The Trail of Tears: They Knew It Was Wrong

The Trail of Tears shouldn’t have happened. People at the time knew that it was wrong, that it was illegal, and that it was unconstitutional, but they did it anyway. Historian Amy Sturgis explains why the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to “Indian Territory” (modern-day Oklahoma) was wrong on both moral and legal grounds.

  • It was morally wrong because of the loss of life. Somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of the Cherokee Nation was lost as a result of the Trail of Tears.
  • It was morally wrong because the arguments used to justify the move were based on falsehood.
  • It stripped property rights from a minority that lacked the means to defend itself and redistributed their property to people who wanted it for themselves.
  • It was legally wrong on Constitutional and judicial grounds.
  • It was based, in part, on an invalid treaty.

How can the Trail of Tears provide lessons today? There were people who stood against the Trail of Tears at the time it happened. They were unable to change U.S. policy, but their words speak to us today. They suggest that we can’t look aside and ignore the Trail of Tears as an example of something that was just part of the mid-19th century mindset. This is a story about how a group that had power gained at the expense of a minority unable to defend itself. The Trail of Tears set precedents we can only hope to avoid repeating.


  1. citizen1111

    An argument against state power, but also an argument for a legal framework that protects the rights of individuals, against the tyranny of the majority.

  2. russellherbst

    Important history to get in great context like this. Dissolving the American myths of her superiority and benevolence will be key in changing the hearts and minds of the next generations. History like this is paramount in a good education.

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