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Speeches

President Andrew Jackson's Messsage to Congress on Indian Removal, 1830
By President Andrew Jackson
Mar 17, 2006, 10:52pm



The story of westward expansion by European Americans is a basic theme of the American experience, but it is also a history Indian removal from their traditional lands. Indians lost their lands through by purchase, war, disease and even extermination, but many transfers of Indian land were formalized by treaty. The Constitution of 1789 empowered Congress to "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes. Federal policy regarded each tribe as a sovereign entity capable of signing binding treaties with the United States government. In the first 40 years of the new republic, the United States signed multiple treaties with Indian tribes which usually followed a basic pattern: the signatory tribe withdrew to a prescribed reservation and in return the Federal Government promised to provide supplies, food, and often an annuity. In 1830, Congress chose to disregard Indian treaty guarantees when it passed the Indian Removal Act, a bill engineered by President Andrew Jackson. Despite its language suggesting a voluntary and fair "exchange" of lands, the act opened the door for the militias of trans-Appalachian and southern states to simply drive the Indians across the Mississippi by force. The Indians destination was to be an "Indian Territory" set aside west of Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Library of Congress
Hunting the Buffalo - McKenney & Hall 1855 (cropped)
The Cherokee nation resisted, however, challenging in court the Georgia laws that restricted their freedoms on tribal lands. In its 1831 ruling on Cherokee Nation v. the State of Georgia, the Supreme Court addressed the question of whether native tribes could be treated as "foreign nations." It decided that they should be counted rather as wards of the federal government, but the following year ruled that they were indeed sovereign and immune from Georgia laws. President Jackson, famous from his "Seminole Wars" against the Indians in Georgia and Florida and an ardent defender of states' rights, nonetheless refused to heed the court's decision. He obtained the signature of a Cherokee chief agreeing to relocation in the Treaty of New Enchola, which Congress ratified against the protests of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay in 1835. The Cherokee signing party did not represent the vast majority of Cherokees. When the followers of Principal Chief John Ross tried desperately to hold onto their land, Jackson ordered military action in 1838. Under the guns of federal troops and Georgia state militia, the Cherokee tribe made their trek to the dry plains across the Mississippi. Thousands died en route from the brutal conditions of the "Trail of Tears."

Source: US Department of State


Andrew Jackson's Annual Message

"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.

The consequences of a speedy removal will be important to the United States, to individual States, and to the Indians themselves. The pecuniary advantages which it promises to the Government are the least of its recommendations. It puts an end to all possible danger of collision between the authorities of the General and State Governments on account of the Indians. It will place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters. By opening the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south to the settlement of the whites it will incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier and render the adjacent States strong enough to repel future invasions without remote aid. It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy, and enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power. It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.

What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization and religion?

The present policy of the Government is but a continuation of the same progressive change by a milder process. The tribes which occupied the countries now constituting the Eastern States were annihilated or have melted away to make room for the whites. The waves of population and civilization are rolling to the westward, and we now propose to acquire the countries occupied by the red men of the South and West by a fair exchange, and, at the expense of the United States, to send them to land where their existence may be prolonged and perhaps made perpetual. Doubtless it will be painful to leave the graves of their fathers; but what do they more than our ancestors did or than our children are now doing? To better their condition in an unknown land our forefathers left all that was dear in earthly objects. Our children by thousands yearly leave the land of their birth to seek new homes in distant regions. Does Humanity weep at these painful separations from everything, animate and inanimate, with which the young heart has become entwined? Far from it. It is rather a source of joy that our country affords scope where our young population may range unconstrained in body or in mind, developing the power and facilities of man in their highest perfection. These remove hundreds and almost thousands of miles at their own expense, purchase the lands they occupy, and support themselves at their new homes from the moment of their arrival. Can it be cruel in this Government when, by events which it can not control, the Indian is made discontented in his ancient home to purchase his lands, to give him a new and extensive territory, to pay the expense of his removal, and support him a year in his new abode? How many thousands of our own people would gladly embrace the opportunity of removing to the West on such conditions! If the offers made to the Indians were extended to them, they would be hailed with gratitude and joy.

And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement."

Source: NARA

Citation: President Jackson's Message to Congress "On Indian Removal", December 6, 1830; Records of the United States Senate, 1789-1990; Record Group 46; Records of the United States Senate, 1789-1990; National Archives.



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