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Indian Removal Act

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Indian Removal Act
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn 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.
Enacted bythe 21st United States Congress
Public lawPub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 21–148
Statutes at LargeStat. 411
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 102
  • Passed the Senate on April 24, 1830 (28–19)
  • Passed the House on May 26, 1830 (101–97)
  • Signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was signed into law on May 28, 1830, by United States President Andrew Jackson. The law, as described by Congress, provided "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".[a][2][3] During the presidency of Jackson (1829–1837) and his successor Martin Van Buren (1837–1841) more than 60,000 Native Americans[4] from at least 18 tribes[5] were forced to move west of the Mississippi River where they were allocated new lands. The southern tribes were resettled mostly in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The northern tribes were resettled initially in Kansas. With a few exceptions, the United States east of the Mississippi and south of the Great Lakes was emptied of its Native American population. The movement westward of indigenous tribes was characterized by a large number of deaths occasioned by the hardships of the journey.[6]

The U.S. Congress approved the Act by a narrow majority in the House of Representatives. The Indian Removal Act was supported by President Jackson and the Democratic Party,[7] southern and white settlers, and several state governments, especially that of Georgia. Indigenous tribes and the Whig Party opposed the bill, as did other groups within white American society (e.g., some Christian missionaries and clergy). Legal efforts to allow Indian tribes to remain on their land in the eastern U.S. failed. Most famously, the Cherokee (excluding the Treaty Party) challenged their relocation, but were unsuccessful in the courts; they were forcibly removed by the United States government in a march to the west that later became known as the Trail of Tears. Since the 21st century, scholars have cited the act and subsequent removals as an early example of state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing or genocide or settler colonialism or some view it as all three.[8][9][10]


President Andrew Jackson called for an American Indian Removal Act in his first (1829) State of the Union address.

History of European cultural assimilation in the New World[edit]

Many European colonists saw Native Americans as savages. However, euro-native relations varied, particularly between the French and British colonies.[11] New France, which was established in the Great Lakes region, generally pursued a cooperative relationship with the Native tribes, with the existence of certain traditions such as marriage à la façon du pays, a marriage between tradesmen (coureur des bois) and Native women.This tradition was seen as a fundamental social and political institution that helped maintain relations and bond the two cultures. Many of the missionaries were also known to teach the tribes how to use iron tools, build European-style homes, and improve farming techniques; teachings the Wyandot, who maintained a century long friendship with French Canadians, would spread on to other tribes as they relocated to the Maumee Valley.[12] Throughout the 17th and 18th century during the Beaver and French and Indian Wars, the greatest number of and most powerful tribes tended to side with the French, though other tribes such as the Iroquois supported the English for various strategic reasons. For strategic economic and military purposes, the French also had a practice of building forts and trading posts within Native villages, such as that of Fort Miami in Indiana within the Miami village of Kekionga. However, the belief in European cultural and racial superiority was generally widespread among high ranking colonial officials and clergymen in this period.

During American colonial times, many colonialists and particularly the English felt their civilization to be superior: they were Christians, and they believed their notions of private property to be a superior system of land tenure. Colonial and frontier encroachers inflicted a practice of cultural assimilation, meaning that tribes such as the Cherokee were forced to adopt aspects of white civilization. This acculturation was originally proposed by George Washington and was well underway among the Cherokee and the Choctaw by the beginning of the 19th century.[13] Native peoples were encouraged to adopt European customs. First, they were forced to convert to Christianity and abandon traditional religious practices. They were also required to learn to speak and read English, although there was interest in creating a writing and printing system for a few Native languages, especially Cherokee, exemplified by Sequoyah's Cherokee syllabary. The Native Americans also had to adopt settler values, such as monogamous marriage and abandon non-marital sex. Finally, they had to accept the concept of individual ownership of land and other property (including, in some instances, African people as slaves). Many Cherokee people adopted all, or some, of these practices, including Cherokee chief John Ross, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot, as represented by the newspaper he edited, The Cherokee Phoenix.[14]

The perceived failure of the policy[edit]

Despite the adoption of white cultural values by many natives and tribes, the United States government began a systematic effort to remove Native peoples from the Southeast.[15] The Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, Seminole, and original Cherokee nations[b] had been established as autonomous nations in the southeastern United States.

