In 1827 Cherokee’s Principal Chief (Pathkiller) died and the Cherokee people elected John Ross as his replacement. Ross was educated in the school system for mixed-blood Cherokee’s and received a lifetime of traditional teachings from Pathkiller and other tribal elders. Ross’ election represented an acknowledgment by the Cherokees that an educated, English-speaking leader was paramount in importance to blood quantum.
In his first year of office, Ross drafted the Cherokee Constitution. This allowed the Cherokee to create clear national policy that would withstand scrutiny from outside governments.
Then in 1830, the Cherokee faced a major problem. US President, Andrew Jackson
presented the Indian Removal Act to the States. It authorized the president to set aside lands west of the Mississippi River in exchange for Indian homelands claimed by States in the east.
Facing the possibility of the Cherokee being removed from their ancestral lands, Ross successfully defended Cherokee rights through the U.S. court system. The Cherokee won a series of cases including Worcester v. Georgia, which established the Cherokees’ rights as a domestic dependant sovereign. This meant that the Cherokee were no longer subject to the laws of Georgia and that Cherokee lands could not be claimed by the State.
This decision embarrassed Andrew Jackson politically and he became even more intent on moving the Cherokee west. Thus, John Ross’ new strategy was to prolong negotiations indefinitely or until Jackson left the Presidency.
In 1834 a minority Cherokee delegation, called the Ridge Party formed. They did not trust Ross and wished to negotiate the Cherokee removal treaty themselves with the US Government. Despite the fact that the Ridge Party had no formal support from the tribe’s General Council, the US Government and the Ridge Party quickly enacted the Treaty of New Echota, ceding Cherokee homelands.
All Cherokees were forced to move west in 1838. This became known as the “Trail of Tears”. On the Trail of Tears, approximately 4,000 Cherokees died, including John Ross’ wife, Quatie, a full-blooded Cherokee woman.
Many of the Ridge Party leaders were eventually killed by their own people. Meanwhile, the Cherokee continued to re-elect the 1/8th blood John Ross for 32 consecutive years.