but, those same laws were immediately enacted by the Federal government and from that origin, became immediately binding - the Cherokee would be held to be covered by Federal but not state law.
Those members of Congress who supported the removal policies became instrumental in the build-up toward the Trail of Tears. American aggressive expansionism was what drove the forced removal from their land. Whites had expanded to the edges of their territory and were bursting at the seams in the attempt to accommodate all of the European immigrants. Jackson, continuing to sting from the defeat in 1788, took up the most vilely racist approaches to dealing with these "American" needs - by enforcing the Indian Removal Act (Prater, 9). Jackson started creating a wedge against the Cherokee by encouraging people to simply move onto and squat on Cherokee land. Settlers, squatters, encroachers would continue to inch their way toward the Cherokees and other people, and would eventually usurp all of their land.
As more and more lands were taken up by the Federal government, the Cherokee became significantly divided internally over how to best deal with the situation. By 1835, there were factions within the Cherokee nation that were calling for them to leave the territory voluntarily. One of the loudest and most eloquent voices on this matter was John Ross, a 1/8 Cherokee who was perhaps the only person who understood the nature of the problem well before it would result in the massive and total relocations. Ross urged his people to stay as one nation, and to resist Jackson's efforts (Meyers, 60). He believed that with time, the Supreme Court and the laws of the United States would bear out and set the situation right. but, it would be John Ridge, another Cherokee leader, who would realize that resistance would be futile and he began to negotiate, quietly, for the creation of a guarantee of land in some distant part of the nation. It was Ridge who south to move the Cherokee to Oklahoma before the Federal government simply forced them out. He fought for the peaceful removal of his people from the region. This small fraction of Cherokee (approximately five-hundred people in total) signed a treaty that granted them land rights in Oklahoma, all they had to do was abandon their homes. This first successful treaty, the Treaty of New Echota, opened the floodgates. Jackson, upon treaty ratification, and without waiting for the Cherokee to leave Georgia on their own, peacefully, moved Federal troops into New Echota and forced the Cherokee out.
Over the course of the next seven years, Jackson would bring increasingly strong pressure upon the Cherokee nation, and he made it very clear throughout that he was not going to back down a single inch. He worked with the Supreme Court to ensure that sovereignty was no longer available, and that the continued survival of the Cherokee nation was entirely dependent upon the whim of the most racist president in American history. Ultimately, it became clear that if the Cherokee wanted any hope at restoring their cultural status and their sovereignty, they would have to leave. Jackson would leave office in 1837 before the final execution of the Indian Removal Act could be put forth.
It began haphazardly, just bands of Cherokee being put on the march from all over the region. With a set of makeshift forts to mark the five paths and a rough idea of direction, the military started moving every Indian west - regardless of tribe or affiliation or whether or not they were actually part of what was intended. Disease rapidly ravaged the camps, death by the thousands came from exposure to the elements, living in squalid conditions and without any real nutrition. Conditions in the camps were made worse by the poor water access and quality, which resulted in the death of nearly 60% of all children under the age of six who were forced onto the trail (Herbert, 27). Throughout this, the Cherokee leadership begged to be allowed to lead their people to Oklahoma - again, they would go willingly. But the Van Buren administration would have nothing of it. Instead, they pushed and pushed, treated the Cherokee with little regard and with less respect then they would give to cattle. The Cherokee were hounded and constantly being victimized by various contractors, agents, lawyers and police along the way (Zimmer, 4).
When they finally arrived in Oklahoma, the displaced Cherokee Nation found itself in very unfamiliarity territory indeed. From within the hardscrabble earth of Oklahoma, they had to try to rebuild their once-great society, to recreate their laws and culture amidst the despair of their absolute lack of freedom. The shrinking of their population, the loss of leadership, the loss of land and prosperity destroyed the Cherokee nation, leaving it with little to pick up the pieces with. Jackson's aggression fed Van Buren's ambition, and between the two, they succeeded in absolutely defeating the Native Americans, leaving a few "untamed" areas still to the west. No legal argument would save them, no law-maker could stand up to Jackson, and by the time Van Buren b became President, it had become such a prevalent theme that anti-Indian sentiment seemed to be engraved in the marble of the White House.
Harvey, Bonnie C. "The West That Wasn't Won" Christian History. 2000. v19. i2. p36(2).
McLean, Herbert. "Rediscovering the Trail of Tears." American Forests. Sep / Oct, 1993. v99. i9/10. p26(5).
Meyers, Jason. "No Idle Past: Uses of History in the 1830 Indian Removal Debates." Historian Fall, 2000. v63. i1, p53(13).