At the end of the 1820s gold was discovered in Cherokee Territory in Georgia. This most unfortunate development, in addition to a desire for the agricultural richness of the land, led Georgia political leaders to push for passage of the Indian Removal Act, lending a federal imprimatur to its own set of Cherokee Acts, passed between 1827 and 1831, effectively dissolving the Cherokee nation.
The Cherokee Acts stripped Cherokees of their citizenship, voided their laws, and confiscated and divided up their properties among the greedy non-Native population.
A few tribes went peacefully, but many resisted the relocation policy. During the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, the Cherokees were forcibly moved west by the United States government. Of the approximately 130,000 Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee Creek, and Seminoles sent west on a “Trail of Tears,” some 60,000 of them died.
There had been considerable opposition to the Indian Removal Act, especially by Christian missionaries. In Congress also, there was bitter debate.
President Jackson called his northern critics hypocrites, given the north’s nasty history with respect to Native Americans. He also felt their demise was inevitable, arguing in his second annual message to Congress:
Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country and philanthropy has long been busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth. … But true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another … Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?”