After the Trail of Tears: The Cherokees' Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839-1880

After the Trail of Tears: The Cherokees' Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839-1880

After the Trail of Tears: The Cherokees' Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839-1880

After the Trail of Tears: The Cherokees' Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839-1880


This powerful narrative traces the social, cultural, and political history of the Cherokee Nation during the forty-year period after its members were forcibly removed from the southern Appalachians and resettled in what is now Oklahoma. In this master work, completed just before his death, William McLoughlin not only explains how the Cherokees rebuilt their lives and society, but also recounts their fight to govern themselves as a separate nation within the borders of the United States.

Long regarded by whites as one of the 'civilized' tribes, the Cherokees had their own constitution (modeled after that of the United States), elected officials, and legal system. Once re-settled, they attempted to reestablish these institutions and continued their long struggle for self-government under their own laws- an idea that met with bitter opposition from frontier politicians, settlers, ranchers, and business leaders. After an extremely divisive fight within their own nation during the Civil War, Cherokees faced internal political conflicts as well as the destructive impact of an influx of new settlers and the expansion of the railroad. McLoughlin brings the story up to 1880, when the nation's fight for the right to govern itself ended in defeat at the hands of Congress.


Whereas, it being the anxious desire of the Government of the United States to secure the Cherokee nation of Indians a permanent home, and which shall, under the most solemn guarantees of the United States, be and remain theirs forever--a home that shall never, in all future time, be embarrassed by having extended around it lines, or placed over it the jurisdiction of any of the limits of any existing Territory or States . . . the parties hereto do hereby conclude the following Articles.

--Treaty of 1828

In 1831 the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief justice John Marshall, defined the Cherokees as "a domestic, dependent nation." The Cherokees put the emphasis on "nation"; the Bureau of Indian Affairs put the emphasis on "dependent." Congress preferred to define Indians as "wards of the government." This is a study of how these varying interpretations worked themselves out in the years 1839-80. However, more was at stake than legal definitions.

The United States went through a major reorientation in race relations during the first administration of Andrew Jackson. Historians have generally agreed that the rise of the Cotton Kingdom, the nullification crisis, and the launching of William Lloyd Garrison's abolition movement in the years 1828 to 1832 led the way to the sectionalism of the Civil War and the consequent emancipation of the slaves. As George Fredrickson, a preeminent historian of racism, has noted, the "apparently paradoxical fact that the abolitionists could thus gain support for their attack on slavery at the very time a newly systemized doctrine of black inferiority was also triumphing in American thought" deserves attention. Somewhat less noted in the history of racism was the dramatic change that took place in racial attitudes toward and among Native Americans with the passage of Jackson's Indian Removal Act in 1830. Jackson was not only a southern slaveholder but also a western Indian fighter, and freeing the "West," then the eastern half of the Mississippi Valley, of . . .

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