The reasoning behind the removal of Native Americans was Americans' hunger for land (stemming from Andrew Jackson’s talk of “agriculture, manufacture, and civilization”), though not all Americans supported the policy as many poor white frontiersmen were neighbors and often friends to the Native Americans. Principally, it was the result of Americans who envisioned a cultivated and organized nation of prospering cities and productive communities which fueled the forces of removal.
The growth of populations, cities, transportation systems, and commerce in the decades following the American Revolution created demand for agricultural development. President Jackson and his followers, recognizing the Native Americans were in their way, set out to civilly and gently move them out of the way. This resulted in numerous treaties in which lands were purchased from Native Americans. Eventually, the U.S. government began encouraging Native American tribes to sell their land by offering them land in the West, outside the boundaries of the then-existing U.S. states, where the tribes could resettle.
This process rapidly increased with the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which provided funds for President Andrew Jackson to conduct land-exchange treaties. An estimated 100,000 American Native Americans eventually relocated in the West as a result of this policy, most of them emigrating during the 1830s, settling in what was known as the, "Indian territory" or the present state of Oklahoma. Those native Americans who chose to produce and prosper were, of course, free to purchase as much of the land as they wished.
However, the Removal Act didn’t directly force Native Americans from their land. Many Native Americans didn’t have the food or means of transportation to make a journey west of the Mississippi, so the Removal Act was a way to enable Native Americans to move west. According to the federal laws that were put in place to oversee the expedition, the government was to provide food and transportation for the Native Americans, and if they stayed, then they would no longer be protected or given funds.
To most Native Americans, the problems with leaving their land were more than just lack of resources. Native Americans’ land was their heritage and their history. The Native Americans’ way of life was already greatly disrupted by the white society, with its formal government, ideas of private property ownership, and their notions that a man's mind was the source of his power and his productivity its expression. What little the Native Americans could retain of their past, and the very meaning of their lives was now being taken away..
The Jackson administration put great pressure on tribal leaders to sign removal treaties. This pressure, plus the added shame of seeing themselves reduced to obstacles for men of great achievement, created bitter divisions within Native American nations, as different tribal leaders advocated different responses to the question of removal. Occasionally, U.S. government officials ignored tribal leaders who resisted signing removal treaties and dealt with those who favored removal. The Treaty of New Echota, for example, was signed by a faction of prominent Cherokee leaders, but not by the elected tribal leadership. The terms of the treaty were enforced by President Martin Van Buren, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4,000 Cherokees (mostly from disease) on the Trail of Tears.
Regrettably, the mass exodus of Native Americans were unable to provide themselves with proper provisions of food and transportation, and were reduced to limping off the land which they once proudly occupied. The Choctaw tribe also suffered greatly from disease during removal, and were unable to keep themselves clean and fed enough to prevent the decimation of their numbers due to these illnesses. The Choctaws were very against removal, but their fifty delegates were easily bribed with money and land to sign the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which ceded their land east of the Mississippi to the United States. The army that led the thirteen thousand Choctaws on their journey was dis-organized, and because of their ineptitude, but through no fault of the Native Americans, their food quickly ran out and their children began to starve. Many died of pneumonia in the winter, and of cholera in the summer. The seven thousand Choctaws left behind saw the conditions of the trek and refused to go, choosing to accept the subjugation that had become their nature, over the certain death of vacating, while left to their own devices. .
The suffering which resulted from Native American Removal was aggravated by poor administration on the part of the American Government, inadequate measures taken to provide for the emigrants (because contracts for transport and provisions were often awarded to the lowest bidder, costs and services were cut), and failure to protect Native American legal rights before and after emigration. Most Native Americans reluctantly but peacefully complied with the terms of the removal treaties, often with bitter resignation at being forced to acknowledge the low condition into which their failure to prosper had led them.
Some groups, however, went to war to resist the implementation of removal treaties. This resulted in two short wars (the Black Hawk War of 1832 and the Second Creek War of 1836), as well as the long and costly Second Seminole War (1835–1842).
