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Indian Removal Act 1830 Research Paper

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Topic:Indian Removal Act

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The Injustice of the Indian Removal Act 1830


The Indian Removal Act signed by Andrew Jackson in 1830 was meant to establish peace in the nation and to give the Native Americans their own territory where they could practice their own activities, traditions and culture without interference from the American government. However, the Act resulted in the forced migration of thousands of Native Americans from their traditional homelands to a region of the U.S. that did not suit their lifestyle or their culture. Many suffered and died during the march on the Trail of Tears from the Southern states to Oregon. Though Jackson may have had good intentions at the time, the removal can now be viewed as an American tragedy that might have been prevented. In fact, it was just one example of an exercise in human rights abuses in a long history of human rights abuses committed by the American government—from the time of slavery even into the 21st century. This paper will describe the history of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and show why and how it became a disaster for the Native Americans.

The Origins of the Indian Removal Act

The removal of the Native Americans was not actually President Jackson’s idea. George Washington had proposed it, and other administrations had followed suit, forcibly removing the Choctaw and Cherokee from their native soil throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.[footnoteRef:2] Washington and Jefferson had promoted the idea of having the Indians adopt the American culture and begin practicing Christianity, speaking English, and adopting Western dress. However, Washington had wanted to establish treaties with the Indian tribes. Jackson did not see them as being nations but rather as being unwanted residents on land that the Southerners could use. Jackson wanted to use the military to remove the Indians and give their land in the south to the Southern states. He was willing to divide the land west of the Mississippi up into territories where the Indians could go to live. That was all there was to his intention. He did not intend for it to be a death march or an exile to a small and useless patch of land. Jackson’s aim, however, was to fortify the South—and he did not consider the effect of this forced relocation on the Native Americans or how this was an injustice to them, their heritage, their culture, their people, and their race. [2: Theda Perdue, "Both White and Red". Mixed Blood Indians: Racial Construction in the Early South (The University of Georgia Press, 2003), 45.]

Cultural Aims

In the first half of the 1800s there was a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism, coursing through the veins of Americans. This letter from a Methodist woman published in the Ladies’ Repository magazine in 1850 represents well this overwhelming spirit of progressivism, as the author gushes over the invention of the electric telegraph and what it could mean for the world—i.e., America: “This noble invention is to be the means of extending civilization, republicanism, and Christianity over the earth. It must and will be extended to nations half-civilized, and thence to those now savage and barbarous…”[footnoteRef:3] This sentiment was also expressed by John O’Sullivan, who coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny” to convey the idea that it was America’s God-given mission to extend its borders and rule the world.[footnoteRef:4] America in the first half of the 1800s was very race-focused and convinced that the WASP (white Anglo Saxon Protestant) ethic was far superior to that of any other ethic and that the American realm should be ruled over by WASPs with WASP ideas directing all domestic and foreign policy. Groups that did not fit into that way of being were conquered, vanquished or pushed to the very margins of society[footnoteRef:5]—which is essentially what happened to most of the Native Americans following the Indian Removal Act of 1830—with the exception of a few Cherokee, who managed to maintain some semblance of their old way of life in the South, as shall be seen.[footnoteRef:6] [3: “The Magnetic Telegraph,” Ladies’ Repository 10(1850), 61.] [4: O’Sullivan, John. “Annexation.” United States Magazine and Democratic Review, vol. 17, no. 1 (July-August 1845), 5.] [5: Eugene J., Cornacchia and Dale C. Nelson. "Historical differences in the political experiences of American blacks and white ethnics: Revisiting an unresolved controversy." Ethnic and Racial Studies 15, no. 1 (1992), 102.] [6: Cherokee Preservation Foundation. “About the Eastern Band.”]

A Need for “Progress”

The idea behind the Indian Removal Act was simple. It was basically viewed by the WASP leaders of the day that the South would be made stronger and more unified through the Indian Removal Act, and there would be no more contentions.[footnoteRef:7] In Georgia especially there was a big dispute between the Georgian authorities and the Cherokee nation over land, though it was not limited to Georgia. Other states had issues with the Cherokee nation as well. For instance Tennessee Governor John Sevier had written in 1803 a letter to the Cherokee asking for their permission to build a road through their territory. The fact that the leaders of the U.S. needed to jump through these hoops of seeking permission from the Cherokee to lay the groundwork of transportation infrastructure became more and more of a problem as the century wore on. In Sevier’s letter one sees the kind of attitude the rulers of the U.S. had and what their view of the Cherokee was. Referring to President Jefferson’s desire to commission the building of a road in the South, Sevier stated to the Cherokee in his letter: [7: Alfred A. Cave, "Abuse of power: Andrew Jackson and the Indian removal act of 1830," The Historian 65, no. 6 (2003), 1330.]

You have just now heard your Father’s the President talk, sent to you and delivered by your brother Colonel Meigs. It is a request from your great Father that a road be opened for the good and benefit of all his children both red and white, and will be more so for our red brothers, as the road will be through their own land and they will have the benefit of the ferries, houses of entertainment and all oppertunities of selling and disposing of their corn meat and provisions of every kind. The road will be of the same use to yourselves to travel on, to market, and for every other advantage that it can be of to your Brothers the white people…[footnoteRef:8] [8: John Sevier, Letter to the Cherokee.]

