Indian Removal

Indian Removal

Kasey Kirby, December 2018

The United States government had no room for the Native Americans when they had Manifest Destiny in mind.  The Americans were going to get their land that they felt God had destined for them. This land was however inhabited by Native Americans, thus began Indian removal in the United States.  Indian removal started during colonial times but really ramped up during the 19th century. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced Native American people from their homeland in the south east to new lands in what is now roughly modern day Oklahoma.  This was not a bill that passed easily in the Senate, as there were a large number of people who voted against the Indian Removal Act especially in the northern states. The House of Representatives passed the law 101-97, and the Senate passed the law 28-19.  The bill was then signed into law by president Andrew Jackson. Among those who opposed the legislation were such famous figures as Henry Clay (1777-1852), Davy Crockett (1786-1836), and Daniel Webster (1782-1852). [1]  This shows that the Indian Removal Act was not a bill that was passed as easily as a lot of people may think. The infamous route taken by these Native Americans to their new land became known as The Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 Cherokee Indians.  The route ran from Georgia and Alabama, all the way to Oklahoma. Native American removal was looked at as something that was beneficial to the Native Americans by some United States citizens. The theory was that either they are removed or essentially wiped out by American forces. The Native Americans never got a fair chance to be really accepted in the United States even though they were here first.  It was felt by a lot of key figures including president Andrew Jackson and his supporters that the Native Americans were much inferior to the American citizens. The United States government was too powerful and too ambitious in their goals at that time for the Native Americans to have any chance of keeping their lands that they had long before any Americans.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was a bill that removed five Indian tribes known as the “Five civilized tribes.”  These tribes included the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole.[2] The Indian Removal Act was passed by the Senate by a vote of 28-19 and by the House by a vote of 102-97.[3] Although this was a bill that the president Andrew Jackson was a strong supporter of at the time, it was not by any means a bill that everyone agreed with. At the time of the bill being passed there were amendments to the bill that were proposed but rejected.  Senator Frelinghuysen was one of the strongest supporters of the Indian opposition to removal. Once it was clear the bill was to be passed senator Frelinghuysen proposed that an amendment be made to the bill. The amendment was, “Before any exchange or removal take place, The president of The United States shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent, appoint three suitable persons, and by them cause the country to which it is proposed to remove the Indians to be fully explored, and a report made to the president, and by him to Congress, of the extent of good arable lands that can be obtained, and the proportion of woodland in such country, and of its adaptations to the objects of this bill, and to the wants and habits of the Indian nations.”[4]  Unfortunately there were not enough people interested in helping the Native Americans in any way and simply wanted to remove them from the land, they did not care where they were going. President Andrew Jackson essentially moved the Native Americans to lands he did not need at the time, lands that he described as only being occupied by a “few savage hunters.”[5] Andrew Jackson also felt that the southern states of Mississippi were much better off without the Native Americans, “It will relieve the whole state of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama, of Indian occupancy, and enable those states to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power.”[6] President Andrew Jackson felt that the Native Americans being present in the southern states was holding the southern states back from being able to achieve all they wanted.  The southern states were the states that got this bill to pass. When the Cherokee nation was being told they were getting removed from their land the Cherokee nation sued and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee nation. However Andrew Jackson had other plans and had the Cherokees forcibly removed at gunpoint anyway. Andrew Jackson said about the ruling of Chief Justice Marshall in favor of the Cherokee Nation, “John Marshall has made his decision; let him enforce it now if he can.”[7] Andrew Jackson was the President of the United States and just blatantly disregarded the Supreme Court ruling. The removal of Native Americans would instantly become Andrew Jackson’s most controversial move of his presidency. Native Americans never really had a chance in the United States to keep their land. They were extremely overmatched by the United States in terms of military force and they were never looked at as equal in the eyes of the white men who ran the United States.  If they would not even grant the five tribes they saw as “civilized” their land then there was no hope for any Native Americans to have their land. Before Andrew Jackson was even in office, President Monroe’s thoughts on the Native American removal in the United States perfectly illustrated the feelings toward the Native Americans at the time of the Indian Removal Act, “His goal is ‘to extinguish the Indian title to the lands within [Georgia]’ in a peaceful, reasonable, and generous manner. In his view, the removal would benefit the United States in a number of ways. It would also benefit the Creek (and Cherokee) Nations, preventing their “inevitable” destruction and hastening their transition to ‘civilization.’”[8]  The Native Americans were generally looked at as savages who were going to do what the United States government says or be completely wiped out by the United States. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was one of the most controversial bills in United States history and will forever be remembered for what it did to Native Americans, especially on the Trail of Tears.  

