Indian Removal Act
The Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress on May 28, 1830, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. The law authorized the president to negotiate with Indian tribes in the Southern United States for their removal to federal territory west of the Mississippi River in exchange for their ancestral homelands.
The act enjoyed strong support from the non-native peoples of the South, who were eager to gain access to lands inhabited by the Five Civilized Tribes. Christian missionaries, such as Jeremiah Evarts, protested against the law's passage.
In the early 1800s, the United States government began a systematic effort to remove Native American tribes from the southeast. The Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, Seminole, and original Cherokee Nations — referred to as the "Five Civilized Tribes" by Anglo-European settlers in reference to the tribes' adoption of aspects of colonial culture — had been established as autonomous nations in the southeastern United States.
The acculturation proposed by George Washington was well under way among the Cherokee and Choctaw by the turn of the 19th century. In an effort to assimilate with white American culture, Native people were encouraged to "convert to Christianity, learn to speak and read English, and adopt European-style economic practices such as the individual ownership of land and other property (including, in some instances in the South, African slaves)." Thomas Jefferson's policy echoed Washington's proposition: respect the Native Americans' rights to their homelands, and allow the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee nations to remain east of the Mississippi provided they adopt Anglo-European behavior and cultural practices. Jefferson encouraged practicing an agriculture-based society.
However, Andrew Jackson sought to renew a policy of political and military action for the removal of the Native Americans from these lands and worked toward enacting a law for Indian removal. In his 1829 State of the Union, Jackson called for the removal.
The Indian Removal Act was put in place to give the land that Indians had settled on to the southern states. Although the act was passed in 1830 talk between Georgia and the federal government had started in 1802. Davis states in his article that, "the federal government had promised Georgia that it would extinguish Indian title within the state's borders by purchase 'as soon as such purchase could be made upon reasonable terms'". As time had passed, southern states began to speed up the process by posing the argument that the deal between Georgia and the federal government had no contract and that southern states could pass the law themselves. This scheme forced the national government to pass the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1830, which President Jackson agreed to divide the United States territory west of the Mississippi into districts for tribes to replace the land they were removed from. President Jackson promised this land would be owned by the Indians forever. The Indian Removal Act brought many issues to the table, such as whether it was constitutional, who had the authority to pass what, and could the sovereignty of Indians be promised.
In the 1823 case of Johnson v. M'Intosh, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision which stated that Indians could occupy lands within the United States, but could not hold title to those lands. Jackson, as was common before the American Civil War, viewed the union as a federation of sovereign states. He opposed Washington's policy of establishing treaties with Indian tribes as if they were foreign nations. Thus, the creation of Indian jurisdictions was a violation of state sovereignty under Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution. As Jackson saw it, either Indians comprised sovereign states (which violated the Constitution) or they are subject to the laws of existing states of the Union. Jackson urged Indians to assimilate and obey state laws. Further, he believed he could only accommodate the desire for Indian self-rule in federal territories. That required resettlement west of the Mississippi River on federal lands.
Support and opposition
The Removal Act was strongly supported by non-native people in the South, who were eager to gain access to lands inhabited by the Five Civilized Tribes. In particular, Georgia, the largest state at that time, was involved in a contentious jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokees. President Jackson hoped removal would resolve the Georgia crisis.
The Indian Removal Act was controversial. While many European Americans during this time favored its passage, there was significant opposition. Many Christian missionaries, most notably missionary organizer Jeremiah Evarts, protested against passage of the Act. In Congress, New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen and Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee spoke out against the legislation. The Removal Act passed after bitter debate in Congress.
Jackson viewed the demise of Indian tribal nations as inevitable, pointing to the advancement of settled life and demise of tribal nations in the American northeast. He called his northern critics hypocrites, given the North's history; Indian tribes were driven to extinction, Indian hunting grounds replaced with family farms, and state law replaced tribal law. If the Indians of the south were to survive and their culture maintained, they faced powerful historical forces that could only be postponed. He dismissed romantic portrayals of lost Indian culture as a sentimental longing for a simpler time in the past—progress requires moving forward.
Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country and philanthropy has long been busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth. … But true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another. ... Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?
Jackson, according to historian H. W. Brands, sincerely believed his population transfer was a "wise and humane policy" that would save the Indians from "utter annihilation". Brand writes that given the "racist realities of the time, Jackson was almost certainly correct in contending that for the Cherokees to remain in Georgia risked their extinction". Jackson portrayed his paternalism and federal support as a generous act of mercy.
