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The Trail of Tears, a U.S. Army-guided forcible removal of the native Americans from the southeast to west of the Mississippi, began in 1838, and thousands of Cherokee were displaced; thousands died along the way.
The realities of these actions was a much different thing than the ideals of the United States. A nation that was built with tolerance and freedom as its precepts was not only forcibly expelling inhabitants from land they had settled, but was attempting to fundamentally change the culture of the Cherokee nation. Instead of protecting a vulnerable minority, as the original settlers of the U.S. had been in England, the government exploited the minority of Cherokee, taking their land, mining its gold, and removing the Cherokee culture from their landscape. This behavior was and is incompatible with the U.S. ideals of morality and justice; the manner in which the Cherokee were treated goes against the grain of United States values such as democracy, equality, and fair treatment.
White defenders of the Cherokee were vocal in their objections to these unjust acts which were counter to the values of the United States. One Senator decried the land-grabs, asking facetiously, "do the obligations of justice change with the color of the skin?" Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that the maltreatment of the Indian nations would cause "the name of this nation, hitherto the sweet omen of religion and liberty, [to] stink to the world." In a nation that claimed to value toleration and justice, the answer should have been an unequivocal no. But the push for industrialization, gold prospecting and "progress," as defined by the United States, rendered these concepts of justice and equality meaningless, even trite.
The Cherokee nation appealed to what the United States had heralded as its commitment to justice and morality; in an address regarding the Trail of Tears' forcible expulsion, Cherokee leaders entreated:
Do unto others as ye would that others do unto you. We pray them to remember that, for the sake of principle, their forefathers were compelled to leave...and that the winds of persecution wafted them over the great waters and landed them on the shores of the new world, when the Indian was the sole lord and proprietor of these extensive domains. Let them remember in what way they were received
Had the American government and citizens, prominently Andrew Jackson but all the way down to the individual gold prospectors who encouraged the forcible removal of the Cherokee from Georgia, abided by the precepts by which the United States was founded, perhaps a more fair and hospitable compromise could have been reached.
Unfortunately, the United States' desire for land, gold, and a homogenous culture outweighed the principles of morality, justice, and protection of a minority. The Jacksonian era and its aftermath were a disgrace to these ideals, having forsaken them in favor of manifest destiny, industrialization, and "progress." In light of these arguments, I believe that the quote cited above is misguided and false, and that the "higher use" of the land by "civilized" Americans was no better than the "primitive" lifestyles of the Cherokee.
West, Elliott, "I Will Fight No More Forever," in McPherson, James, Brinkley, Alan, and Rubel, David, eds. Days of Destiny. DK Adult, 2001.
Perdue, Theda and Green, Michael. The Cherokee Removal. Bedford: St. Martin's, 1995.
Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.
Zinn, Howard. The People Speak: American Voices, New York: Harper Collins, 2004.
Perdue, Theda and Green, Michael. The Cherokee Removal. Bedford: St. Martin's, 1995, p. 25.
Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Collins, 2003, p. 137
Jackson spoke often of the need to populate the U.S. with "civilized" and "interesting" inhabitants; one can only assume that by civilized he was referring to industrialized and urban, not the traditional culture of the Indian nations with its emphasis on nature and preservation. See Zinn 139-140.
Zinn, 138. Quoting Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey.
Zinn, Howard. The People Speak: American Voices, New York: Harper Collins, 2004,…[continue]
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