Andrew Jackson sought to renew a policy of political and military action for the removal of Natives from these lands and worked toward enacting a law for "Indian removal".[16][17][14][18][19] In his 1829 State of the Union address, Jackson called for Indian removal.[20]

The Indian Removal Act was put in place to annex Native land and then transfer that ownership to Southern states, especially Georgia. The Act was passed in 1830, although dialogue had been ongoing since 1802 between Georgia and the federal government concerning the possibility of such an act. Ethan Davis states that "the federal government had promised Georgia that it would extinguish Indian title within the state's borders by purchase 'as soon as the such purchase could be made upon reasonable terms'".[21] As time passed, Southern states began to speed up the expulsions by claiming that the deal between Georgia and the federal government was invalid and that Southern states could pass laws extinguishing Indian title themselves. In response, the federal government passed the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1830, in which President Jackson agreed to divide the United States territory west of the Mississippi River into districts for tribes to replace the land from which they were removed.

In the 1823 case of Johnson v. McIntosh, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision stating that Indians could occupy and control lands within the United States but could not hold title to those lands.[22] Jackson viewed the union as a federation of highly esteemed states, as was common before the American Civil War. He opposed Washington's policy of establishing treaties with Indian tribes as if they were sovereign 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 were 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 Native self-rule in federal territories, which required resettlement on Federal lands west of the Mississippi River.[23][24][non-primary source needed]

Support and opposition[edit]

Congressional debates concerning the Indian Removal Act, April 1830

The Removal Act was strongly supported in the South, especially in Georgia, which was the largest state in 1802 and was involved in a jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokee. President Jackson hoped that removal would resolve the Georgia crisis.[25] Besides the Five Civilized Tribes, additional people affected included the Wyandot, the Kickapoo, the Potowatomi, the Shawnee, and the Lenape.[26]

The Indian Removal Act was controversial. Many Americans during this time favored its passage, but there was also significant opposition. Many Christian missionaries protested against it, most notably missionary organizer Jeremiah Evarts. In Congress, New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen, Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, and Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett spoke out against the legislation. The Removal Act passed only after a bitter debate in Congress.[27][28] Clay extensively campaigned against it on the National Republican Party ticket in the 1832 United States presidential election.[28]

Jackson viewed the demise of Native nations as inevitable, pointing to the steady expansion of European-based lifestyles and the decimation of Native nations in the U.S.'s northeast region. He called his Northern critics hypocrites, given the North's history regarding Natives nations within their claimed territory. Jackson stated that "progress requires moving forward."[29]

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 never has 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... In the monuments and fortresses of an unknown people, spread over the extensive regions of the West, we behold the memorials of a once powerful race, which was exterminated or has disappeared to make room for the existing savage tribes… 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?[30][31][32]

According to historian H. W. Brands, Jackson sincerely believed that his population transfer was a "wise and humane policy" that would save the Native Americans from "utter annihilation". Jackson portrayed the removal as a paternalistic act of mercy.[33]

According to Robert M. Keeton, proponents of the bill used biblical narratives to justify the forced resettlement of Native Americans.[34]


On April 24, 1830, the Senate passed the Indian Removal Act by a vote of 28 to 19.[35] On May 26, 1830, the House of Representatives passed the Act by a vote of 101 to 97.[36] On May 28, 1830, the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson.


The Removal Act paved the way for the forced expulsion of tens of thousands of American Indians from their land into the West in an event widely known as the "Trail of Tears," a forced resettlement of the Indian population.[37][38][39] This forced resettlement has been characterized as a genocide.[40] The first removal treaty signed 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 was signed in 1835 and resulted in the removal of the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears.

