INDIAN REMOVAL: POLICY ISSUES AND ENACTMENT

I. POLICY BACKGROUND

A. Relations with the Cherokees were critical in development of Indian policy: the Cherokee situation highlights the jurisdictional problems that complicated relations between Native and Euro-Americans

1. the federal govt. wanted the states' western lands for white settlement--the state of GA was especially anxious about this matter. See the  MAP of GA's western land claims in 1781

2. in 1802, GA signed an agreement with the federal government that they would give their state's western lands to the federal government in return for the feds extinguishing Indian land titles within Georgia; the matter lay dormant for several years

3. in 1820, GA began to press the feds to do this; to encourage the feds to get the Indians out of GA lands, the state legislature passed resolutions in 1826 and 1827 asserting state sovereignty over Cherokee lands on the basis of  their colonial charter (see MAP above)

 

i. The lege proclaimed that all that the feds could do with respect to the Cherokee was to regulate commerce; since the feds had failed to get the Cherokees' lands,  as they promised under the 1802 rule, then GA could legally just take them

 

ii. they claimed that Cherokees lived there by GA’s will and that GA  could use force to remove the Indians if they so chose--but they chose not to

 

iii. rather, they passed a law in 1828 appending Cherokee lands to the state, and putting the Cherokees under their jurisdiction; they disallowed (called illegal) any laws passed by the Cherokee constitution

4. President James Monroe agreed that the only solution to extinguishing Indian land titles was to exchange lands in GA for lands in west; his successor John Adams had no better plan, so he endorsed removal as well

6. It took the election of Andrew Jackson, however, to get removal implemented

B. Jackson's annual address to Congress in 1829 declared that the U.S. would not support Cherokee sovereignty and called for the Indians to move

1. He asked Congress for legislation permitting forcible removal—he had been on record in favor of it for a long time

2. Believed Indians would never be able to assimilate--that Indians were just blocking the advance of citizen farmers and republican virtue  

3. He denied their status as sovereign nations; in a letter to Pres. Monroe in 1817, Jackson had said:

"I have long viewed treaties with the Indians as an absurdity not to be reconciled to the principles of our government."  

4. He also argued that Indians were weak and would be victimized by unscrupulous whites if they remained in the east.

 5. Further, he argued for the rights of states to conduct their own internal affairs w/o interference from the federal government

i. If officials of the state of GA wanted the Indians out, the feds should back, not fight, their wishes

ii. He did not hold to this position as a Constitutional principle, however (see the nullification crisis); rather this was a pragmatic position based on expediency  

C. Jackson’s election represented a “watershed” in Indian policy; meaning a major shift occurred

 1. His role in removal is hotly debated: interpretations of his motives vary (See Jackson and Indian Removal)  FOLLOW THIS LINK

2. But he was the 1st westerner elected as President at a time when the west gaining in importance

 i. He also represented a new political movement—the Democratic Party--in favor of the so-called "Common Man" 

 3. The larger issue here, of course, was the question of state v federal power  

i Do not forget the broader historical context of this period: the emerging conflict over slavery

ii. This issue gave new urgency to the control of southern lands

4.  For forty years the U.S. had treated w/ tribes as sovereign political entities  

i. Federal policies had been committed to preserving and protecting this status  

ii. None of Jackson's predecessors had ever seriously considered challenging this

 5. But Jackson changed all this when he upheld the sovereignty of GA law over the Cherokees

D. Removal was bitterly debated in Congress and in the press

1. PRO-INDIAN REMOVAL ADVOCATES: said it would protect Indians, for close contact with whites destroyed the" weaker" race though unscrupulous traders and whiskey dealers

a. Also, Indians needed time to move towards civilization at their own pace--ignoring, of course, the "progress" that they had made

b. Civilization & savagery could not co-exist--one was destined to give way to the other, tho' this was unjust  

c. Thomas McKenney, head of the OIA; William Clark, the Indian Superintendent of St Louis; Lewis Cass, former Gov. of Mich.; and Issac McCoy, Baptist missionary--all men with solid record of sympathy & support for Indians were, nonetheless, all on this side

2. ANTI-INDIAN REMOVAL ADVOCATES: just wanted the land

a. Indians in the way of progress--were hopelessly barbaric and just would not "civilize"  

i. they rightly pointed out that the "civilized" SE Indians were in the minority 

b. The recent cotton boom meant great demand for lands--white Americans believed that these lands should be used as "God intended," i.e., market-based, mono-crop agriculture

(Here Euro-Americans denied Indian achievements in such types of agriculture--saw them as primarily savage hunters)

3. OPPONENTS OF REMOVAL: justice demanded protection of Indian treaty rights 

a. American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions urged church groups to deluge Congress w/ cries for justice for the Indians --they did 

(b. however, it should be noted these letters often came from places politically hostile to Jackson, so perhaps they just hated him and his policies) 

i. Clara Sue Kidwell argues that they were also trying to protect their investments in mission buildings on Indian lands 

c. Reform Advocate Catherine Beecher, who was active in women's reform groups, took up this cause, rallying American women to help the Cherokees.

