by Gerald Boerner
Today we look at one of the dark acts of our country, a country that fought against the British for independence and freedom. This was the Indian Removal Act that forced the more advanced Indian tribes of the Southeastern United States to give up their ancestral homelands and migrate to the western banks of the Mississippi River.
This was nothing short of genocide. It was intended to acquire their lands for the natural resources found on it, including gold. They were not permitted to take much of their possessions and had to settle in inhospitable lands in the middle of winter. This resulted in the death of large numbers of their members.
It was the start of a long campaign that was waged against most of the Indian tribes found in the new, western territories that were added to this nation throughout the 19th century. It was a point of national shame. GLB
“As to the Indians, the guiding principle was, promise them anything just so long as they get out of the way.”
— Stephen Ambrose
“At least the Pilgrim Fathers used to shoot Indians: the Pilgrim Children merely punch time clocks.”
— e.e. cummings
“But we must not try to drive the Indians too fast in effecting these changes.”
— George Crook
“Cheyenne Autumn was received not too successfully. I still think it was a very good movie. It was kinda Ford’s apology for the way he had treated Indians in his past pictures.”
— Richard Widmark
“As to my success here I cannot say much as yet: the Indians seem generally kind, and well-disposed towards me, and are mostly very attentive to my instructions, and seem willing to be taught further.”
— David Brainerd
“A few scattered accounts, collected and combined together, may lead us to two certain conclusions: 1. That all the American Indians are one kind of people; 2. That they are the same as the people in the northeast of Asia.”
— Ezra Stiles
“During our travels, the Indians entertained me well; and their affection for me was so great, that they utterly refused to leave me there with the others, although the Governor offered them one hundred pounds sterling for me, on purpose to give me a parole to go home.”
— Daniel Boone
“Before my grandpa built his own church, we went to the neighboring town, and it was a white community. You know, up north, mostly middle European people and Indians, Chippewa Indians. We were welcome to that church, but once we got in, they didn’t know what to do with us.”
— James Earl Jones
Andrew Jackson: The Indian Removal Act
The Indian Removal Act, part of a United States government policy known as Indian removal, was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 26, 1830.
The Removal Act was strongly supported in the South, where states were eager to gain access to lands inhabited by the "Five Civilized Tribes". In particular, Georgia, the largest state at that time, was involved in a contentious jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokee nation. President Jackson hoped removal would resolve the Georgia crisis. The Indian Removal Act was also very controversial. While Native American removal was, in theory, supposed to be voluntary, in practice great pressure was put on Native American leaders to sign removal treaties. Most observers, whether they were in favor of the Indian removal policy or not, realized that the passage of the act meant the inevitable removal of most Indians from the states. Some Native American leaders who had previously resisted removal now began to reconsider their positions, especially after Jackson’s landslide re-election in 1832.
Most European Americans favored the passage of the Indian Removal Act, though there was significant opposition. Many Christian missionaries, most notably missionary organizer Jeremiah Evarts, protested against passage of the Act. In Congress, New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen and Congressman David Crockett of Tennessee spoke out against the legislation. The Removal Act was passed after bitter debate in Congress.
The Removal Act paved the way for the reluctant—and often forcible—emigration of tens of thousands of American Indians to the West. The first removal treaty signed after the Removal Act 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. Choctaw chief (thought to be Thomas Harkins or Nitikechi) quoted to the Arkansas Gazette that the 1831 Choctaw removal was a "trail of tears and death." The Treaty of New Echota (signed in 1835) resulted in the removal of the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. The Seminoles did not leave peacefully as did other tribes; along with fugitive slaves they resisted the removal. The Second Seminole War lasted from 1835 to 1842 and resulted in the forced removal of Seminoles, only a small number to remain, and around 3,000 were killed amongst American soldiers and Seminoles.
In 1823 the Supreme Court handed down a decision (Johnson v. M’Intosh) which stated that Indians could occupy lands within the United States, but could not hold title to those lands.
Jackson’s Second Annual Message to Congress
"It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation. Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress, and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages."
Jackson’s Indian Removal Policy
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Jackson’s presidency was his policy regarding American Indians, which involved the ethnic cleansing of several Indian tribes. Jackson was a leading advocate of a policy known as Indian removal. Jackson had been negotiating treaties and removal policies with Indian leaders for years before his election as president. Many tribes and portions of tribes had been removed to Arkansas Territory and further west of the Mississippi River without the suffering and tragedies of what later became known as the Trail of Tears. Further, many white Americans advocated total extermination of the "savages," particularly those who had experienced frontier wars. Jackson’s support of removal policies can be best understood by examination of those prior cases he had personally negotiated, rather than those in post-presidential years. Nevertheless, Jackson is often held responsible for all that took place in the 1830s.
