What Was the Purpose of the Dawes Act?

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The Dawes Act gave the president the power to divide American Indian tribal land into allotments for individual Native Americans. The Dawes Act was passed in 1887 and is also referred to as the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 and the General Allotment Act.

The Dawes Act was introduced by Congressman Henry Dawes of Massachusetts. The idea behind that law was that Indian tribes would be broken up and those who chose to leave their tribes would be granted United States citizenship. Dawes wanted to create independent farmers out of Indians and give them the tools they needed to succeed.

Movement for the Dawes Act began in the 1850 when many European immigrants expressed their doubts over two racial communities being able to live side by side. At the time, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs proposed starting colonies called reservations to give the Indians a place that would be strictly theirs. Reaction to the proposal was varied and ranged from unwavering support by some to fear and rebellion by others.

In the end, the Dawes Act, signed into law by President Grover Cleveland, drove Indians from their homes, made them give up their land and eventually forced them to leave behind their Indian identities.