The Seminoles and other tribes did not leave peacefully, as they resisted the removal along with fugitive slaves. The Second Seminole War lasted from 1835 to 1842 and resulted in the government allowing them to remain in south Florida swampland. Only a small number remained, and around 3,000 were removed in the war.[41]

Historical legacy[edit]

In the 21st century, scholars have cited the act and subsequent removals as an early example of state sanctioned ethnic cleansing or genocide or settler colonialism or as all three Forms of these.[42][43][44] Historian Richard White wrote that because of "claimed parallels between ethnic cleansing and Indian removal, any examination of Indian removal will inevitably involve discussions of ethnic cleansing."[45] Other scholarship has focused on the historical comparisons between the United States concept of manifest destiny and Nazi Germany's concept of Lebensraum and how American removal policy served as a model for racial policy during Generalplan Ost.[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The U.S. Senate passed the bill on April 24, 1830 (28–19), and the U.S. House passed it on May 26, 1830 (102–97).[1]
  2. ^ These distinct ethnic and political groups were referred to in the United States as the "Five Civilized Tribes".



  1. ^ Prucha, Francis Paul, The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians, Volume I, Lincoln: the University of Nebraska Press, 1984, p. 206.
  2. ^ The Congressional Record; May 26, 1830; House vote No. 149; Government Tracker online; retrieved October 2015
  3. ^ "Indian Removal Act: Primary Documents of Americas History". Library of Congress. Retrieved March 3, 2024.
  4. ^ "Andrew Jackson was called 'Indian Killer'". Washington Post, November 23, 2017. Retrieved 10 November 2022.
  5. ^ Native American Removal. The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Social History. 2012. ISBN 978-0-19-974336-0. Retrieved 10 November 2022. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  6. ^ Lewey, Guenter (September 1, 2004). "Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide?". Commentary. Archived from the original on August 15, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2017. Also available in reprint from the History News Network.
  7. ^ https://economics.emory.edu/documents/carlson-len-indian-lands-squatterism-and-slavery.pdf
  8. ^ Hixson, Walter L. (2016). "Policing the Past: Indian Removal and Genocide Studies". Western Historical Quarterly. 47 (4): 439–443. doi:10.1093/whq/whw092. ISSN 0043-3810. JSTOR 26782722.
  9. ^ Anderson, Gary Clayton (2016). "The Native Peoples of the American West: Genocide or Ethnic Cleansing?". Western Historical Quarterly. 47 (4): 407–433. doi:10.1093/whq/whw126. ISSN 0043-3810. JSTOR 26782720.
  10. ^ Perdue, Theda (2012). "The Legacy of Indian Removal". The Journal of Southern History. 78 (1): 3–36. ISSN 0022-4642. JSTOR 23247455.
  11. ^ Esarey, Logan. The Indiana Home. p. 8.
  12. ^ Esarey, Logan. The Indiana Home. p. 6.
  13. ^ Thor, The Mighty (2003). "Chapter 2 "Both White and Red"". Mixed Blood Indians: Racial Construction in the Early South. The University of Georgia Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-8203-2731-0.
  14. ^ a b Perdue, Theda (2007). The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears. Michael D. Green. New York. ISBN 978-0-670-03150-4. OCLC 74987776.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  15. ^ "Indian Removal". PBS Africans in America: Judgment Day. WGBH Educational Foundation. 1999.
  16. ^ Jefferson, Thomas (1803). "President Thomas Jefferson to William Henry Harrison, Governor of Indiana Territory". Retrieved 2012-07-14.
  17. ^ Jackson, Andrew. "President Andrew Jackson's Case for the Removal Act". Mount Holyoke College. Archived from the original on June 1, 2013. Retrieved May 28, 2013.