In his December 8, 1829, First Annual Message to Congress, Jackson stated:
“This emigration should be voluntary, for it would be as cruel as unjust to compel the aborigines to abandon the graves of their fathers and seek a home in a distant land. But they should be distinctly informed that if they remain within the limits of the States they must be subject to their laws. In return for their obedience as individuals they will without doubt be protected in the enjoyment of those possessions which they have improved by their industry.”
Before his election as president, Jackson had been involved with the issue of Indian removal for over ten years. The removal of the Native Americans to the west of the Mississippi River had been a major part of his political agenda in both the 1824 and 1828 presidential elections. After his election he signed the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830. The Act authorized the President to negotiate treaties to buy tribal lands in the east in exchange for lands further west, outside of existing U.S. state borders.
While frequently frowned upon in the North, and opposed by Jeremiah Evarts and Theodore Frelinghuysen, the Removal Act was popular in the South, where population growth and the discovery of gold on Cherokee land had increased pressure on tribal lands. The state of Georgia became involved in a contentious jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokees, culminating in the 1832 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Worcester v. Georgia), which ruled that Georgia could not impose its laws upon Cherokee tribal lands. Jackson is often quoted (regarding the decision) as having said, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!" Whether he said it is disputed.
In any case, Jackson used the Georgia crisis to pressure Cherokee leaders to sign a removal treaty. A small faction of Cherokees led by John Ridge negotiated the Treaty of New Echota with Jackson’s representatives. Ridge was not a recognized leader of the Cherokee Nation, and this document was rejected by most Cherokees as illegitimate. Over 15,000 Cherokees signed a petition in protest of the proposed removal; the list was ignored by the Supreme Court and the U.S. legislature, in part due to unfortunate and tragic delays and timing. The treaty was enforced by Jackson’s successor, Van Buren, who ordered 7,000 armed troops to remove the Cherokees. Due to the infighting between political factions, many Cherokees thought their appeals were still being considered until troops arrived. This abrupt and forced removal resulted in the deaths of over 4,000 Cherokees on the "Trail of Tears."
By the 1830s, under constant pressure from settlers, each of the five southern tribes had ceded most of its lands, but sizable self-government groups lived in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. All of these (except the Seminoles) had moved far in the coexistence with whites, and they resisted suggestions that they should voluntarily remove themselves. Their nonviolent methods earned them the title the Five Civilized Tribes.
In all, more than 45,000 American Indians were relocated to the West during Jackson’s administration. A few Cherokees escaped forced relocation, or walked back afterwards, escaping to the high Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina and Tennessee border.
During the Jacksonian era, the administration bought about 100 million acres (400,000 km²) of Indian land for about $68 million and 32 million acres (130,000 km²) of western land. Jackson was criticized at the time for his role in these events, and the criticism has grown over the years. Remini characterizes the Indian Removal era as "one of the unhappiest chapters in American history."
Democracy in America
The young French nobleman, Alexis de Tocqueville, toured American and recorded his observations. He described the tragic results of the Indian Removal policy in the following description:
“At the end of the year 1831, while I was on the left bank o the Mississippi at a place named Memphis by the Europeans, there arrived a numerous band of Choctaws… These savages had let their country, and were endeavoring to gain the right bank o the Mississippi, where they hoped to find an asylum which had been promised them by the American government. It was then the middle of winter, and the cold was unusually severe; the snow had frozen hard upon the ground, and the river was drifting huge masses of ice. The Indians had their families with them; and they brought in their train the wounded and sick, with children newly born, and old men upon the verge of death. They possessed neither tents nor wagons, but only their arms and some provisions. I saw them embark to pass the mighty river, and never will that solem spectacle fade from my remembrance. No cry, no sob was heard amongst the assembled crowd; all were silent. Their calamities were of ancient date, and they knew them to be irremediable. The Indians had all stepped into the boat which was to carry them across, but their dogs remained upon the bank. As soon as these animals perceived that their masters were finally leaving the shore, they set up a dismal howl and, plunging all together into the icy waters of the Mississippi, they swam after the boat.”
Other Events on this Day:
In the Pequot War a force of Puritans and Mohegans attack a Pequot village at Mystic, Connecticut, killing some 600 men, women, and children.
The Indian Removal Act is passed by Congress.
General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, becomes the last Southern general to surrender in the Civil War.
or the second time the Senate fails by one vote to convict President Andrew Johnson in his impeachment trial.
The Customer’s Afternoon Letter publishes the Dow Jones Industrial Average for the first time.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Indian Removal Act…
Wikipedia: Andrew Jackson…
Library of Congress: Web Guides: Indian Removal Act…
Brainy Quote: Indians Quotes…