There was a long history of Native American land being purchased, usually by treaty and sometimes under coercion. In the early 19th century the notion of "land exchange" developed and began to be incorporated into land cession treaties. Native Americans would relinquish land in the east in exchange for equal or comparable land west of the Mississippi River. This idea was proposed as early as 1803, by Jefferson, but was not used in actual treaties until 1817, when the Cherokee agreed to cede two large tracts of land in the east for one of equal size in present-day Arkansas. Many other treaties of this nature quickly followed. The process culminated in the idea of exchanging all Native American land in the east for land in the west, which became law with the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
In spite of this acculturation and acceptance of the law, the position of the tribes was not secure. Many white settlers and land speculators simply desired the land that was occupied by the tribes. Others believed that the presence of the tribes was a threat to peace and security, based on previous wars waged between the United States and Native Americans, some of whom had been armed by enemies of the United States, such as Great Britain and Spain.
Accordingly, governments of the various U.S. states desired that all tribal lands within their boundaries be placed under state jurisdiction. In 1830, Georgia passed a law which prohibited whites from living on Native American territory after March 31, 1831 without a license from the state. This law was written to justify removing white missionaries who were helping the Native Americans resist removal. Missionary organizer Jeremiah Evarts urged the Cherokee Nation to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Marshall court ruled that while Native American tribes were sovereign nations (Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 1831), state laws had no force on tribal lands (Worcester v. Georgia, 1832). President Andrew Jackson is often quoted as having responded to the court by defiantly proclaiming, "John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!" Jackson probably did not say this, although he was criticized (then and since) for making no effort to protect the tribes from state governments.
Andrew Jackson and other candidates of the new Democratic Party had made Native American Removal a major goal in the campaign of 1828. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act and President Jackson signed it into law. The Removal Act provided for the government to negotiate removal treaties with the various tribes. The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek with the Choctaw was the first such removal treaty implemented; while around 7,000 Choctaws ultimately stayed in Mississippi, about 14,000 moved along the Red River. Other treaties, like the dubious Treaty of New Echota with the Cherokee, followed, resulting in the Trail of Tears.
As a result, the five tribes were resettled in the new Indian Territory in modern-day Oklahoma and parts of Kansas. Some Native Americans eluded removal, while those who lived on individually owned land (rather than tribal domains) were not subject to removal. Those who stayed behind eventually formed tribal groups including the Eastern Band Cherokee, based in North Carolina.
In 1835, the Seminoles refused to leave Florida, leading to the Second Seminole War. The most important leader in the war was Osceola, who led the Seminoles in their fight against removal. While based in the Everglades of Florida, Osceola and his band used surprise attacks to defeat the U.S. Army in many battles. In 1837, Osceola was seized by deceit upon the orders of U.S. General T.S. Jesup when Osceola came under a flag of truce to negotiate peace He died in prison. The Seminoles continued to fight. Some traveled deeper into the Everglades, while others moved west. The Second Seminole War ended in 1842, when the United States won.
|Nation||Population east of the Mississippi before removal treaty|| Removal treaty|
|Years of major emigration||Total number emigrated or forcibly removed||Number stayed in Southeast||Deaths during removal||Deaths from warfare|
|Choctaw||19,554||Dancing Rabbit Creek (1830)||1831-1836||12,500||7,000||2,000-4,000+ (Cholera)||n/a|
|Creek||22,700 + 900 black slaves||Cusseta (1832)||1834-1837||19,600||?||3,500 (disease after removal)||? (Second Creek War)|
|Chickasaw||4,914 + 1,156 black slaves||Pontotoc Creek (1832)||1837-1847||over 4,000||hundreds||a few from disease||n/a|
+ 2,000 black slaves
|New Echota (1835)||1836-1838||20,000 + 2,000 slaves||1,000||2,000-8,000||n/a|
|Seminole||5,000 + fugitive slaves||Payne's Landing (1832)||1832-1842||2,833||250-500||700 (Second Seminole War)|
Many figures have been rounded.
Tribes north in the Old Northwest were far smaller and more fragmented than the Five Civilized Tribes, and so the treaty and emigration process was more piecemeal. Bands of Shawnees, Ottawas, Potawatomis, Sauks, and Foxes signed treaties and relocated to the Native American Territory. In 1832, a Sauk chief named Black Hawk led a band of Sauk and Fox back to their lands in Illinois. In the Black Hawk War, the U.S. Army and Illinois militia defeated Black Hawk and his army....