Removal Act of 1830

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REMOVAL ACT OF 1830. On 28 May 1830 the Indian Removal Act became law, passed by Congress after

heated debate and by a close vote. The purpose of this legislation was the removal of those Native Americans still residing east of the Mississippi to new homes west of that river. The measure had been proposed by President Andrew Jackson in his first message to Congress in 1829, but efforts to accomplish this ethnic cleansing go back at least to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. In 1803 Jefferson proposed a constitutional amendment to permit turning the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase into a vast Indian reservation, relocating the white inhabitants to the east and the eastern tribes to the west of the Mississippi. The amendment failed, but Jefferson continued to encourage Indian emigration.

To effect the supposedly voluntary removal called for by the act, the U.S. government held treaty meetings, some grossly fraudulent, with the eastern tribes at which some in attendance were persuaded to agree to exchange their eastern lands for tracts in the Indian Territory in the present states of Oklahoma and Kansas. The actual emigration was to be supervised by federal agents supported by the U.S. Army. But resistance was immediate and intense, particularly among the tens of thousands of members of the Five Civilized Tribes of the Southeast, so-called because of their extensive adoption of white economic and other institutions: the Cherokees in Georgia, the Choctaws and Chickasaws in Mississippi, the Creeks in Alabama, and the Seminoles in Florida. By the end of the decade federal authorities were prepared to use force. When most of the Cherokees refused to leave, thousands were rounded up at gunpoint, imprisoned in stockades, and escorted across the Mississippi in what became known as the Trail of Tears in remembrance of the thousands who died along the way. Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws were tricked and coerced into removal, and numerous parties arrived in Indian Territory in bad weather and with few supplies. The Seminoles fought a war until 1842, when the United States called off its invasion after suffering hundreds of casualties.

In the South after removal a number of remnant tribal groups remained, Cherokees in North Carolina, Choctaws in Mississippi, and Seminoles in Florida. In the North, where far fewer Native Americans still lived in 1830, the pace of removal was slower. Miamis retained a reservation in Ohio until 1846; Ottawas, Potawatomis, and Chippe was remained in northern Michigan and Wisconsin; Menominees clung to Wisconsin; and Iroquois preserved several reservations in New York. The tribes in the Indian Territory gradually recovered under the supervision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which was bent on "civilizing" Indians.

The removal of the 1830s and 1840s was a disaster for Native Americans, but it also left scars on the body politic of the United States. Many religious groups and some politicians vehemently opposed removal, proposing instead to Christianize and "civilize" the Indians in their original homes. Others, like Jefferson and Jackson, saw nothing but doom for Indians who remained in contact with white settlers. Long after the demise of the Indian Territory, federal Indian policy remains a matter of debate.


Foreman, Grant. Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1932.

Wallace, Anthony F. C. The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

Anthony F. C.Wallace

See alsoIndian Policy, U.S. ; Indian Removal ; Indian Treaties ; Trail of Tears .