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Indian Removal Act

Guide to the Indian Removal Act of 1830

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was an act passed on May 26, 1830 by the 21st Congress of the United States. The 1830 Indian Removal Act was the signed in law on May 28, 1830 by President Andrew Jackson after four months of tedious debate.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was very strongly supported in the South, where the relevant states were more than eager to gain power to the lands that were inhabited at the time by the Five Civilized Tribes (the Choctaw, Seminole, Creek, Cherokee, and Chickasaw). More specifically, Georgia, who was the largest state during that time, was extremely involved in a combative jurisdictional dispute against the Cherokee nation. Former President Jackson had hoped that the Indian Removal would help resolve the crisis in Georgia. The 1830 Indian Removal Act was also very controversial. While in theory the Native American removal was supposed to be completely voluntary, in practice there was great pressure placed on the leaders of the Native American tribes to sign the removal treaties. Many observers quickly realized that the passage of the 1830 Indian Removal Act meant the inescapable removal of the majority of Indians from the states. Some of the leaders of the Native American tribes who had previously fought against the removal now started to reexamine their positions, particularly after President Jackson's 1832 landslide re-election.

Many European Americans preferred the passage of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, although there was significant opposition to the act as well. Many Christian missionaries, including the noted missionary organizer Jeremiah Evarts, objected to passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Future United States President Abraham Lincoln also strongly opposed the 1830 Indian Removal Act. In the United States Congress, Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee vocally spoke out against the Act. The 1830 Indian Removal Act was ultimately passed after strong and bitter debate in Congress.

The1830 Indian Removal Act cleared the way for the hesitant—and often forceful—emigration of tens of thousands of Indians from their homes to the West. The very first removal treaty signed after the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek which was signed on September 27, 1830. Here the Choctaws located in Mississippi ceded their land east of the river there in exchange for land in the West and payment. Thomas Harkins or Nitikechi, a Choctaw chief was quoted in the newspaper as saying this removal Choctaw removal from their homes was a "trail of tears and death". Another treaty was the Treaty of New Echota, which was signed in 1835, which called for the removal of the Cherokee tribe on the Trail of Tears. Unlike these two tribes, the Seminoles did not leave their land as peacefully as the others. They resisted the removal and resulted in the Second Seminole War which was from 1835 to 1842. It ultimately resulted in the removal of a small number of remaining Seminoles.

Background of the Indian Removal Act of 1830

Early in the 1800’s before the Indian Removal Act of 1830, when the quickly-growing United States moved down into the lower South, white settlers quickly faced what they considered an inconvenient obstacle. This land was home to the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chicasaw, Seminole, and Creek nations. These five nations, according to the settles and other white Americans, were blocking the way of progress in the United States. Settlers strongly pressured the federal government to somehow acquire the Indian territory in order for the land to be used for cotton growth.

Andrew Jackson, who was from the South, was a very forceful proponent of the removal of the Indian Nations and the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In 1814, Jackson commanded the United States military forces that resulted in defeating a faction of the Creek Indian nation. As a result of this defeat, the Creek Indians lost approximately 22 million acres of land in what is now central Alabama and southern Georgia. The United States acquired even more land in 1818 after Jackson’s troops attacked Spanish Florida as a way to punish the Seminoles Indians for their habit of harboring fugitive slaves.

Between 1814 and 1824, Jackson was key in negotiating 9 out of 11 treaties which took Eastern lands from the southern tribes of in exchange for western lands. These tribes agreed to accept the treaties mostly for strategic reasons. The tribes hoped to appease the United States government and hoped to retain some of their land while protecting themselves from white American harassment. As a result, the United States easily gained control over nearly three-quarters of Alabama and Florida, along with areas of Mississippi, Kentucky Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. This time period was one of voluntary Indian migration, but only a small amount of Choctaws, Creeks, and Cherokee actually migrated to the new lands.

In 1823, the Supreme Court of the United States gave a decision which read that American Indians could occupy the lands within the country, but they did not have the right to hold the title to those lands. The reasoning behind this judgment was because the Indian’s right of occupancy was secondary to the right of discovery by the United States. In response to the threat of this judgment, the Chicasaw, Creeks, and Cherokee introduced policies of limiting land sales to the United States government. These tribes wanted to strongly protect what left of their land before they lost all of it.

