Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Indian Removal

Indian removal was a concept first envisaged by George Washington in 1783, developed through the early 19th century, and legislatively enshrined in the Indian Removal Act (1830). Removal was for the most part underpinned by the treaty process, in which the federal government acquired Native American land east of the Mississippi River in return for land to the west in what is now the state of Oklahoma. Treaties included the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (1830) and the Treaty of Payne's Landing (1832). Between 1832 and 1842, the federal government removed 19 tribes and more than 50,000 Native Americans.

The federal government and its supporters regarded removal as a means of saving the culture and the lives of the Native Americans from white settlers. Conversely, the Native Americans viewed removal as a federal and state land acquisition exercise intent on destroying their existence and detaching them from their ancestral lands. The process of removal involved bribery and intimidation and was devoid of federal government protection of Native Americans in conflict with the states. The process relied on the premise that all tribes were "hunters" and "savages" who did not utilize the land they lived on and who failed to conform to the agrarian ways of the settlers. Indian removal involved many eastern tribes, including the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee, and the Seminole—the "Five Civilized Tribes"—and northern tribes, including the Potawatomi, Shawnee, Seneca, Ottawa, Chippewa, Miami, Wyandotte, Menominee, and Winnebago.

Indian removal, initially developed in the late 18th century, permeated the consciousness of many federal administrations. President Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase in 1803 was land bought for Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, and both presidents James Monroe and John Quincy Adams unsuccessfully sought a congressional removal bill. By 1820, the eastern Native Americans had ceded a land mass equal in size to half the 1812 total.

President Andrew Jackson was elected in 1828, and he used his State of the Union and inaugural addresses to establish the administrative platform of Native American voluntary removal to the west of the Mississippi River. On April 26, 1830, the Senate voted 28 to 19 in favor of the removal bill. The House passed the bill on May 24, 1830, by 102 to 97, and President Jackson signed the bill on May 28, 1830. The Indian Removal Act empowered the president of the United States to convey land west of the Mississippi River to Native American tribes that chose and consented to the exchange of their homeland for land in the West.

Treaties between the tribes and the U.S. government underpinned the sovereign right and authority of Native Americans over their lands and thus excluded state interference. Although removal was voluntary, following the Indian Removal Act Jackson stated that the federal government would not protect Native Americans from state law; the tribes would be forced to pay for their own removal, and they would not receive the promised annuities and goods during their first year in the West. Following the attempt of the Five Civilized Tribes to become more "civilized," the process of disenfranchisement began. The Cherokee felt that they had exhausted all avenues and that no redress was available other than to file suit with the U.S. Supreme Court. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), Chief Justice John Marshall held that the Cherokee were not a foreign state and that they were "domestic dependent nations" under the protection of the U.S. government. This case was followed by Worcester v. Georgia (1832), in which Marshall held that Georgia laws that interfered with internal Cherokee affairs were unconstitutional and established the supremacy of federal laws fulfilling Native American treaties. This was a triumph for the Cherokee and the Native American tribes, but removal continued, contrary to the affirmation of Native American sovereignty over state laws by the Supreme Court.

Indian removal resulted in thousands of Native American deaths. One episode that embodies the process was the infamous Trail of Tears, on which thousands of Cherokee died. Removal cost the federal government $68 million to acquire 100 million acres of land in the East and 32 million acres of land in the West. The process of removal was to be voluntary, although it was achieved by coercion, intimidation, and bribery. However, many Native Americans remained on their land in the East and evaded the pressure of the state and the federal government to move west of the Mississippi River.

Dewi I. Ball

Further Reading
Remini, Robert V. The Legacy of Andrew Jackson: Essays on Democracy, Indian Removal and Slavery. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990; Satz, Ronald N. American Indian Policy in the Jacksonian Era. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002; Wallace, Anthony F. C. The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

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