Trail Of Tears Essay Assignment

Historical Background

In 1830, under President Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act directing the executive branch to negotiate for Indian lands. The act set the tone for President Jackson in dealing with Indian affairs. The removal of the Cherokee Nation from the state of Georgia started under Jackson and outlasted his term in office. The forcible removal, known as the Trail of Tears, took place in 1838. The Cherokee Nation brought suit against the state of Georgia in the famous case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia in 1831, which was reversed in the case of Worcester v. Georgia.


The arrival of colonists into North America significantly impacted the Native Americans. It is estimated that ten million Native Americans were on this continent when the Europeans arrived. Over the next 300 years, the American Indian population was almost wiped out through disease, warfare, and famine. The story of the Trail of Tears serves as a reminder of the impact that white Americans had on Native Americans.

Essential Question

Did the removal of the Native Americans from east of the Mississippi River violate the principles found in the Declaration of Independence?


Students will be able to:

  1. Describe the rationale that President Jackson used in the removal of the Native Americans from east of the Mississippi River.
  2. Compare Jackson’s actions toward Native Americans in the context of his First Inaugural Address.
  3. Identify the responsibilities given to the President under the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
  4. Describe the background and decisions in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia.
  5. Write a coherent essay, using evidence from the lesson and outside sources in answering the essential question.
  6. Give evidence of reading comprehension by demonstrating their ability to translate and interpret primary sources.


  • Andrew Jackson’s First Annual Message to Congress, Mt. Holyoke College
  • Andrew Jackson’s First Inaugural Address,
  • Indian Removal Act, May 28, 1830, Mt. Holyoke College
  • Andrew Jackson’s letter to the Cherokee Tribe, March 16, 1835 (PDF)
  • Robert Lindneux’s painting of the Trail of Tears, Athens Regional Library
  • John Ross’s letter to President Martin Van Buren, August 14, 1840 (PDF)


  1. Divide class into groups of two. Each group is to read President Jackson’s First Annual Message to Congress and list the reasons used to remove the Native Americans. Class comes together to share their findings.
  2. In his First Inaugural Address, President Jackson stated, "It will be my sincere and constant desire to observe toward the Indian tribes within our limits a just and liberal policy, and to give the humane and considerate attention to their rights and their wants which is consistent with the habits of our Government and the feelings of our people."
  3. Have students discuss what they think Jackson means in using the words "just," "liberal," "rights," and "wants." Does the use of the phrase "within our limits" present a dilemma in understanding Jackson? Explain.
  4. Each student receives a copy of the Indian Removal Act, May 28, 1830. Using this document, the teacher leads the students in identifying the obligations of the President in the removal of the tribes from territories within each state.
  5. The teacher provides a brief lecture (no more than eight minutes) on the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia case and on the Worcester v. Georgia case. During the lecture students are to take notes. Individual students will read their notes to the class to give and obtain further information.
  6. Students are to read Andrew Jackson’s letter to the Cherokee Tribe dated March 16, 1835, and answer the following question: What reasons does Jackson provide in stating that the removal is being done to "promote your (Cherokee) welfare"?
  7. Have students view Robert Lindneux’s painting of the Trail of Tears and identify the different people being portrayed; the emotions being displayed; and the overall composition used by the painter to depict the removal.
  8. Students are to read John Ross’s letter to President Martin Van Buren, August 14, 1840. What problems does Ross present to the President related to the removal? 


Students are to discuss the answer to the essential question.

Extended Activity

Students are to write an essay answering the essential question using evidence from the lesson and other outside sources.

The Trail of Tears refers to the forceful relocation and eventual movement of the Native American communities from the South Eastern regions of the U.S. as a result of the enactment of the Indian Removal Act in the year 1830. In the year 1838, in line with Andrew Jackson’s policy of the Indians’ removal, the Cherokee community was forced to surrender its land to the east of Mississippi River and migrate to the present day Oklahoma. This journey was referred to as the “Trail of Tears” mainly due to its devastating effects it had to the Indian people. The migrants faced extreme hunger, diseases and exhaustion due to the forced march while more than 50,000 people died (Cave, 2003). The Trail of Tears resulted in a devastating effect for the Indians such as extreme hunger, diseases and exhaustion due to long walk and massive injustices and abuse of fundamental human rights.

