The Trail of Tears

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.



  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.