part of a larger state-building agenda—how to transform western frontiers into productive and taxable units, how to bond frontier Americans to the political life of the nation 


What Does “Civilization” Mean?

  •  Not hunting
  • Embracing economic of the marketplace—capital accumulation (savings), reinvestment
  • Individual production for subsistence, selling of surplus goods
  • Patriarchal control
  • Political mechanisms for rule of law
  • Christianity and American education
  • External indications of assimilation


The Stuff of Civilization

  • Tools
  • Plows
  • Draft animals (horses, oxen)
  • Seeds (wheat, cotton seeds)
  • Wheels
  •  Looms
  • Schools
  • Mills
  • Infrastructural support
  • Churches



Cherokee Attitudes

  • Enthusiastic
  • Cherokees see the donation of goods and money as war reparations for the physical brutality and wanton destruction levied by Patriot militias
  • They like missionaries because they teach reading and writing and English is useful. Most are not convinced of religious  ideologies to exclusion of their own ideas about creation, the afterlife, etc.; they see Christianity as a supplemental system, at best
  • Willing to adopt all new technology and goods—they see it as a beneficial addition to their lifestyles
  • Rebuild their homes; begin to have large families


1792-1810


  • Cherokee women eagerly take up cotton seed, looms, and livestock as a means of economic empowerment—cloth production easily outstrips fur trade in economic significance within two years
  • Cherokee Nation experience economic resurgence. They get the same cotton boom that everyone has. They sell corn and beef to slaveholders to feed their slaves, cloth to migrating families, grow/sell their own cotton for export
  • Cherokee embrace economic help and a blended approach to cultural change
  • Most are less enthusiastic about cultural pressure to replace Cherokee ideas with Anglo-American ideas

Cultivating Good Relations with the United States


  • Trade with American in-migrants and rent them land
  • Accept placement of Christian missionaries in their territories
  • Form their own brigade in Creek War of 1813-1814, march with Andrew Jackson
  • The men who are in the position of negotiating with outsides agree with much of the policy that favors slaveholders and protects slaveholders’ property

Elite Cherokees


  • Elite Cherokees are more often bi-racial—Cherokee mothers, British/Scottish/US fathers
  • Planters, storekeepers, ferry masters. Nearly all are slaveholders
  • Most likely to accept Christian teachings
  • Become influential in Cherokee politics—realize the importance of developing American-style political institutions
  • About 300-500 people who are enthusiastic about possibilities of full assimilation (see themselves on the white side of the color line)

Gendered Changes


  • Changing ideas about the position of women in a republic
  • Women were growing more economically powerful; often make more cash than their husbands
  • Patriarchy seen as civilized

Tensions in Cherokee Society


  •  Patriarchal vs. Matriarchal
  • College educated in north vs. educated locally
  • Slaveholding plantation owners vs. subsistence farmers
  • Investors and full participants in global capital markets vs. non-commercial reinvestment in local institutions
  • Treaty Party (pro-Removal Cherokees) vs. National Party (anti-Removal Cherokees)


Cherokee Constitution of 1827
·         Reasons to have a Constitution
o   Government was already dividing into three branches
o   It seemed “civilized” and “logical”
o   Saw themselves as future US citizens, and the US had a Constitution
o   “…in order to establish justice, ensure tranquility, promote our common welfare, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty…”
·         Who formed the Constitution?
o   Wealthy, “civilized”, Christian, well-educated Cherokees
·         Who is a Cherokee according to the Constitution?
o   Cherokee mother, Cherokee father
o   Cherokee father, white mother (changed from Cherokee mother, white father)
o   Cannot be Afro-Cherokee or mulatto
o   Must live in the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation
o   No duel-citizenship between Cherokee Nation and Georgia
·         Who can vote?
o   Free man, age 18
o   Cherokee or Cherokee-white
·         Who can’t vote?
o   Cherokee women
o   Afro-Cherokees and mulattos
o   Freed Africans
·         Changing rights of women
o   No longer able to vote
o   No longer have control over their own property
o   No more matrilineal descent—slow transition to patrilineal descent
·         Differences between Cherokee and US Constitutions
o   Slavery is explicitly mentioned
o   No direct election of the Principal Chief
o   Must believe in a god to hold office—not necessarily the Christian god, but a god of some sort
o   Chief’s cabinet is picked for him by the Council
o   Different age limits—Councilmember at 25, Judge at 30, Principal Chief at 35

The Pressure to Remove Cherokees Increases
·         Local settlers in the state of Georgia wanted the Cherokees to move for a variety of reasons
o   Wanted the land
§  Gold was found in Georgia and they needed the Cherokee off the land so the gold can be mined
§  Wanted to sell the land to more settlers
§  Market Revolution urged people to be more productive, and land was needed to farm food, cash crops (like cotton and tobacco), and raise animals for textile production
§  Believed the land was theirs and the Cherokees were in their way and problematic
o   Believed Cherokee were inferior and backward
§  There were some very well-educated Cherokee—but many whites, like Lewis Cass, believed that the only educated Cherokees were “half-breeds”
§  Believed that a lot of people couldn’t, or wouldn’t, read
§  Believed that Cherokee were spending money on foolish things—like having a newspaper—instead of doing positive things like helping the poor
§  Believed Cherokee were easy to take advantage of and were stupid
o   Believed Cherokee were poor
§  Cherokee lived very modestly, but others were very wealthy as well—just like white society (but the focus was not on the wealthy Cherokees)
o   To Give Cherokee a Place of Their Own
§  Cherokee would be able to practices their own culture without the influence of the whites if they were removed from Georgia
§  Believed this was philanthropic to remove the Cherokee from Georgia and put them on reservations elsewhere  


The Cherokees were forcibly removed from their land in Georgia, as many would refuse to voluntarily leave. The U.S. Army would march the Cherokees from their homes. There would be political turmoil that resulted from the Cherokee Removal, and that turmoil would lead to the assassinations of the leaders who belonged to the Treaty Party and wanted the removal off of the ancestral lands to the Oklahoma territory. However, it is important to note that the Cherokee who lived on privately owned land and not communal land were not subject to the Removal and were not forced to live on reservations like those who did live on communal land; white men and women who married in or were adopted into Cherokee society also were not subject to the Indian Removal Act.

In 2004, Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback introduced a joint resolution which would “offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States” for past “ill-conceived policies” by the United States Government regarding Indian Tribes. It passed in the U.S. Senate in 2008. 




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