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The Indian Removal Act was signed into law on May 28, 1830, by United States President Andrew Jackson. The law authorized the president to negotiate with southern Native American tribes for their removal to federal territory west of the Mississippi River in exchange for white settlement of their ancestral lands. The act has been referred to as a unitary act of systematic genocide, because it discriminated against an ethnic group in so far as to make certain the death of vast numbers of its population. The Act was signed by Andrew Jackson and it was strongly enforced under his administration and that of Martin Van Buren, which extended until 1841.
The Act was strongly supported by southern and northwestern populations, but was opposed by native tribes and the Whig Party. The Cherokee worked together to stop this relocation, but were unsuccessful; they were eventually forcibly removed by the United States government in a march to the west that later became known as the Trail of Tears.
Sharing European civilization
When Europeans and Native Americans came into contact during colonial times or in the early United States, the Europeans felt their civilization to be superior: they had writing, navigation, and Christianity. The obvious solution, whose validity was not even debated until much later, was to share their civilization with the Native Americans, and for them to adopt European 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. Indians were encouraged to adopt European customs. First, they must convert to Christianity and abandon "pagan" practices. They should also learn to speak and read English, although there was a small-scale interest in creating a writing and printing system for a few Native languages, especially Cherokee. The Native Americans had to adopt monogamous heterosexual 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 slaves). Thomas Jefferson's policy echoed that of Washington's: respect the Indians' rights to their homelands, and allow the Five Civilized Tribes to remain east of the Mississippi provided that they adopted behavior and cultural practices that were compatible with those of the European Americans. Jefferson believed in and promoted a society based on agriculture.
The perceived failure of this policy
The United States government began a systematic effort to remove American Indian tribes from the Southeast. The Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, Seminole, and original Cherokee nations 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 the Indians from these lands and worked toward enacting a law for Indian removal. In his 1829 State of the Union address, Jackson called for Indian removal.
The Indian Removal Act was put in place to give to the Southern states the land that belonged to the Native Americans. 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 such purchase could be made upon reasonable terms'". As time passed, Southern states began to speed up the process 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 national 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 into districts for tribes to replace the land from which they were removed.
In the 1823 case of Johnson v. M'Intosh, 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. 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 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 were subject to the laws of existing states of the Union. Jackson urged Indians to assimilate and obey state laws. Further, he believed that he could only accommodate the desire for Indian self-rule in federal territories, which required resettlement west of the Mississippi River on federal lands.
Support and opposition
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. Besides the Five Civilized Tribes, additional people affected included the Wyandot, the Kickapoo, the Potowatomi, the Shawnee, and the Lenape.
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 and Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett spoke out against the legislation. The Removal Act passed only after a bitter debate in Congress.
Jackson viewed the demise of Indian tribal nations as inevitable, pointing to the advancement of settled life and the demise of tribal nations in the American northeast. He called his Northern critics hypocrites, given the North's history regarding tribes within their territory. Jackson stated that "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... 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?
According to historian H. W. Brands, Jackson sincerely believed that his population transfer was a "wise and humane policy" that would save the Indians from "utter annihilation". Jackson portrayed the removal 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 Act by a vote of 101 to 97. 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. 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 the south Florida swamplands. Only a small number remained, and around 3,000 were removed in the war.
- 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; May 26, 1830; House vote No. 149; Government Tracker online; retrieved October 2015
- "Indian Removal Act: Primary Documents of Americas History". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
- The "Indian Problem". 10:51–11:17: National Museum of the American Indian. March 3, 2015. Event occurs at 12:21. Retrieved April 16, 2018.
When you move a people from one place to another, when you displace people, when you wrench people from their homelands ... wasn't that genocide? We don't make the case that there was genocide. We know there was. Yet here we are.CS1 maint: location (link)
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- These tribes were referred to as the "Five Civilized Tribes" by Colonial settlers.
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- Jackson, Andrew. "President Andrew Jackson's Case for the Removal Act". Mount Holyoke College. Retrieved May 28, 2013.
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- Howe pp. 348–52.
- Brands; (2006); pp. 489–93
- Brands; (2006); p. 490
- "Statements from the Debate on Indian Removal". Columbia University. Retrieved March 21, 2014.
- Steven Mintz, ed. (1995). Native American Voices: A History and Anthology. 2. Brandywine Press. pp. 115–16.
- "To Order Engrossment and Third Reading of S. 102". GovTrack. 2013-07-07. Retrieved 2013-10-21.
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The bill passed 101–97, with 11 not voting
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