Essay 2 – A Scar on the Face of America: Indian Removal Act of 1830

Renee Roberts

Professor Stacy Taylor

ENG 1402 55Z1 – Essay 2

19 March 2012

A Scar on the Face of America: The Indian Removal Act of 1830

The day that the first colonist set foot on this land, the Native Americans fate was sealed (Meyers 61).  What happened to the Native Americans was less than respectable on our part.  They were stripped of all dignity, one layer at a time.  The United States was irresponsible in carrying out the Indian Removal Act of 1830 by encouraging coercion and deceit, outright breaking of existing treaties and making empty promises they never intended to keep. 

            The slow disappearance of the Indians, specifically the five “civilized” tribes east of the Mississippi River: Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminoles began well before the actual ratification of the Indian Removal Act. Before this Act was actually realized, the process of removing the Native Americans had already begun as European Americans advanced to the west.  Native Americans were once a peaceful people for the most part, now forced to fight a losing battle.  President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law in May of 1830. The Act authorized the President to negotiate with the southern Native Americans for their land and improvements on that land (Cave 1333). There was also a provision that authorized him to provide funds for transportation of the Native Americans to the west (Cave 1333). However, the Indian Removal Act failed to give actual legal authority to seize the land of Native Americans who did not wish to relinquish their land (Cave 1333). 

Many saw the Native Americans as uncivilized nations that were unable to adjust into our culture.  Attempts were made, but any progress was intentionally ignored giving way to paternalism and the assumption that they would be better off isolated away from the white man where they could live and hunt as they pleased.  Thomas Jefferson noted that Native Americans were an intelligent people and if given enough time would gain civilized structure even though they were not as advanced as European Americans (Keller 44).  Even though President Jefferson provided education and assistance to the Native Americans in hopes of civilizing them, he knew that the land, which they possessed, was in increasing need for the expansion of the growing white populous of the Eastern Coast.  

The Native Americans were victims of deceit even at the hands of President Thomas Jefferson.  He sent missionaries to live among the many tribes providing education and influence in an attempt to civilize them (Keller 44).  President Jefferson’s theory was if they could become farmers and raise livestock, they would not need the vast lands on which they hunted and would willingly give up the lands in their possession.  The U.S. Government offered tools and supplies to the Native Americans in an effort to assist them in learning husbandry and farming.  The women were taught how to weave material for clothing and the men given the utensils needed to farm the land.  The U.S. Government offered these goods at a reduced price; President Jefferson, knowing that the Indians would not be able to repay for the tools and goods noted they would have to make good on their debt by land cessation (Keller 47). 

General Andrew Jackson began to rid the Native American populous of their lands in the east.  General Jackson viewed the Native Americans as a threat to national security.  This belief only strengthened by the invasion of the British in the War of 1812 (Remini 47).  With the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent, General Jackson was ordered by the administration in Washington to execute Article IX of the treaty, which would require reinstatement of all land taken from the Indians before 1811 (Remini 47).  However, General Jackson refused to return the 23 million acres taken from the Creek Nation, viewing this land as necessary to national security (Remini 47).  Nobody stopped him.  General Jackson would often use bribery to entice tribal chiefs into signing treaties resulting in the cessation of their lands.  General Jackson interpreted the laws to benefit his own cause in an effort to drive the Native Americans from the land.  General Jackson thought that all treaties regarding the Indians were worthless and invalid if it did not benefit the United States’ needs (Cave 1333).  General Jackson quoted, “Put a fire under them, when it gets hot enough, they will move” (Cave 1339).

As President, many legislators thought that Jackson could not be trusted because of his history with the Native Americans in the War of 1812.  President Jackson was suspected of bribery and intimidation in acquiring treaties and his use of the War Department to muscle the Native Americans from their land.  After his election, President Jackson searched for a Secretary of War that would align with his beliefs and placed John H. Eaton as the War Department head (Remini 58). Secretary Eaton was President Jackson’s trusted confidante and friend from Tennessee; he was loyal to President Jackson and agreed with his stance on the removal of the Native Americans.

In introducing the Indian Removal Act, President Jackson was met with resistance because of the history he had with the Native Americans.  The Removal Act was lacking direction regarding how the Act was to be carried out and by whom.  An amendment introduced by Pennsylvania Congressman Joseph Hemphill would have required the delay of the Act for one year while three unbiased commissioners met with the various tribes, document the wishes of the tribes, and survey the land for their occupancy (Cave 1335). The amendment was defeated by a vote of eighty to eighty-one in the House of Representatives.  The Removal Act easily passed in the Senate.  President Jackson, it was said pressured and bullied the members of the Senate to get the Bill passed (Remini 66).

Land cessation continued with treaties made with the various Native American tribes. The Removal Act included a provision stating the existing treaties would remain intact (Cave 1335). President Jackson and his supporters continually assured those against the Indian Removal Act that Native Americans would not be forced to move against their will and that land cessation would be free and voluntary (Cave 1334).  Those wanting to stay would be treated as a citizen of that State. Those that chose to leave would receive a plot of land in the territory west of the Mississippi River, transportation assistance and provisions for one year after the tribal lands release.  These awarded lands would forever remain the possession of the tribe (Cave 1334).  Interestingly, President Jackson discovered that the Federal Government did not have the right to aid in their forcible removal. However, each individual State could do so, and he warned the tribes of this fact. President Jackson publicly supported the Native American and their protection, and then blatantly ignored them. 

