Today In Western History: President Jackson Signs The Indian Removal Act

May 28, 1830

President Andrew Jackson signs the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the biggest land grab in the history of the US, as he forcibly removes all the Eastern Indians to land west of the Mississippi River.

Andrew Jackson, Indian fighter and President; responsible for the Trail of Tears
Andrew Jackson, Indian fighter and hero of New Orleans; President responsible for the Trail of Tears

Jackson had been no friend to the Indians long before he became president, and had supported removing them westward for a long time.  As far back as 1814, he had commanded the U.S. military forces that defeated a branch of the Creek nation during the Creek War of 1813-1814.  As a punishment for daring to challenge the powerful new nation, 22 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama were taken away from their control.  But he wasn’t finished.  In 1814 and again in 1815, he waged war on the Seminole nation, even though they were living in Florida, which was a Spanish territory at the time.  His rational was that this was punishment for harboring runaway slaves.  The primary result of this action was that Spain realized they couldn’t defend Florida against the intrusions or acquisitions of the new country, the United States, so the next year Spain cut its losses and sold Florida to the United States.

Jackson didn’t stop at waging physical war on the Indians, he also took part in negotiating 9 out of 11 treaties with them between 1814 and 1824, treaties in which they were ‘encouraged’ to trade their home lands in Alabama and Florida, as well as parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and North Carolina in exchange for lands in the west.  Keep in mind, the ‘west’ of this period was the land next to the Mississippi river, not west of the Missouri River.  The few tribes who did agree to these ‘treaties’ did so hoping this concession would help them retain control over the remaining portion of their territory and to protect themselves from future harassment by white settlers.  Of course, it didn’t work.  It was only a matter of time until white settler began crowding the Indians once more, and as their farms expanded, there was only one place to get the land they wanted.,  Once gold was discovered in Georgia, it was inevitable that the Indians would be pushed out once more.

When Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828, the Indian Removal policy would become more obvious and enforced.  In his first year in office, early in 1829, he called for an Indian Removal Act and worked quickly towards reaching that goal, despite significant opposition by Christian missionaries, and others including the soon to be legendary Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett, and a rookie Congressman

Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, politician, and hero of the Alamo
Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, politician, and hero of the Alamo

from Illinois  (and future president), Abraham Lincoln.  In the end though, their objections were overruled, as most white Americans were in  

Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President
Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President

favor of the passage of the Indian Removal Act to protect their own interests.  In the south, the state of Georgia, which was involved in a contentious jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokee  nation, was particularly eager to rid themselves of the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole) in order to have free access to the gold to be found in their land.  

After a bitter but doomed to fail debate in Congress, the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830.  In his Second Annual Message to Congress, given on December 6, 1830, Jackson’s comments on Indian removal begin with these words: “It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation. Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress, and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages.”  A great piece of self-serving nonsense.



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