According to Perdue (2008), the Trail of Tears is regarded as one of the tragic eras in the U.S. history mainly due to the forceful relocation of the Indians. This is also considered as the beginning of the Indian extermination by the U.S. government even though they had lived in the country several centuries before the white settlers set their foot in America. After the American Revolution and the eventual creation of the U.S., the Indians were regarded as a separate nation within a sovereign country even though they were fully committed to a peaceful coexistence with the white settlers. However, the white settlers were mostly interested in the resources of rich and productive land under the occupation of the Indians. As a result, the U.S. government embarked on a long campaign – marked by false promises, broken and false treaties, and threats of military force and racist attitudes – to oust the Indians from their native territory.

The U.S. government committed a heinous incident in its long history when it passed the Removal Act in the year 1830, which later resulted in the Trail of Tears. The Indians were moved to the west in an exodus that would ensure the new American settlers continued growing and prospering in their new country. The most famous of those forced from their native land by the U.S. government included Five Civilized Tribes comprising of the Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw and Creek (Cave, 2003). These tribes constituted the majority of more than 60,000 Indians driven out of their land and they were distinguished from other Indian populations due to their leadership forms and organization. They had functional social systems based on property ownership, government offices and established schools much like in Europe (Perdue, 2008). However, the U.S. government could not recognize them to be civilized enough to be their neighbors necessitating their forceful relocation.

The Trail of Tears created a period of immeasurable misery and despair among the Indians who were being relocated against their wishes. In order to relocate the Indian tribes swiftly and effectively, the Indians tribes were prearranged into wretched and miserable traveling caravans. During the trail, the Indians passed through horrible living conditions that were unbearable, for instance, the Indians slept in the mud, lacked shelter and enough food. On the other hand, they were usually forced to march in chains or manacles. In most cases, if the poor living conditions did not kill them, severe disease outbreaks killed most of the Indians. They were plagued with diseases such as dysentery, pneumonia, whooping cough, pellagra and tuberculosis, which usually wiped out entire families (Cave, 2003). Consequently, the Trail of Tears resulted in massive deaths among the Indians apart from damaging the Indian American spirit and self respect.

The 1830 Indian Removal act gave President Jackson the power to relocate the Indians under their consent while the act required that they be compensated for the relocation. However, this is not the manner in which the policy was implemented as the government engaged in false treaties with the Indians, broken promises and perpetrated lies while dealing with the Indians (Cave, 2003). The Choctaw Indians in 1831 were the first who were relocated and they became a perfect model for the successful relocations. The Seminole followed the Choctaw in 1832, then the Creek in the year 1834, the Chickasaw Indians in the year 1837, and lastly the Cherokee Indians in 1838. As a result, by 1837, it is estimated that more than 46,000 Native Indians from these southern states had forcefully been relocated from their homelands thus opening about 25 million acres for mainly white settlement (Perdue, 2008).

In conclusion, the Trail of Tears is a perfect expression of the U.S. government’s act of inhumanity towards the Indians. The new white settlers in the U.S. had escaped the oppression in Europe and they were obsessed with their new freedoms in America that they easily trampled on the freedom and rights of the Indians. The Trail of Tears resulted in a devastating effect for the Indians who were forced to walk over 1,000 miles to Oklahoma in a trip where they walked without shoes or enough clothing (Perdue, 2008). The food provision was scarce, they suffered from severe diseases and a large number of the Indians died from the harsh conditions and diseases. The U.S. must never forget these shameful and sad moments in its long history with the hope that the country learns from the past, in order to prevent the occurrence of other atrocities similar to the Trail of Tears.

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Sep 4, 2013

Filed under: Sample Papers — Tags: history essay, The Trail of Tears essay paper, The Trail of Tears research paper — Joan Young @ 5:48 am

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