Indian Removal Act: Summary, Facts, Andrew Jackson

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George Washington and the founding fathers thought that Native American Indians could be civilized with the proper education and tools. Secretary of War Knox believed it could be done in less than 50 years. However, in the early 1800's trends of thought started to change. The majority of white Americans began to think that race influenced the ability to be civilized. Many began to think Indians could never be civilized. Georgia's senator after 1812 argued that Indians were not civilized and therefore not entitled to equal rights. It was at this time that Georgians began to move westward because of increase in the white population. They wanted Cherokee land.

Andrew Jackson was commander in chief of the army. He asserted that treaties with Indians should not be negotiated and the land should belong to the US. Congress rejected this proposal. Treaties with the Indians always had clauses to sell land to the US. They also included clauses to help with removal. Jackson won the Presidency in 1828 because he ran on the Indian Removal Act.


Georgia in 1802, ceded land to the US between its western border and the Mississippi River in return the US promised Indian Removal.

Indian tribes were considered independent nations.

By the 1820's, the Creeks had left Georgia. A few hundred Cherokee had already migrated west to Arkansas near the Oklahoma Indian Territory.

In 1827, the Cherokee wrote their own constitution which imitated the US constitution. John Ross was president instead of chief. It was done to prove to the US that the Cherokee were civilized. It asserted their sovereignty and identity. They also created an Alphabet to preserve their language and culture. A newspaper was published soon after. This made Georgia very angry. They argued that the Cherokee had created a state within a state and that this was not possible because state boundaries were sovereign.

After Jackson was elected president, Georgians started taking Cherokee land. President Jackson argued he could not do anything about Georgia's actions. The Cherokee could not be a state within a state. He could not protect the Cherokee unless they moved to Indian territory. See Trail of Tears

Many opposed Indian removal. Davy Crocket was one of those who opposed Indian removal. They argued that Indians had been civilized and should be allowed to remain on their lands.

Missionaries took legal action against Georgia in 1832. The case was known as Worcester Vs. Georgia. They argued that Georgia law was not valid in the Cherokee Nation. The case was won. However, Jackson refused to enforce it and it was impossible to get any militia to enforce it either. At this time, missionaries had to register with Georgia before entering the Cherokee nation.

The Cherokee debated the Indian Removal Act. The debate divided the tribe. John Ross opposed removal. However, John Ridge, thought it might be wise to go west. Take the money offered. He felt it would preserve their culture and people. Moreover, he felt it better protected his own interests.

A few Cherokee, in the early 1800's, were planters, owned slaves and had plantation homes. These Cherokee thought it better to comply with the Indian Removal Act to protect their own interests. Ridge was one of these Cherokee. However, most Cherokee were not large land owners.

John Ross was of mixed blood. He felt it better to preserve their land and culture within the boundaries of their ancestral homeland. Many Cherokee were willing to go to war to preserve their ancestral lands.

Ridge went to Washington DC in 1835 to sign a treaty. Ross led a party to intercede in Washington. The US government decided to go to the Cherokee to avoid trouble. The treaty was signed in New Echota which at that time was the capital of the Cherokee Nations.

Summary of the treaty of New Echota was: The Cherokee were to go west of the Mississippi to Oklahoma Indian territory around Fort Gibson. The fort was to remain in US possession. The Cherokee were guaranteed access to salt. The Cherokee would receive 5 million dollars. They were to leave by 1838. In return, the US would cede 7 million acres of Cherokee land.

Ridge had no right to negotiate the treaty. He was no agent of the nation. Ross protested. Cherokee law stated that those within the tribe who sold land to the US without permission of the council were subject to execution. All members of the treaty party were killed. The members of the treaty party knew they would be killed and said in their speeches at New Echota that they were willing to die to preserve the Cherokee nation by removal.

The five civilized tribes were: Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole and Cherokee.

Andrew Jackson misled the Indians into thinking that the land in Oklahoma were good however it was not.

The Choctaw were the first to sign. The Choctaw were the first to walk the trail of tears. The US promised assistance but it never arrived. They walked westward from Mississippi to Southern Oklahoma. The Choctaw suffered from malnutrition and cholera. A few choose to stay on their ancestral lands. However, settlers forced these Choctaw out by violence and harassment.

The Creeks refused to leave. The treaty was to cede lands in Alabama to the US government. US promised to protect but did not. Some of the leading families stayed. Those who stayed were harassed. The Secretary of war at the time, ordered the removal of all creeks to Central Oklahoma. Many died of exposure, disease and malnutrition.

 The Chickasaw migrated to Indian Territory in the winter of 1837.

The Seminole Indians resisted removal by using guerilla warfare. Many Seminoles moved into the Everglades and carried out the war from there. It was the 2nd Seminole War. It was very costly to the US to try to extract the Seminoles. Their leader was Osceola, who was a strong military leader. He was captured in 1835 and died in a South Carolina prison. US forces continued the warfare and starved many Seminoles into submission. The Seminoles were removed by boat. However, some stayed and hid out in the Everglades.

Native American Indian History