Indian Removal Act of 1830

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Indian Removal Act of 1830

Legislation passed by the United States Congress in 1830

The War of 1812 marked the end of organized Indian resistance to white settlement of the area known as the Old Northwest (the area of land surrounding the Great Lakes and between the Ohio River and the Mississippi River; it included the present-day states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota). White pioneers poured into the trans-Appalachian West, settling in the area that now includes the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and other Midwestern states. These settlers discovered, however, that many Indians hoped to remain on the lands that had been occupied by the Indians' ancestors. Though open warfare had ceased, whites and Indians continued to clash over who would occupy the fertile lands that the United States had claimed as the spoils of war. By 1830 many former territories had become states, and these states pushed for the removal of Indians from their land.

Andrew Jackson (1767–1845)—famed for his valor in the Battle of New Orleans in 1814 and renowned as a skilled Indian fighter—became president of the United States in 1829 and supervised a concerted effort to remove Indians from the lands east of the Mississippi River. In his first address to Congress as president, Jackson asked: "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?" Pressured by the governments of frontier states that complained of the difficulties they faced in dealing with conflicts between Indian tribes and white settlers, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The Indian Removal Act called for the removal of all Indians to lands west of the Mississippi and voided all previous treaties regarding Indian land. The actual Indian Territory that was defined by Congress in 1834 was far smaller than the "all lands west of the Mississippi" that whites had once promised. The Indian Territory covered parts of the present-day states of Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Kansas. The Indian Removal Act, reprinted on the following pages in its entirety, describes in cold, impersonal language, the removal of thousands of people from their homes. It also promises a number of things to the Indians.

The Trail of Tears

By the late 1830s the Cherokee in Georgia, an educated and prosperous tribe, had done all they could to stay on their ancestral lands, including taking their case to the Supreme Court. Yet in 1838, Andrew Jackson's successor, Martin Van Buren (1782–1862), ordered U.S. troops and the Georgia state militia to remove the seventeen thousand Cherokee by whatever means necessary. According to Robert Utley and Wilcomb Washburn in Indian Wars, General Winfield Scott ordered that "every possible kindness . . . must be . . . shown by the troops." However, kindness is hardly the word to describe the horrors that were inflicted upon the Cherokee. As Utley and Washburn write: "Yet, on the sunny May morning when the soldiers set about their task, some of them raped, robbed, and murdered the Indians.... The army kept the Cherokees penned up in concentration camps throughout the stifling summer; many died, and many more fell ill. In the fall and early winter contingents started west, some in flatboats, some in wagons, some on foot."

The Cherokee were forced to march some twelve hundred miles. Dozens died every day on the journey, falling prey to disease, starvation, or exposure. Those who survived were robbed by marauding parties of white men along the way, who claimed Cherokee goods in exchange for wrongs done to them by other tribes. In all, four thousand Cherokee died before they reached their destination in March of 1839. The trek is remembered by the Cherokee as the Trail of Tears.

Things to remember while reading the Indian Removal Act of 1830:

  • Seven states—Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri—joined the United States in the years between 1812 and 1830. These states (except for Maine) pushed for the authority to remove Indians from state land.
  • Andrew Jackson had gained a reputation as a fierce Indian fighter for his defeat of the Creek tribe in Georgia during the War of 1812 and for his battles against the powerful Seminole tribe in Florida in 1818 and 1819.
  • Andrew Jackson served as teacher, lawyer, territorial governor, congressman, and war hero before becoming president. However, he was a crude and impulsive man with a hot temper. Thomas Jefferson once said of Jackson, "He is one of the most unfit men I know for such a place [as the White House]."
  • Jackson is widely viewed as the first "people's president," for he welcomed all citizens into the political process and both respected and responded to the desires of the common people.
  • The Indian Removal Act passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 102 to 97.

Indian Removal Act of 1830 May 28, 1830

An Act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That it shall and may be lawful for the President of the United States to cause so much of any territory belonging to the United States, west of the river Mississippi, not included in any state or organized territory, and to which the Indiantitle has been extinguished, as he may judge necessary, to be divided into a suitable number of districts, for the reception of such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remove there; and to cause each of said districts to be so described by natural or artificial marks, as to be easily distinguished from every other.

Title has been extinguished

Title has been extinguished: Legal claim has ended.

And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to exchange any or all of such districts, so to be laid off and described, with any tribe or nation of Indians now residing within the limits of any of the states or territories, and with which the United States have existing treaties, for the whole or any part or portion of the territory claimed and occupied by such tribe or nation, within the bounds of any one or more of the states or territories,where the land claimed and occupied by the Indians, is owned by the United States, or the United States are bound to the state within which it lies to extinguish the Indian claim thereto.

And be it further enacted, That in the making of any such exchange or exchanges, it shall and may be lawful for the President solemnly to assure the tribe or nation with which the exchange is made, that the United States will forever secure and guaranty tothem, and their heirs or successors, the country so exchanged with them; and if they prefer it, that the United States will cause apatent or grant to be made and executed to them for the same: Provided always, That such lands shall revert to the United States, if the Indians become extinct, or abandon the same.

And be it further enacted, That if, upon any of the lands now occupied by the Indians, and to be exchanged for, there should be suchimprovements as add value to the land claimed by any individual or individuals of such tribes or nations, it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such value to beascertained by appraisement or otherwise, and to cause such ascertained value to be paid to the person or persons rightfully claiming such improvements. And upon the payment of such valuation, the improvements so valued and paid for, shall pass to the United States, and possession shall not afterwards be permitted to any of the same tribe.