Although the five Indian nations of the area had made previous attempts at resistance against the government, many of the strategies they used were non-violent ones. An example of a non-violent method was to take up white American customs like Western education, slave-holding, and large-scale farming. Doing this earned these Indian nations the title of the "Five Civilized Tribes." These nations adopted the policy of assimilating in an effort to coexist with the white settlers while warding off hostility from them. However, doing this only made whites more resentful and jealous.

Other attempts of non-violence included giving portions of their land to the United States government with the intention of keeping control over some parts of their territory, or control of the new areas they were given in exchange. Some of the nations also refused to leave their territories, particularly the Seminoles and the Creeks. They both waged war in order to protect their land. The First Seminole War resulted from this and was from 1817 to 1818. The Seminoles were helped by fugitive slaves who they had taken in and provided protection for years. Seeing the fugitives supporting the Seminole upset the white planters and powered the white planters’ desire to win against the Seminoles.

The Cherokee nation used legal means in their efforts to safeguard their rights and lands. The tribe looked for protection from white settlers, who often harassed the tribes by stealing livestock, burning towns, and squatting on their land as an attempt to drive the tribes off. In 1827 the Cherokee nation adopted a written constitution which declaring themselves as a sovereign nation. The tribe based this on the policy in the United States. Former treaties showed Indian Nations being declared as a sovereign in order allow the tribe to properly cede their lands. The Cherokee tried to use this new status, the Georgia did not recognize this status, and instead saw the Indians as tenants who lived on state land. The Cherokee nation took their legal case to the Supreme Court, where they lost the case.

The Cherokee nation went to the Supreme Court for a second time in 1831. This time, the Cherokee based this legal appeal on the Georgia law of 1830 which banned whites from living on Indian Territory at any time after March 31, 1831, without having an issued license from the state of Georgia. The state legislature had created this law to specifically justify displacing white missionaries who were trying to help the Indians resist removal from their lands. The Supreme Court were in favor of the Cherokee the second time. The court felt that the Cherokee nation had a right to self-government, and thus acknowledged that Georgia's extension of state law over the Cherokee nation to be unconstitutional. However, the state of Georgia did not abide by this decision and President Jackson also refused to enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling.

President Jackson's attitude toward the Native American tribes was patronizing and paternalistic. He often described the tribes as young children who needed guidance. He felt that Indian removal policy was beneficial not only to the white settlers, but also to the Indians. Many white Americans felt that the United States would never go beyond the Mississippi. Removing the Indian tribes from the lands and relocating them would save them from the destruction of whites, and new areas would allow the tribes to govern themselves easily and with peace. However, many white Americans saw this move as a reason for an inhumane and brutal course of action, which resulted in strong protest against the removal.

Introduction to the Indian Removal Act of 1830:

On May 26, 1830 the Twenty-First Congress of the United States passed the Indian Removal Act. After months of fervent debate, President Andrew Jackson signed the bill into law. The Indian removal Act of 1830 was prompted by the concept of “land greed”—the American South abetted the removal of Tribal lands to promote the idea of “Americanization.”

During the early part of the 19th century, America was rapidly growing. New settlements were sprouting in the lower South as the Nation was developing its own culture. During this time of expansion, many white settlers faced what they believed was a considerable obstacle. Southern lands were home to five Indian tribes: The Cherokee, Creek, Chicasaw, Choctaw and Seminole nations. These Indian tribes, in the view of white settlers, were impeding the way of progress. Eager to raise cotton and cultivate the land, the settlers pressured the American government to usurp Native lands.

Newly-elected President, Andrew Jackson, was a proponent for Indian Removal. In 1814, Jackson commanded the U.S. Military that decimated a large portion of the Creek tribe. During this battle, the Creek nation lost over 20 million acres of land throughout Alabama and southern Georgia. The United States, through forceful military actions, continued to acquire more land throughout the decade when Jackson’s military unit invaded Spanish Florida and destroyed divisions of the Seminole nation.

Over the subsequent decade, Jackson was instrumental in drafting nine of the eleven treaties which deprived southern tribes of their lands in exchange for inferior western lots. The tribes agreed to these treaties because they wanted to appease the federal government—they believed, for their cooperation, they would retain some of their land. As a result of the treaties, the United States usurped three-quarters of Florida and Alabama from native control, as well as large portions of Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. This period; however, was referred to as voluntary Indian migration—only small portions of the Cherokee, Creeks and Choctaws actually moved west.