There is a great deal of condescension and superiority in the letter—and much emphasis on the distinctions of race; the Native Americans were openly called “red” people and treated like odd, out of touch children in a world now ruled by superior “white” people, whose leader the “red” people had to address as Father. The American leaders would soon tire of having to display this type of “diplomacy” and eventually the overall plan was just to remove the Native Americans and thus be rid of this need for “politeness” whenever the American leaders wanted to initiative some new project in the Southern lands inhabited by the Cherokee.


To be fair, this was not the only time the American leaders thought of removal in order to address a problem. The problem of slavery and the freeing of the African Americans was met with the same idea of removal. Under Lincoln, a plan was even drawn up to remove the African Americans and put them in a new territory, called Linconia, which would have been in Latin America, had the host country accepted the idea. However, though the Republic of New Granada agreed to accept the settlement proposed under Linconia, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua all rejected the idea and the plan never came to fruition.[footnoteRef:9] Had it been permitted, the Trail of Tears of the Cherokee nation would have been bookended by a Trail of Tears of the African American nation—two tragic…

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…were removed from their land in the South. 400 Cherokee stayed to live on land owned by William Holland Thomas in the Smoky Mountains. Thomas was wholly sympathetic to the plight of the Cherokee, and his story shows how misunderstood they were by the WASPs in power. Thomas had been adopted by the Cherokee as a youth and now in his adulthood he wanted to return the favor and adopt as many of them as he could by inviting them to live on his land and have their own “reservation” there in the South in the Smoky Mountains. Some few hundred more Cherokee were allowed to live in the Qualla Boundary of North Carolina in exchange for their assistance in helping the U.S. government to catch a wanted Cherokee leader named Tsali.[footnoteRef:19] [19: Kutsche, Paul. "The Tsali legend: culture heroes and historiography." Ethnohistory 10, no. 4 (1963), 329.]

The Cherokee were native to the woodlands of the Southeastern parts of the United States. They were part of the Iroquois tribe, with whom the British had meant to form a treaty. The Founding Fathers did not want any sort of treaty with the Natives, however. They wanted the land. Men like Thomas were few and far between, and they were sympathetic because unlike many of the WASPs who led the federal government, he had actually lived with the Native Americans, and learned of their ways and had seen firsthand their humanity. He respected and loved them; after all, he had been adopted a Cherokee Chief in his youth.

Crockett was another who understood the injustice of the Indian Removal Act. He too had been a frontiersman and had seen what life was like in the wilderness. He had no quarrel with the “reds” and believed it was a step too far for the government to force them off their land. It was the end, as far as he was concerned, of freedom in America.

The few Cherokee who remained in the South were able to build their communities, but today they are still not really free. They rely on tourism for the most part. They live as an anachronistic people who sell trinkets that are meant to represent some long lost history and culture to people who want to see something exotic.[footnoteRef:20] The authentic way of life of the Cherokee, however, is largely gone—wipe out by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. [20: Smith, E. Tourism and Native Americans, 1982.]


In conclusion, the Indian Removal Act was promoted as a natural step in the way of progress. The federal government wanted to take over the territory in the South, make sure that a “white” culture could prevail, and that there would be no obstacles to expansion, growth and the laying of infrastructure for the coming industrialization of the world. The authorities did not care that they might be infringing upon the rights of the Native Americans. The Native Americans were “red”—not “white”—and to the WASPs that made all the difference. Human rights and dignity were for “whites”—not other races. That idea was inherent in the WASPs system from the beginning. They themselves did not even realize it. President Jackson thought it would actually be good for the Cherokee to have their own separate land. It was an idea echoed by Lincoln when he, later, thought it would be a good idea to remove blacks from the U.S. and set them up with their own colony in Central America. The weakness of their argument, however, is in the fact that there is nothing organic or natural about Removal. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was a total picking up of the Native American people and forcing them to go live on reservations where their spirit and way of life would be utterly destroyed. One could not have developed a better way—short of killing them all outright—of controlling and destroying the Native American people and culture in the 19th century. The outcome of the Indian Removal…

Sample Source(s) Used

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Crockett, Davy, “On the removal of the Cherokees, 1834,” Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

“The Magnetic Telegraph.” Ladies’ Repository 10(1850): 61-62. O’Sullivan, John. “Annexation.” United States Magazine and Democratic Review, vol.17, no. 1 (July-August 1845): 5-10.

Sevier, John. Letter to the Cherokee. DPLA.

Secondary Sources

Brown-Rice, Kathleen. "Examining the Theory of Historical Trauma Among Native Americans." Professional Counselor 3, no. 3 (2013).

Cave, Alfred A. "Abuse of power: Andrew Jackson and the Indian removal act of 1830." The Historian 65, no. 6 (2003): 1330-1353.

Cherokee Preservation Foundation. “About the Eastern Band.” Cherokee Preservation, 2010.

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