Indian Removal

Date: From 1830-XX-XX to 1850-XX-XX

Indian removal was a policy of the United States government in the 1820s and 1830s whereby federal officials forced Native Americans to move from their ancestral lands east of the Mississippi River to areas west of the river, thereafter known as Indian Territory. Conflicts over land between Native Americans and whites immigrating from Great Britain and Europe existed from colonial times, but were exacerbated by relentless push of whites further west after the War of 1812. Impetus for removal originated with John C. Calhoun who, as secretary of war in James Monroe's administration, proposed a plan in 1824 for removal whereby Native Americans would voluntarily exchange their lands east of the Mississippi for land west of the river. Monroe approved this proposal, but the House of Representatives defeated a bill that would have made it into law. President John Quincy Adams continued Monroe's policy of voluntary removal, with less or no success. The Indian Removal Act, signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in May 1830, became the impetus for the forcible removal of the Native Americans. The act authorized the president to set up districts in the so-called Indian Territory to receive Native Americans who gave up their lands, and appropriated $500,000 to provide indemnities to Native Americans and assist them in their resettlement. Negotiations commenced to convince tribes in the west to accept Native American emigrants in their lands and to convince tribes to part with their lands in the east.

In the Old Northwest, removal commenced with little or no resistance. Between 1831 and 1832, the Shawnee, Ottawa, Wyandot, Kickapoo, Chippewa, Sauk, Fox, Winnebago, Potawatomi, and other tribes gave up their lands and relocated west. Greater resistance came in the Southeast. The majority of the "Five Civilized Tribes"—the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee—lived in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida. Using bribes, intimidation, and threats of forcible removal, treaty negotiators convinced the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole to move west between 1830 and 1832. The Cherokee held out until 1835, finally agreeing to give up its claims in Georgia with the Treaty of New Echota. Some Seminoles refused to give up their lands, sparking the Second Seminole War. Other tribes also refused to leave, prompting the federal government to use the U.S. Army to force them to go to their new lands. Fraud, corruption, deprivation, suffering, and death accompanied every forced removal; the removal of the Cherokee in the winter of 1838-39 came to be known as the "Trail of Tears," one of the most infamous episodes in American history. By 1850, the U.S. Government had negotiated 245 separate treaties with Native American tribes, by which means the United States acquired over 450 million acres of land at a cost of approximately $90 million.

James E. Officer, "Indian Removal," Dictionary of American History rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976), 3:393-95; Theda Perdue, "Indians in Southern History," in Indians in American History: An Introduction, ed. Frederick E. Hoxie and Peter Iverson (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1998), 121-38.