On 26 May 1830 the Congress of the United States passed one of the worst legislative acts in human history, an act so breathtakingly vile that it would serve Hitler as a prototype for his own Holocaust in Germany. I speak, of course, of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Basically, a bunch of white folks who were living in Georgia and other states/territories surrounding the lands of the “Five Civilized Tribes” were really unhappy about a bunch of brownish people owning and farming and having industry on the land the white folks wanted to take for themselves.
The whites were particularly irked that the Native Americans were sitting (literally) on a goldmine. The whites wanted that land and they wanted that gold and they were by gum going to have it if they had to kill every last non-white east of the Mississippi River.
Many of the descendants of these white folks now claim that their “grandmother was a Cherokee Princess”. This is baloney. First, there is no such thing as a Cherokee Princess. Secondly, the “Indian” explanation was often given to explain why so many people tanned suspiciously well for Anglo-whites. In my own genealogy, I discovered while some of the “Indian Blood” that explained the dark complexions of many of my grandparents and relatives was indeed native in origin, some of it was actually courtesy of a free woman of color named Pernesia “Pernancy” King nee Richardson who married a white man, William King, in North Carolina in 1822 and who “became” white herself on the censes forms a decade later. While there are many long-term Southerners with Native DNA in their genome, there are many more who are whiter than sour cream but just don’t want to think of their great-great-grandparents as proto-Nazi racist murders and land-thieves. Add one Cherokee Princess and voilà; participation in attempted genocide and land theft erased!
There were some white folk who understood the concept of human decency and fought against the Indian Removal Act tooth and nail:
While many European Americans during this time favored its passage, there was significant opposition. Many Christian missionaries, most notably missionary organizer Jeremiah Evarts, protested against passage of the Act. In Congress, New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen and Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett spoke out against the legislation. The Removal Act passed only after bitter debate in Congress.
The Native Americans tried to find legal means to resist the act:
In the years following the Act, the Cherokee filed several lawsuits regarding conflicts with the state of Georgia. Some of these cases reached the Supreme Court, the most influential being Worcester v. Georgia. Samuel Worcester and other non-Native Americans were convicted by Georgia law for residing in Cherokee territory in the state of Georgia without a license. Worcester was sentenced to prison for four years, and appealed the ruling, arguing that this sentence violated treaties made between Indian Nations and the United States federal government by imposing state laws on Cherokee lands. The Court ruled in Worcester’s favor, declaring that the Cherokee Nation was subject only to federal law and that the Supremacy Clause barred legislative interference by the state of Georgia. Chief Justice Marshall argued, “The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community occupying its own territory in which the laws of Georgia can have no force. The whole intercourse between the United States and this Nation, is, by our constitution and laws, vested in the government of the United States.” Andrew Jackson did not, however, enforce the Supreme Court mandate barring Georgia from intruding on Cherokee lands. He feared that enforcement would lead to open warfare between federal troops and the Georgia militia, which would compound the ongoing crisis in South Carolina and lead to a broader civil war. Instead, he vigorously negotiated a land exchange treaty with the Cherokee. Political opponents Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, who supported the Worcester decision, were outraged by Jackson’s refusal to uphold Cherokee claims against the state of Georgia. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an account of Cherokee assimilation into the American culture, declaring his support of the Worcester decision.
With no legal recourse and facing violence from the land-grabbing whites around them, many of the Native peoples had no choice but to “voluntarily” move to Oklahoma territory. “Exposure to the elements, disease and starvation, harassment by local frontiersmen, and insufficient rations similarly killed up to one-third of the Choctaw and other nations on the march.” Apologists for Andrew Jackson have often tried to excuse his participation in the atrocity by insisting that he had the best of intentions for his nation, but that argument could also apply to Goebbels and I ain’t buying it.
Some native peoples decided to fight it out. The Seminole Indians of Florida, along with the fugitive slaves they had given refuge to, fought the Second Seminole War from 1835 until 1842, under the leadership of Chief Osceola, who wasn’t actually Seminole (he was bi-racially Anglo-Creek) but was as determined to fight the white invasion of traditional Native territory as any member of the Seminole culture.
Thousands of Seminole died fighting, but they lost no more people than they would have from the hellish death marches they faced if they had capitulated to the laws. They also won several decisive battles and killed many white people (including women and children) trying to establish homesteads on Seminole land. In the newspapers of the time, the deaths of the white settlers were called “massacres” by “savages”, but the deaths of Native women and children at the hands of white soldiers didn’t get mentioned at all.
When enough white settlers who were trying to take Seminole land had died, Florida decided that they would actually obey the Supreme Court decision to leave Native American lands alone after all. The Seminole natives in Florida still own their lands (now called reservations) to this day, and have let neither their languages or their culture die out in the advent of modernizing.