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President Jackson and the Indian Removal Act of 1830

Christopher Watt

4009116

History 101

Professor Putintsev

28 Oct 2009
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President Andrew Jackson was elected the Seventh President of the United States in

1828, and from the start this was going to be a different kind of Presidency. Andrew Jackson was

not part of the old political aristocracy but was a self made man elected by ordinary American

citizens, he was one of them. President Jackson felt strongly in the American Republic and

wanted to see it grow with greater westward expansion. In his first year in office in a speech to

both houses of Congress President Jackson laid out his plans for the future of Native Americans

living east of the Mississippi. “The condition and ulterior destiny of the Indian tribes within the

limits of some of our States have become objects of much interest and importance.”i Taking their

lead from the Executive, Congress passes the Indian Removal Act the following year and our

country would forever be changed. Jackson’s role in the passage and enforcement of the Indian

Removal Act, however shamefully seen with modern sensibilities has greatly benefited our

country and was a major factor in how our fledgling nation became a modern day super power.

“The philanthropist will rejoice that the remnant of that ill-fated race has been at length

placed beyond the reach of injury or oppression, and that the paternal care of the General

Government will hereafter watch over them and protect them.”ii This was given in a speech by

Andrew Jackson in his farewell address to the nation. According to noted historian Jon

Meacham, President Jackson believed he was actually helping the Native Tribes and certainly

never intended for the atrocity that was to become known as the trail of tears. “An estimated

4,000 of the 16,000 Cherokees who were forced out died along the way.”iii This horrific outcome

is not what the President or the Congress wanted when they sought the removal of the Indians to

lands west of the Mississippi. Though there does not seem to have been much sympathy coming

from Washington DC either. In point of fact, there seems to have been a feeling of the end

justifying the means sort of approach towards this particular policy.


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Jackson’s personal opinion of the Native American tribes seems to be one of private

sympathy tempered by the realistic view that as long as the United States continued to expand

westward then there was bound to be major conflicts between the tribes and white settlers.

Moving them west seemed to President Jackson to actually be a more humane and peaceful way

of dealing with this ever-growing problem. Unfortunately this was bound to be only a temporary

solution. As white settlers migrated further and further west they continued to encroach and even

steal in some cases land that was supposed to be allocated to the Native American Indian tribes.

Not until the United States stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts does there seem to be

any sort of an end to the problem of American reapportion of Native American Indian tribal land.

“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.”iv These were the words spoken by President Andrew Jackson about

his feeling that this Act would be a great solution to the problem and would be best for all parties

involved. Of course, all this has had a profoundly negative effect on the original inhabitants to

our great country. There was always a constant struggle for land and respect that continued as the

American westward expansion brought settlers and Indian tribes into conflict. The Native

American tribes did not of course cede all of their land peaceable. “Severe is the lesson to the

Indians, it was rendered necessary by their unprovoked aggressions, and it is to be hoped that its

impression will be permanent and salutary.”v This was a quote from President Andrew Jackson

after an Indian uprising of Sac and Fox Indians rebelled and were routed by our troops.
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Regrettably this was not the end of Indian rebellions as Andrew Jackson had hoped, but merely

foreshadowed what was going to happen continually from that time till the last battle was fought

in Arizona in 1918.

The reality of this situation is that President Andrew Jackson was really only trying to

appease the American public. In fact it can be said the President took a less harsh view of how

the Native tribes should be treated then many American of the nineteenth century. Many

Americans felt it was there God given right and destiny to civilize the land from coast to coast. It

would not be fair to stereotype all Americans as being this unsympathetic, but the truth is many

in fact were. Several groups did try to bring the Native Americans into the American fold by

trying to civilize them through the use of Christianity and the institution of western rules and

laws. This was to have only a very limited impact on the over all relations between the two

cultures in the long run. “A question in which several States of this Union have deepest interest,

and which, if left undecided much longer, may eventuate in serious injury to the Indians.”vi The

question President Jackson is referring was how to effectively deal and more importantly move,

the Choctaw Indians from their land so as to keep them from fighting new American settlers in

the state of Georgia. President Andrew Jackson new that if he did not fix this problem and if he

left it neglected the pioneers who were constantly looking to expand and create new farmland

would eventually turn it in to all out warfare. The solution was of course the introduction of the

Indian Removal Act of 1830.

The affect of the Indian Removal Act was great. First and foremost for the Indians this

meant the terrible fate of being evicted from their homeland and moved to what is modern day

Oklahoma. This forcible relocation has become know as the trail of tears for the amount of loss

of life to the Indians who were forced on the march. The affect on the country as a whole was
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much different, it allowed new incoming settlers to set up in relative peace and tame the land to

the American way of farming and personal ownership. However terrible the unintended

consequences the passage of this act has had, it also has had major positive impact on the

country. First it spared the country from all out warfare with the Indians at least until after the

Civil War and our continued expansion once again brought us into conflict with them. By uniting

the American states and not allowing small independent kingdoms to threaten our fledging

nation it allowed for innovation, cultivation and an overall strengthening of our country. To

become a powerful nation it is infeasible that we could have ever allowed possible threats to our

security by ignoring independent fiefdoms in our own backyards. This would have been an

intolerable situation to nineteenth century Americans.

The fact that the United States of America is the world’s lone super power today is a

direct reflection of the courage and hard decision-making men like President Andrew Jackson

made with decisions like the passing of the Indian Removal Act. Again through modern eyes and

sensibilities this seems to be a cruel way in how the county dealt with this issue. But we would

not be the greatest country in the world if we were not united in language, culture, and for the

most part religion, especially in the nineteenth century. We are also strong because of our

tolerance of people who are different from us but who share our common goal of one united

county with freedoms and personal liberties. The inability of the bulk of Native American tribes

to adapt to our culture directly lead to the unfortunate passing of harsh laws and policies such as

the Indian Removal Act. Jackson’s role in the passage and enforcement of the Indian Removal

Act, however shamefully seen with modern sensibilities has greatly benefited our country and

was a major factor in how our fledgling nation became a modern day super power.
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End Notes
i
Andrew Jackson, “State of The Union Address,” Messages and Papers of The Presidents: Andrew
Jackson, edited by James D. Richardson.
ii
Andrew Jackson, “American Lion, Andrew Jackson in the White House” Jon Meacham, Random
House, New York, 2009. P318.
iii
Jon Meacham, “American Lion, Andrew Jackson in the White House,” Random House, New York,
2009. P318.
iv
Andrew Jackson, “Second Annual Speech Before Congress 1830”
http://redriverhistorian.com/jackson.html Retrieved on 30 Oct 09.
v
Andrew Jackson, “Fourth Annual State of The Union Address,” Messages and Papers of The
Presidents: Andrew Jackson, edited by James D. Richardson.
vi
Andrew Jackson, “Message to the US Senate dated 06 May 1830,” Messages and Papers of The
Presidents: Andrew Jackson, edited by James D. Richardson