And be it further enacted, That upon the making of any such exchange as is contemplated by this act, it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such aid and assistance to be furnished to the emigrants as may be necessary and proper to enable them to remove to, and settle in, the country for which they may have exchanged; and also, to give them such aid and assistance as may be necessary for their support and subsistence for the first year after their removal.

And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such tribe or nation to be protected, at their new residence, against all interruption or disturbance from any other tribe or nation of Indians, or from any other person or persons whatever.

And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to have the same superintendence and care over any tribe or nation in the country to which they may remove, as contemplated by this act, that he is now authorized to have over them at their present places of residence: Provided, That nothing in this act contained shall be construed as authorizing or directing the violation of any existing treaty between the United States and any of the Indian tribes.

Patent or grant

Patent or grant: A legal promise that the land will always remain theirs.


Improvements: Any buildings, bridges, or roads built by Indians.

Ascertained by appraisement or otherwise

Ascertained by appraisement or otherwise: This phrase indicates that someone will determine what the improvements are worth.

And be it further enacted, That for the purpose of giving effect to the Provisions of this act, the sum of five hundred thousand dollars is hereby appropriated, to be paid out of any money in the treasury, not otherwise appropriated.

What happened next . . .

As the process of Indian removal continued throughout the 1830s, native peoples were kicked off their land and directed to head west to Indian Territory, which was located in present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee tribes of Georgia, realizing that armed warfare against the whites was futile, took their objections to Georgia's discriminatory laws to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court actually ruled in favor of the Cherokee, stating that Indian tribes were "domestic dependent nations" that could conduct their own political processes and that they were afforded the protection of the federal government. But President Jackson ignored the ruling and supported Georgia's efforts to drive the Indians from the state. Some Indians left voluntarily, carrying their belongings to a new and unfamiliar land. Others resisted. Creek Indians in Alabama were dragged away in chains, and soldiers drove the Choctaw from Mississippi in the dead of winter. Many Indians died from the hardships they faced along the trail. All in all, thousands of Indians died as they were driven from their native lands.

Whites believed that Indian removal had ended the conflicts with Native Americans to everyone's satisfaction. Settlers would no longer be bothered by Indian attacks and the Indians would be able to pursue their lifestyle on lands of their own in the west. However, neither westward expansion nor the Indian wars would end with the removal of Indians west of the Mississippi River. With the great migration westward after the 1840s, white settlers again clashed with the Indian inhabitants of western lands. Ignoring earlier treaties, including those mentioned in the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the United States once again removed Indians from their land and sent them to reservations that became ever smaller in size. The Indian Removal Act, originally thought of as a final solution to the Indian problem, was thus just another step in the long process of removing nearly all Indian claims to land desired by the United States.

Did you know . . .

  • Congressional debates over the Indian Removal Act of 1830 grew quite heated, with some powerful senators defending the rights of the Indians to remain on lands granted them by earlier treaties. However, the head of the federal Indian Office, Thomas L. McKenney, believed that removing the Indians from contact with whites was the only way to preserve the Indian race.
  • By 1840 the vast majority of Native Americans had been removed to lands west of the Mississippi.
  • Florida's Seminole people resisted removal and fought American troops in a war that lasted from 1835 to 1842 and cost the United States $10 million and thousands of lives. The Seminole remained officially at war with the United States for more than a century.

Consider the following . . .

  • Were Native Americans treated fairly? What promises did they have that the lands they were being moved to would not also be taken from them?
  • We know that the Indian Removal Act of 1830 made the removal of Indians to lands west of the Mississippi legal, but did it make it right?
  • How might supporters of the Indian Removal Act have argued for its passage? What benefits did they think it would bring?
  • How might opponents of the Indian Removal Act have argued against its passage? Why do you think they did not win?

For More Information

Davis, Burke. Old Hickory: A Life of Andrew Jackson. New York: Dial Press, 1977.

Dunn, John M. The Relocation of the North American Indian. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1995.

Filler, Louis, and Allen Guttmann, eds. The Removal of the Cherokee Nation: Manifest Destiny or National Dishonor? Revised ed. Malabar, FL: Robert E. Krieger, 1988.

Horsman, Reginald. Expansion and American Indian Policy, 1783–1812. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.

Indian Removal Act of 1830. U.S. Statutes at Large. Vol. 4, pp. 411–12.

Jacobs, Wilbur R. Dispossessing the American Indian: Indians and Whites on the Colonial Frontier. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

Judson, Karen. Andrew Jackson. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1997.

Mahon, John K. History of the Second Seminole War, 1835–1842. Revised ed. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1967.

Osinski, Alice. Andrew Jackson. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1987.

Parlin, John. Andrew Jackson: Pioneer and President. New York: Chelsea Juniors, 1991.

Perdue, Theda, and Michael D. Green, eds. The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767–1821. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

Stefoff, Rebecca. Andrew Jackson: 7th President of the United States. Ada, OK: Garrett Educational Corp., 1988.

Stephanson, Anders. Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995.

Utley, Robert M., and Wilcomb E. Washburn. Indian Wars. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.

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

Weeks, Philip. Farewell, My Nation: The American Indian and the United States, 1820–1890. Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1990.

Williams, Jeanne. Trails of Tears: American Indians Driven from Their Lands. New York: Putnam, 1972.

Wright, J. Leitch, Jr. The Only Land They Knew: The Tragic Story of the American Indians in the Old South. New York: The Free Press, 1981.

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