The Trail of Tears was the route taken by the native americans when they were being removed from their land in the southeastern portion of the United States to land west of the Mississippi river.  Their were roughly 125,000 native americans that were removed from their land. The law required the government to negotiate removal treaties fairly, voluntarily and peacefully.  This obviously did not happen as most people were forcibly removed and without any food supplies or help from the government.  One Choctaw described the journey as “a trail of tears and death.” When the Supreme Court ruling came down saying that the Cherokees were a sovereign nation and did not have to move, Andrew Jackson said that if no one intended to enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling then the decision would fall stillborn.  Andrew Jackson then had the Cherokee forced to walk to their new land in modern day Oklahoma. Not all Cherokee wanted to leave however some wanted to stay and fight while others took what the United States government had given them and traveled to their new homes. On this journey about 4,000 Cherokee died getting to their new land from various things such as disease and starvation.  The Trail of Tears could have been something avoided had Andrew Jackson’s government not grossly gone against the letter of the law and expelled the Native Americans in a way that was humane and legal, even though just expelling these sovereign nations was illegal to begin with. Andrew Jackson and many United States citizens at the time simply did not care about the Native Americans and just wanted to expand their land and wealth.  The Native Americans were promised that their new land would go untouched by the United States. This of course was not true as the United States government made Oklahoma a state in 1907 and their was no more land the five civilized tribes could call their own.

George Washington said to solve the “Indian problem” that the United States should attempt to “civilize” them by integrating them into United States society.  They could do this by having the Native Americans convert to Christianity, speak English and get accustomed to the life of United States citizens. Many Native Americans did this especially the five civilized tribes.  This however was not enough for President Andrew Jackson and the United States government. The United States government really wanted the land that the Native Americans had and he was determined to drive the Native Americans in the southeast United States out of their homelands.  As the United States continued to expand westward there was no more land for the Native Americans to call their own. Any land in the United States was occupied and the Native Americans were not welcome on those lands and would be drove out. Indian removal in the United States is one of the most infamous events to have happen in United States history.  Native Americans were ran out of their territory that they had been in for generations by an ambitious country set on manifest destiny no matter what was in their way.

 

Notes:

[1] “The Native American Experience.” Wertz, Jay Library Home | Ezproxy Login, 1 Jan. 1999,

[2] “Westward Expansion .” Library Home | Ezproxy Login, 1999,

[3] “Indian Removal Act of 1830.” Library Home | Ezproxy Login,

[4] “21st Congress First Session.” A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875, Charles Magnus, 22 Feb. 1830,

[4] “Westward Expansion .” Library Home | Ezproxy Login, 1999,

[5] “Presidents Message.” A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875, Charles Magnus, 6 Dec. 1830

[6] Ibid. 

[7] “Stories.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 24 Feb. 2015, www.nps.gov/trte/learn/historyculture/stories.htm.

[8]  “Westward Expansion .” Library Home | Ezproxy Login, 1999,

Further Reading:

The Cherokee Removal A Brief History With Documents By Theda Purdue and Michael D Green

Garrison, Tim Allen. “Cherokee Removal.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2004,

Worcester State University Fall 2020