On April 24, 1830, the Senate passed the Indian Removal Act by a vote of 28 to 19. On May 26, 1830, the House of Representatives passed the Indian Removal Act by a vote of 101 to 97. On May 28, 1830, the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson.
While Native American removal was in theory voluntary, in practice great pressure was put on Native American leaders to sign removal treaties. Most observers, whether they were in favor of the Indian removal policy or not, realized that the passage of the act meant the inevitable removal of most Indians from the states. Some Native American leaders who had previously resisted removal now began to reconsider their positions, especially after Jackson's landslide re-election in 1832. Affected tribes included the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole. Additional tribal peoples affected and removed were the Wyandot, the Kickapoo, the Potowatomi, the Shawnee, and the Lenape.
The Removal Act paved the way for the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of American Indians from their traditional homelands to the West, an event widely known as the "Trail of Tears," a forced resettlement of the native population. The first removal treaty signed after the Removal Act was the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on September 27, 1830, in which Choctaws in Mississippi ceded land east of the river in exchange for payment and land in the West. The Treaty of New Echota, signed in 1835, resulted in the removal of the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. The Seminoles and other tribes did not leave peacefully. Along with fugitive slaves they resisted the removal. The Second Seminole War lasted from 1835 to 1842 and resulted in the government allowing the Seminoles to remain in the south Florida swamplands. Only a small number remained, and around 3,000 were killed in the war between American soldiers and Seminoles.
Indian Removal Act document
- U. S. Government, 21st Congress, 2nd Session
Chapter CXLVIII - An Act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That it shall and may be lawful for the President of the United States to cause so much of any territory belonging to the United States, west of the river Mississippi, not included in any state or organized territory, and to which the Indian title has been extinguished, as he may judge necessary, to be divided into a suitable number of districts, for the reception of such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remove there; and to cause each of said districts to be so described by natural or artificial marks, as to be easily distinguished from every other.
Section 2 - And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to exchange any or all of such districts, so to be laid off and described, with any tribe or nation within the limits of any of the states or territories, and with which the United States have existing treaties, for the whole or any part or portion of the territory claimed and occupied by such tribe or nation, within the bounds of any one or more of the states or territories, where the land claimed and occupied by the Indians, is owned by the United States, or the United States are bound to the state within which it lies to extinguish the Indian claim thereto.
Section 3 - And be it further enacted, That in the making of any such exchange or exchanges, it shall and may be lawful for the President solemnly to assure the tribe or nation with which the exchange is made, that the United States will forever secure and guaranty to them, and their heirs or successors, the country so exchanged with them; and if they prefer it, that the United States will cause a patent or grant to be made and executed to them for the same: Provided always, that such lands shall revert to the United States, if the Indians become extinct, or abandon the same.
Section 4 - And be it further enacted, That if, upon any of the lands now occupied by the Indians, and to be exchanged for, there should be such improvements as add value to the land claimed by any individual or individuals of such tribes or nations, it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such value to be ascertained by appraisement or otherwise, and to cause such ascertained value to be paid to the person or persons rightfully claiming such improvements. And upon the payment of such valuation, the improvements so valued and paid for, shall pass to the United States, and possession shall not afterwards be permitted to any of the same tribe.
Section 5 - And be it further enacted, That upon the making of any such exchange as is contemplated by this act, it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such aid and assistance to be furnished to the emigrants as may be necessary and proper to enable them to remove to, and settle in, the country for which they may have exchanged; and also, to give them such aid and assistance as may be necessary for their support and subsistence for the first year after their removal.
Section 6 - And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such tribe or nation to be protected, at their new residence, against all interruption or disturbance from any other tribe or nation of Indians, or from any other person or persons whatever.
Section 7 - And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to have the same superintendence and care over any tribe or nation in the country to which they may remove, as contemplated by this act, that he is now authorized to have over them at their present places of residence.
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- The U.S. Senate passed the bill on April 24, 1830 (28–19), the U.S. House passed it on May 26, 1830 (102–97); Prucha, Francis Paul, The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians, Volume I, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984, p. 206.
- The Congressional Record has the bill passing 101–97 with 11 not voting. House vote No. 149 on May 26, 1830.
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- Indian Removal Act and related resources, at the Library of Congress
- 1830 State of the Union on Indian Removal; Text at 100 Milestone Documents