Trail Of Tears Research Paper

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Andrew Jackson’s 1828 election as U.S. president presaged congressional approval of the Indian Removal Act, which initiated processes that led in the mid- and late 1830s to the notorious Trail of Tears. Although Jackson justified his actions in compelling relocation of southeastern Indian tribes to plains west of the Mississippi River as “a just, humane, liberal policy,” implementation led to widespread suffering, cruel deprivation, and painful deaths for many. All told, perhaps 60,000 Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles found themselves uprooted from traditional homes; the ordeal experienced by Cherokees stands out as emblematic of the policy’s inhumanity.

Understanding of the Trail of Tears and its impact requires recognition of circumstances then prevalent in the United States and of the targets of Jackson’s policy other than Native Americans. For example, beginning with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase certain national leaders including Thomas Jefferson and, later, John C. Calhoun had argued for relocation as the only “permanent solution” to “the Indian problem.” Controversy greeted such calls, but national policy by the time of the Jackson presidency offered Native Americans a strictly limited number of options: acculturation, relocation, or extermination.

Meanwhile, egalitarian and antislavery tides of the American Revolutionary period had subsided in the wake of profound changes in American life. First, a rising tide of immigration had begun to swell the nation’s northern cities. This created competition for livelihoods between the new arrivals, particularly the Irish, and free blacks at a time when Jackson and his allies courted the white immigrant vote. Extension of the “Cotton Kingdom” in the South coincidentally created huge demands for new lands and slave labor, as well as for enhanced governmental protections for chattel slavery. Further accelerating the processes at play were European intellectuals who formulated supposedly scientific theories regarding race, racial superiority, and racial inferiority. As a result, the nation found itself accepting new racist concepts that countenanced harsh and arbitrary treatment of Indians and black Americans.

Finally, Jackson’s personal experiences contributed to the implementation of racist policy. He repeatedly had invaded Spanish Florida to suppress challenges to southern expansion posed by the defiance of Upper (or Red Stick) Creek warriors and of maroon fighters later called Black Seminoles. His troops had destroyed the Apalachicola River Negro Fort in 1816; battled maroons at the Suwannee River in 1818; and, through the agency of Lower Creek raiders, obliterated the Tampa Bay area sanctuary known as Angola in 1821. Having failed to subdue his nemeses, Jackson aimed early implementation of the removal policy at Florida. By 1835 his actions led to the outbreak of the Second Seminole War, the longest Indian war and, arguably, the largest slave uprising in U.S. history. As noted by General Thomas Jesup, “[This is] a negro and not an Indian War.” Eventually, the Black Seminoles accepted western relocation but mostly after negotiated surrender rather than by military defeat. Thus, the Trail of Tears saw African Americans, as well as Native Americans, paying dearly for political and social changes that had placed the nation on the road to Civil War.


  1. Brown, Canter, Jr. 2005. Tales of Angola: Free Blacks, Red Stick Creeks, and International Intrigue in Spanish Southwest Florida, 1812–1821. In Go Sound the Trumpet! Selections in Florida’s African American History, eds. David H. Jackson Jr. and Canter Brown Jr., 5–21. Tampa, FL: University of Tampa Press.
  2. Ehle, John. 1988. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. New York: Doubleday.
  3. Landers, Jane. 1999. Black Society in Spanish Florida. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  4. Porter, Kenneth W. 1996. The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom-Seeking People. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
  5. Rivers, Larry Eugene. 2000. Slavery in Florida, Territorial Days to Emancipation. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

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