Lesson Plans

Written by Ronald Levine, South High School, Worcester Public Schools


From 1817 to 1827, the Cherokees effectively resisted ceding their full territory by creating a new form of tribal government based on the United States government. Rather than being governed by a traditional tribal council, the Cherokees wrote a constitution and created a two-house legislature. In addition to this government, Cherokees learned to speak English and created a written language and adopted Christianity, becoming one of the "civilized" tribes that adopted features of white culture in place of their own.

During the 1820s, the state of Georgia began pressuring the United States government to force the Cherokee Nation off its lands in that state. The Cherokee tribe emphasized the assimilation of its culture and sent yearly delegations to Washington to lobby on their behalf. The 1830 Indian Removal Bill, backed by President Andrew Jackson, was the first step towards removing the Cherokees from their land for good.

In response, the Cherokees took legal action to try to save their lands. In their second Supreme Court case, Worcester v. Georgia (1832), Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Cherokee Nation was entitled to federal protection over those of the state laws of Georgia. The Court ruled the Indian nation was a "distinct community in which the laws of Georgia can have no force" and into which Georgians could not enter without the permission of the Cherokees themselves or in conformity with treaties. Although the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, the state of Georgia confiscated the Cherokee lands. The Treaty of New Echota, negotiated in 1835 and signed in 1836, was made by a small contingent of Cherokees led by John Ridge against the wishes of the majority of the tribe and its leader, Chief John Ross. As a result, the Cherokees had to leave their lands, traveling 800 miles to the Oklahoma Territory over what came to be called "The Trail of Tears."

Guiding Questions

  • What were the different points of view offered regarding the removal of Native Americans from the Southwestern United States during the 1830s?
  • What role, if any, does the removal of Native Americans play in the theory of the United States' "Manifest Destiny"?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Evaluate and assess the reasons given to remove Native Americans from their ancestoral lands.
  • Analyze the change in United States government policy towards Native Americans from Washington to Jackson.
  • Compare and contrast different primary source documents on the same topic.
  • Make connections between the removal of Native Americans and the theory of "Manifest Destiny."

Information for the Teacher

There are two overriding issues that students face in learning about this period of American history. The first is the issue of treaties and their legal stature. Since the days of General Washington, our government has signed numerous treeaties with Native American tribes. What were the legal obligations entered into by the United States when they signed a treaty? Under what conditions could or should treaties be abrogated?

The second issue involves the image created about Native Americans. Is the consensus image that Native Americans were uncivilized savages an accurate one?

By examining the primary documants included in this packet, students should be able to answer the questions outlined above.


This lesson uses abbreviated versions of documents listed under the Resources page, which you can download to print and give to students. In addition, this file includes a set of focus questions, one for each documents. For lower-ability students and/or students who are new to using primary sources, have the students answer these focus questions first before they attempt to interpret the documents.

The lessons are centered around using Primary Source Circles to help the students examine and interpret the documents. Under each role, the questions are listed from easiest to hardest, so that lower-ability students or thsoe who are new to using primary documents can focus on answering the top questions first. Download the guidelines for the Primary Source Circles to hand out to students during these lessons.


Standards Alignment

USI.24 Sec. C - Jackson's policy of Indian Removal

USI.25 - Trace the influences and ideas of the Marshall Court

USI.26 Sec. D - The Cherokees' Trail of Tears

USI.26 Sec. F - The concept of Manifest Destiny and its relationship to westward expansion

Skills Used

Using primary sources; working in groups; critical thinking; interpreting documents; comparing and contrasting