Indian Removal Act of 1830: Summary, Timeline & Facts
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was expected to remove and relocate Indian nations which existed in the southern United States in order to advance white settlement. Learn about the legislation and the difficult battle that ensued between the United States and Native Americans.
When we examine the major issues that comprised the 19th Century, we find racism and white supremacy at the forefront. Many of you automatically think of slavery, which in most circumstances is very accurate. However, we often forget about other groups that faced oppression during this period; Mexicans, Asians and, maybe most importantly yet most understudied, Native Americans. The focus of this lesson will turn from racism and white supremacy against blacks toward the abhorrent discrimination against Native Americans in the form of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
Manifest Destiny ran rampant throughout the United States during the 1820s. White settlers pushed further south and west, and looked to the federal government to aid their movement. However, a major obstacle stood in the way of expansion: Native American tribes. Groups who resided in the southern United States included the Indian nations of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole and Chicasaw.
Unfortunately for these nations, President Andrew Jackson would not have expansion halted. He therefore successfully issued the Indian Removal Act in 1830. This legislation allowed Jackson to mediate removal treaties with the various groups. If accepted by each respective Indian nation, the treaty allowed for their safe (you will see why this is an ambiguous term) removal across the Mississippi River and onto federally protected lands. If Native Americans chose not to sign the treaties, they were forced to become American citizens within their respective state. The overall goal was to dispose of the remaining Indian nations in the South and make way for expansion.
Two of the aforementioned Indian nations, Choctaw and Chicasaw, peacefully accepted the terms of the Indian Removal Act and relocated immediately. Both groups realized that they did not have the necessary components to combat the United States federal government, nor its powerful military. While most of the tribe relocated, certain Native Americans attempted to stay behind and become American citizens. Unfortunately, white settlers refused to accept their Indian brethren as equal, and pursued tactics to drive them off of the land. The War Department attempted to help, but did not have the power to curb white supremacy.
So much for 'safe' removal, and it only got worse.
'Let him enforce it!' Resistance to Relocation
Two Indian groups accepted relocation, yet the remaining three, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee refused to move without either a physical or legal battle. Those who attempted to engage in a physical confrontation with the United States were quickly suppressed. The Creeks and Seminoles were among those who attempted to fight.
The Creeks were actually given land in Alabama. However, disgruntled white settlers decided to drive the Creeks further west. The Creeks fought valiantly against the forced removal, but, by 1836, the Jackson Administration and the Secretary of War Lewis Cass drove the Creeks across the Mississippi River with military force.
The Seminoles declared the Indian Removal Act illegal and refused to accept the terms. President Jackson quickly pursued federal intervention against the Seminoles which resulted in the fighting of the Second Seminole War between 1835 and 1842. The war resulted in thousands of Indian deaths and millions of dollars wasted. The Seminoles, however, held their ground and remained in the South. It eventually took the Third Seminole War and a hefty bribe to finally relocate the Seminoles to the western United States.
The Cherokee nation engaged in a legal battle against forced relocation. In a federal lawsuit in 1830, the Cherokee tribe was considered to be a nation residing in the state of Georgia, and was therefore dependent of the federal government. When Georgia attempted to remove the Cherokee under the Indian Removal Act, the Indian nation sued the state of Georgia in federal court. The decision in Worcester v. Georgia, 1832, resulted in the United States Supreme Court declaring that Georgia had no legal right to remove what was considered a federally dependent nation. President Jackson, furious with the decision, pursued forced relocation regardless (this is where the phrase, 'let him enforce it' originated; Jackson threatening Chief Justice John Marshall over his pro-Cherokee decision).
The Cherokee attempted to hold their land, but, due to a series of fraudulent treaties (Treaty of New Echota) orchestrated by President Jackson, the United States, under the leadership of President Martin Van Buren, committed military forces to remove the nation. Ultimately, those who didn't perish via military conflict were forcibly displaced. The removal of the Cherokee and their long march toward the West is historically known as the Trail of Tears.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 successfully removed and relocated upward of 40,000 Native Americans to western territories. Many Native Americans had difficulty navigating and establishing the unfamiliar terrain of the west which resulted in thousands of deaths. White settlers received the land they wanted and, once again, racism and white supremacy trumped democracy. The plight of Native Americans is an important part of history in terms of understanding the expansion of the nation and the means involved in doing so.
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