President Jackson’s momentum was also powered by support from various State Governments.  The State of Georgia was persistent in its support of the Bill.  In 1802, Georgia sold its western tract of land for $1.25 Million with the understanding that the U.S. Government would remove the Native Americans from their land in a timely manner (Morris 409). The Cherokee who occupied the land did not agree to such a promise.  To make matters worse, the discovery of gold in 1828 at Auraria, Georgia, which added more urgency in stripping the Indians of their land (Morris 410). Native American rights and sovereignty was not acceptable.  Georgia continued to pressure tribal leaders to sell their land with no gain.  State politicians passed legislation in December 1828 to extend state law over the Cherokees (Morris 411).

            The Indian Removal Act was far from voluntary for the remaining Native Americans.  President Jackson solicited underhandedly, for his supporters to use any means possible by way of fraud, corruption and coercion in forcing Native Americans to leave their land.  If any government agent or official showed opposition toward the Removal Act, they were removed from their positions (Cave 1337).  This is more proof that Jackson wanted nothing more than to rid Native Americans from east of the Mississippi River.  President Jackson went as far as fashioning his stance in the lesser of two evils stating “toward the aborigines of the country no one can indulge more friendly feelings than myself…” (Davis 58) Then adding, “Pass the Bill on your table, and you save [the Indians]. Reject it, and you leave them to perish” (Davis 58) It was all too clear that President Jackson was referring to the States in which the various tribes resided would take matters in their own hands and forcibly remove the Native Americans if it must.

The remaining Native Americans were informed that they must give up their land or farm it like their white counterparts.  If they relinquished the land of their people and became citizens of the state, they were promised the same rights and protection of all other citizens would apply to them. Unfortunately, this was an empty promise.  President Jackson’s promises of acceptance into the state where overseen by land greedy state and federal officials, who were fraudulent in their means to gain the small parcels of land for their own (Cave 1338). When complaints reached the ears of the President of the mistreatment of the remaining Native Americans, he would only respond to the more prevalent of cases and ignored the smaller harassments in attempts to keep his honorable standing where the Native Americans were concerned.  The Cherokee and Creek tribes continued to refuse relinquishment of their lands stating that they were a sovereign nation.  In an effort to remain on the land of their Fathers, they tried to sue Georgia (Remini 68).  Jackson would continue to warn the tribes that if they stayed they would give up their rights of self-government and would be subject to the laws of the state.  Therefore, the existing treaties would be nullified.   He would not stand in the way of the States to impose whatever means necessary to remove the Native Americans from the territory (Remini 68).

The Native Americans attempts to keep their land were futile.  Eventually, treaties were signed and the removal process began.  President Jackson was ever anxious to see the task carried out. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek signed on September 15, 1830 (Remini 67).  The Choctaw tribe was to emigrate west of the Arkansas Territory beginning in the fall of 1831.  The emigration was a travesty.  The entire operation was ill-planned leading to horrific conditions ending in many Native American deaths. President Jackson’s determination to carry out his removal plan at all costs was his only focus.  He no longer was concerned with the welfare of the tribes, only the disappearance of the Native Americans east of the Mississippi (Remini 67).

President Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson’s successor, continued to carry out the Indian Removal Act. President Van Buren had similar feelings about the Removal Act and those who did not agree were removed from office.  The denial of the Native Americans’ right to vote and the removal of Native American sympathizers were rampant because of bribery and corruption. The State of North Carolina amended its Constitution to restrict Native American’s right to vote.  Previously, all free men including the Native Americans had the right to vote.  In 1835, the wording of the Constitution changed to “white men” thus, removing the political voice for the Native American (Morris 409). 

Many will agree that the nation as a whole would not be what it is today if the events of the past were handled differently.  A building of a nation such as ours was not free of force, loss of life or property.  The Indian Removal Act of 1830 may have started out with good intentions for both the Native Americans and the European Americans but ended as an ugly scar on the face of our nation.  Today, Native Americans still struggle to maintain the small parcels of land remaining in their possession.  America’s greed is still alive and well.  The lack of the Native American culture from the eastern United States is evidence of the greed our ancestors had in obtaining the lands once rich with Native American heritage.  What President Andrew Jackson thought would be a proud legacy, actually highlights his skills of coercion, deceit, loose interpretation (or blatant ignorance) of the laws and treaties he helped to secure, and the empty promises given to the Native Americans.

 Works Cited

Cave, Alfred A. “Abuse of Power: Andrew Jackson and The Indian Removal Act of 1830.” Historian 65.3 (2003): 1330-1353. Print.

Davis, Ethan. “An Adiminstrative Trail of Tears: Indian Removal.” The American Journal of Legal History 50.1 (January 2008-2010): 49-100.

Keller, Christian B. “Philanthropy Betrayed: Thomass Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Origins of the Federal Indian Removal Policy.” Proceedings of the AMerican Philisophical Society 144.1 (2000): 39-66.

Meyers, Jason. “No Idle Past: Uses of History in The 1830 Indian Removal Debates.” Historian 63.1 (2000): 53-65. Print.

Morris, Michael. “Georgia and the Conversation over Indian Removal.” Georgia Historical Quarterly 91.4 (2007): 403-423. Print.

Remini, Robert. The Legacy of Andrew Jackson: Essays on Demoracy, Indian Removal and Slavery. Baton Rouge, LA: louisiana Stare University Press, 1988. Book.

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