The Supreme Court’s Influence on the Indian Removal Act of 1830:

In 1823, the United States Supreme Court passed a decision which stated that Natives could occupy lands, but could not hold a title to these allotments. The Supreme Court disallowed the obtainment of titles, because the government’s “right of occupancy” was subordinate to the country’s “right of discovery.” In response to this ruling, the Cherokee, Chicasaw and Creeks restricted all land sales to the United States government—they instituted this policy to protect their remaining lands from being taken.

The five tribes were using different means to protect their lands. Some tribes often ceded portions of their land to the government in hopes of retaining a portion of their old territory in exchange. Other nations, like the Creeks and Seminoles; however, flat-out refused and waged wars to protect their territory. The Cherokee decided to seek protection by drafting their own constitution, which declared the tribe a sovereign nation. The Cherokee based their constitution on American policy, where in former treaties, native tribes were declared sovereign enabling them to legally capable of ceding their lands. The state of Georgia; however, did not observe the Cherokee’s constitution and simply viewed the natives as tenants living on government land. The Cherokee took their case to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled against them.

The Passing of the Indian Removal Act:

In 1830, after a year of being elected, Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act through both houses of Congress. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 awarded the President power to negotiate a series of removal treaties with Indian tribes who maintained lands east of the Mississippi. Because of these treaties, the Natives were forced to give their lands east of the Mississippi in exchange for new lots in Oklahoma and other areas west of the Mississippi.

Those who opted to remain east would be forced to become citizens of their home state. The Indian Removal Act thus affected not only southern nations, but northern lands as well. The Indian Removal Act was supposed to be abided to; the removal was supposed to be voluntary and peaceful. But the southern nations resisted and Andrew Jackson forced them out.

Andrew Jackson’s attitude towards America natives was denigrating and paternalistic. The president described Natives as children in need of guidance and believed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was beneficial to the tribes. The majority of white settlers believed the United States would never extend west of the Mississippi, therefore allowing Indians to be free from white influence.

The Choctaw tribe was the first to sign the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Some natives chose to stay east, but hostility on the part of white settlers ultimately forced them out. Weary of mistreatment, the remaining Choctaws sold their land and moved west.

Provisions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830:

The stated goal of the Indian Removal Act was to provide for an exchange of lands with the natives residing in eastern territories for their removal west of the Mississippi. The House of Representatives and the United States assembled and made it lawful for the President to move Natives west for all lands to which the Indian title was extinguished. This provision gave the power to the President to divide lands into districts as he judged necessary.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 also made it lawful for the President to exchange any or all said districts, with which the government had existing treaties. When displacing the natives, the government would secure and guarantee the distribution of land out west and protection while migrating.

Effects of the Indian Removal Act of 1830:

Over the next 30 years, the government struggled to enforce relocation of the southern tribes. The Seminole tribe declared the Indian Removal Act of 1830 illegitimate and refused to move west. This stronghold led to the Second Seminole war, which lasted for 7 years (1835-1842). Thousands of lives were lost and the Jackson administration spent nearly 60 million dollars fighting off the Seminoles. After the conflict, the majority of Seminoles moved west, but the few who stayed engaged in the Third Seminole War. Finally, the government paid the Seminoles to leave the area.

The Creeks also refused to migrate west. The tribe singed a treaty in 1832, which gave a large portion of their Alabama land to white settlers, but protected ownership of the remaining lots. The government reneged on this protection and quickly usurped the lands. By 1836 the Creeks toiled in poverty and resorted to small crimes to survive. In 1836, the government ordered the removal of Creeks by military necessity.

The Cherokee nation, were tricked into signing an illegitimate treaty. In 1833, a portion of the tribe agreed to sign the Treaty of New Echota (a removal treaty); however, those who signed were given no authoritative power in the tribe. As a result, Chief John Ross signed a petition to protest, to which the Supreme Court ignored. By 1838, only a fraction of the tribe had migrated west. The United States government, in response, deployed thousands of troops to force the tribe westward. The Cherokees were not allowed time to gather belongings or necessities and as they headed west, the army and white settlers looted their villages. This migration is known as the Trail of Tears—over 4,000 Cherokees died of disease, cold and hunger on their way west.

The Chickasaw tribe, who saw removal as inevitable, did not resist the provisions of the Indian Removal Act. They signed a treaty in 1832 which stated their cooperation to move west if the government protected them during the migration. However, the onslaught of unruly white settlers proved too much for the War Department (agency responsible for protecting the tribes) and the government again backed down on its promise. The migration was completed in the winter of 1838.

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