(For excerpts on Beecher's later work codifying the Cult of True Womanhood see:

A Treatise on Domestic Economy, For the Use of Young Ladies at Home, and At School. Revised Edition. (Boston: T. H. Webb, 1842): http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/sentimnt/snescebhp.html )

In 1829, she drafted a Circular addressed to the Benevolent Ladies of the United States; her  argument:

i. The present crisis in Indian affairs demands the attention of all humane peoples; here are the facts:

 The Cherokees were here first; they were in possession of the continent and helped the early settlers

 Some fought encroachment onto their lands, but others fought for us

As we have risen in glory, they have faded, and are no longer powerful but pitiable; we have, therefore, protected them as if they were our children. We have guarded their rights to land—we fined and imprisoned violators on their lands.

ii. They have made remarkable progress—noted their constitution and alphabet and their progress in education and industry; these are not naked wandering savages, but persons of refinement and intelligence

 But they have good land and greedy whites want it

 They will be driven into the west and to annihilation unless a Christian nation intervenes

 iii. Have not the women of this nation some role in stopping this?

 Women are not blinded by party politics or struggles for power

They can’t dictate to those who have the rule over them

But women can feel for the Indian and supplicate for them

 iv. We must do so, for God will judge us for oppressing the needy and helpless

 Points to Esther, who pleaded for the Jewish people

 v. You who love your family, know that they love their families as well

vi.  Let every woman who hears this answer by action and stop this calamity.

II. ENACTMENT OF REMOVAL For primary sources on the Indian Removal Act see the Library of Congress site: http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/Indian.html   YOU DO NOT NEED TO FOLLOW THIS LINK

The actual policy document is found at: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=004/llsl004.db&recNum=458 YOU DO NOT NEED TO FOLLOW THIS LINK

A. The removal forces won in Congress: May 28, 1830 the Indian Removal Bill passed

1. It authorized the president to set up Indian districts west of the Mississippi

2. It provided $ to pay Indians for the improvements on lands left behind, costs of removal, and one year's subsistence in the west

3. Jackson sent agents to negotiate w/ Indian leaders; he instructed them to tell the Indians:

"As friends and as brothers listen to their father. In the west, their white brothers will not trouble them will have no claim to their land and the Indians can live upon it, they and all their children, as long as the grass grows and the waters run."

B. Opponents of removal appealed to the Supreme Court for justice, and the Cherokees sued GA in court for violating their sovereignty by extending GA law over Indian lands

the Supreme Court cases concerning Indian land were known as the Marshall Trilogy: they set the tenor of Indian law until this day

 1. Johnson v. McIntosh, 1823

a. chiefs of Illinois & Piankeshaw tribes--deeded away parcels of land to Johnson

b. later these chiefs treated with the U.S. & retained a reservation but gave other lands away

c. U.S. then sold some of these traded lands to McIntosh --but Johnson claimed that some of this land was his by prior agreement

MARSHALL RULED: tribes held ownership interest in lands--rights to occupy, hunt, fish on their lands superior to all EXCEPT U.S. govt.

govt. shared title w/ tribes & could obtain sole right to that title thru purchase or military conquest

Tribes could only transfer title to U.S. govt. not to individuals

THUS: only McIntosh had a valid claim b/c he went thru the only valid agency for obtaining Ind. lands

2. Cherokee v. Georgia, 1830

a. Cherokee sued GA for disallowing their tribal courts and dividing up their lands--they had violated Cherokee sovereignty

b. brought suit under constitutional provision to hear cases between foreign nations and states

MARSHALL RULED: Cherokees were not a foreign nation in the meaning of the constitution and could not bring suit in the fed courts

RATHER Cherokees were "Domestic Dependent nations" with a wardship relationship to the U.S.

3. Worcester v Georgia, 1832

a. GA had a state law requiring anyone who went into Cherokee territory get a permit from the govt.

b. Worcester was a missionary to the Cherokee w/ his friend Butler, sentenced by GA to 4 years in jail for going onto Cherokee lands w/o this permit--he appealed

MARSHALL RULED: Tribal sovereignty pre-dated state or federal sovereignty

tribes are distinct political communities with territorial boundaries in which their authority is exclusive, and this sovereignty is protected by the federal govt.

 this ruling did Cherokees no good, however.