  18. ^ Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne (2014). An indigenous peoples' history of the United States. Boston. ISBN 978-0-8070-0040-3. OCLC 868199534.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  19. ^ Gilio-Whitaker, Dina (2019). As long as grass grows : the indigenous fight for environmental justice, from colonization to Standing Rock. Boston, Massachusetts. ISBN 978-0-8070-7378-0. OCLC 1044542033.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  20. ^ "Andrew Jackson calls for Indian removal – North Carolina Digital History". www.learnnc.org. Archived from the original on 2015-04-12. Retrieved 2015-04-07.
  21. ^ Davis, Ethan. "An Administrative Trail of Tears: Indian Removal". The American Journal of Legal History. 50 (1): 50–55.
  22. ^ "Indial Removal 1814–1858". Public Broadcasting System. Retrieved 2009-08-11.
  23. ^ Brands 2006, p. 488.
  24. ^ Wilson, Woodrow (1898). Division and Reunion 1829–1889. Longmans, Green and Co. pp. 35–38. Indian question.
  25. ^ "Indian Removal Act". A&E Television Networks. 2011. Archived from the original on March 8, 2010. Retrieved February 20, 2012.
  26. ^ "Timeline of Removal". Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  27. ^ Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848. (2007) ISBN 978-0-19-507894-7 p. 348–52.
  28. ^ a b Farris, Scott (2012). Almost president: the men who lost the race but changed the nation. Internet Archive. Guilford, CN: Lyons Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-7627-6378-8.
  29. ^ Brands 2006, p. 489-498.
  30. ^ Brands 2006, p. 490.
  31. ^ "Statements from the Debate on Indian Removal". Columbia University. Retrieved March 21, 2014.
  32. ^ Mintz, Steven, ed. (1995). Native American Voices: A History and Anthology. Vol. 2. Brandywine Press. pp. 115–16.
  33. ^ Brands 2006, p. 489-493.
  34. ^ Keeton, Robert M. (2015-07-10). 5. "The Race of Pale Men Should Increase and Multiply". New York University Press. pp. 125–149. doi:10.18574/nyu/9781479876778.003.0006. ISBN 978-1-4798-9573-1.
  35. ^ "To Order Engrossment and Third Reading of S. 102". GovTrack. 2013-07-07. Retrieved 2013-10-21.
  36. ^ "To Pass S. 102. (P. 729)". GovTrack. 2013-07-07. Retrieved 2013-10-21. The bill passed 101–97, with 11 not voting
  37. ^ Greenwood, Robert E. (2007). Outsourcing Culture: How American Culture has Changed From "We the People" Into a One World Government. Outskirts Press. p. 97.
  38. ^ Molhotra, Rajiv (2009). "American Exceptionalism and the Myth of the American Frontiers". In Rajani Kannepalli Kanth (ed.). The Challenge of Eurocentrism. Palgrave MacMillan. pp. 180, 184, 189, 199. ISBN 9780230612273.
  39. ^ Finkelman, Paul; Kennon, Donald R. (2008). Congress and the Emergence of Sectionalism. Ohio University Press. pp. 15, 141, 254.
  40. ^ BKiernan, Ben (2007). Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur. Yale University Press. pp. 328, 330.
  41. ^ Foner, Eric (2006). Give me liberty. Norton. ISBN 9780393927825.
  42. ^ Hixson, Walter L. (2016). "Policing the Past: Indian Removal and Genocide Studies". Western Historical Quarterly. 47 (4): 439–443. doi:10.1093/whq/whw092. ISSN 0043-3810. JSTOR 26782722.
  43. ^ Anderson, Gary Clayton (2016). "The Native Peoples of the American West: Genocide or Ethnic Cleansing?". Western Historical Quarterly. 47 (4): 407–433. doi:10.1093/whq/whw126. ISSN 0043-3810. JSTOR 26782720.
  44. ^ Perdue, Theda (2012). "The Legacy of Indian Removal". The Journal of Southern History. 78 (1): 3–36. ISSN 0022-4642. JSTOR 23247455.
  45. ^ White, Richard (2002). "How Andrew Jackson Saved the Cherokees" (PDF). Green Bag: 443–444. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  46. ^ Miller, Robert J. (2020). "Nazi Germany's Race Laws, the United States, and American Indians". St. John's Law Review. 94. Retrieved 14 April 2023.

Cited works[edit]

External links[edit]