 Jackson reputedly responded: "John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it."

 because of the popularity of Indian removal, no one took action to enforce the Supreme Court ruling against GA

These three cases have legally defined Indian status in the United States

Indian tribes are sovereign governments with aboriginal title to their lands and limited political authority over these lands 

BUT: the federal government has broad--almost unlimited--power over Indian affairs because of the alleged dependency and trust relationship between tribes and the federal government

C. Despite Marshall's ruling against removal, the United States proceeded with it anyway, signing treaties w/ the SE Indians, and sending troops to forcibly remove them 

1. 1830,  the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek signed with the Choctaws; these Indians made the journey the winter of 1831 & 1832

a. Alexis De Tocqueville was visiting Memphis when the Choctaw arrived on their way west. He wrote:

" The wounded, the sick, newborn babies, and the old men on the point of death...I saw them embark to cross the great river and the sight will never fade from my memory. Neither sob nor complaint rose from that silent assembly. Their afflictions were of long standing, and they felt them to be irremediable."

b. See also Removing the Heart of the Choctaw People.

2. 1832, w/ Chickasaws & Creeks-

a. the Chickasaws, in Arkansas, delayed leaving until 1837; 

b. and Creeks, in Alabama, resisted implementation of the treaty and fought a skirmish known as the Creek War; General Scott rapidly put this uprising down, and removal continued

 3. Likewise the Seminoles signed treaties 1832 & 33 but refused to let them be carried out

a. fled to the swamps of Fla. where, aided by run-away slaves, they carried out a guerilla warfare against the U.S. govt. until the 1840's

b. after the death of resistance leader Osceola, who was captured under a flag of truce and died in jail in 1838, most of his followers then surrendered & moved west

 c. But a remnant remained in Florida and the U.S. finally gave up on them

D. The last to remove were the Cherokees;
some Cherokees had already moved west in large numbers in 1809, 1810, 1817, and 1819

1. There was a party of Cherokees in Arkansas—they had negotiated a treaty for relocation of eastern Cherokees to western territory

2.In 1835, a faction of Cherokees known as the Treaty Party signed the Treaty of New Echota; 

Please see: The Removal Controversy among the Cherokees  FOLLOW THIS LINK

 a. The Treaty of New Echota had provisions for taking 2 years to leave, but few enrolled or prepared to go

 b. They were sure that John Ross would prevail in his appeals to Jackson

3. By the deadline of spring 1839 only about 2,000 of the 17,000 Cherokee had left; by then, however, Martin Van Buren was president

a. he sent Winfield Scott to forcibly remove the remaining Cherokees

 4. U.S. troops then began rounding them up and putting them in stockades to await removal—by mid-June, had most of them rounded up

a.  General Winfield Scott divided about 3,000 Cherokees into 3 detachments and marched them west during an exceptionally hot and dry summers

b. the heat claimed so many of them that Scott said they could wait until fall and organize their own removal

5. John Ross organized it and put his brother Lewis, a merchant, in charge of provisioning them

a. On Aug 23, the first of 13 detachments under Ross left for the west, while the last detachment left in November, enduring deadly winter storms that often forced the groups to camp for several days waiting for a break in the weather. 

b. The majority of Cherokee had not had time to pack sufficient food, tents and blankets for the journey,

and Congressional appropriations were not adequate to make up the gap, often because the men who contracted to provision the Cherokee along the way charged exorbitant prices, sometimes for shoddy goods. 

c. While some Cherokee had wagons and horses, many walked barefoot, carrying what little they could salvage of their possessions.  Sympathetic settlers along the route sometimes donated provisions, but it was never enough.  

Exhaustion and exposure encouraged diseases such as measles and whooping cough that claimed many lives, mostly the elderly and children. 

d. The Cherokee followed two routes—one went across Tennessee , up through the Cumberland Mountains into Kentucky , across southern Illinois , and into Missouri , while the other dropped down across Arkansas Territory from Illinois .

 6. By late March of 1839 the last remnants of emigrants straggled into Indian Territory .

a. The exact death toll hard to come by b/c many died in the stockades

b. Some say at least 4,000 but pop loss may have been as high as 8,000

7. The Cherokees faced many trials in the West

a. Boudinot and the Ridges encountered Cherokee justice in the West

b. For their fate see,  Elias Boudinott and Major Ridge  FOLLOW THIS LINK

8. Gradually, the Cherokee slowly rebuilt their lives and created a thriving revitalized culture, but the Trail Where We Cried remains central to their identity as Indians.  As former principle Chief Wilma Mankiller noted, “It was indeed our holocaust.”