Andrew Jackson Speaks: Indian Removal

Text of The Indian Removal Act, 1830
Passed into law during Jackson's second year as President, this Act set the tone for his administration's handling of all Indian affairs. In fact, Removal outlasted his tenure: the last of the Cherokee were infamously forced on the Trail of Tears death march in 1838, two years after Jackson's second--and final--term ended.

Though all Eastern tribes were eventually relocated West of the Mississippi, the government failed utterly in its pledge to enact the policy on a strictly voluntary basis (a policy notably not written into the act.) Nearly all relocation was carried out under duress, whether by military escort, or when no other option remained after tribal decimation by broken treaties, fraudulent land deals and the wars these often caused. Here is the Act's preamble:

CHAP. CXLVIII.--An Act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi.

Indian Removal Policy
Developing & Applying the Removal Act
Andrew Jackson Addresses Congress.

In seven of his eight annual messages to Congress, US President Andrew Jackson devotes several paragraphs to the policy of Indian removal (without ever mentioning the Indian Removal Act of 1830 by name), along with other oblique references to the perception and treatment of aboriginal Americans. To a certain extent the Indian issue defines his Presidency; no other policy spans Jackson's entire eight-year term with such a steady concentration of resources.

Being a British Columbian, living in a Canadian province still struggling with both its Indian affairs legacy and its present relations with its aboriginal inhabitants, what disturbs me most when reading these documents is just how little our language for discussing these issues has changed in 170 years, how subtly and insidiously ingrained the patterns of thought apparent in these messages remain in our present culture.

First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1829
In which Jackson reassures the Indian tribes that their treatment under his administration will be liberal, just and in accordance with the beliefs of the American people:

"It will be my sincere and constant desire to observe toward the Indian tribes within our limits a just and liberal policy, and to give that humane and considerate attention to their rights and their wants which is consistent with the habits of our Government and the feelings of our people." -- Andrew Jackson

First Annual Message to Congress, December 8, 1829
In which, in the closing paragraphs of the speech, Jackson lays out his policy for relocating Indians of the east to territories west of the Mississippi. This policy becomes law as the Indian Removal Act by his next annual address. An excerpt from the speech:

"Our conduct toward these people is deeply interesting to our national character. Their present condition, contrasted with what they once were, makes a most powerful appeal to our sympathies. Our ancestors found them the uncontrolled possessors of these vast regions. By persuasion and force they have been made to retire from river to river and from mountain to mountain, until some of the tribes have become extinct and others have left but remnants to preserve for awhile their once terrible names. Surrounded by the whites with their arts of civilization, which by destroying the resources of the savage doom him to weakness and decay, the fate of the Mohegan, the Narragansett, and the Delaware is fast overtaking the Choctaw, the Cherokee, and the Creek. That this fate surely awaits them if they remain within the limits of the states does not admit of a doubt. Humanity and national honor demand that every effort should be made to avert so great a calamity." -- Andrew Jackson

Second Annual Message to Congress, December 6, 1830
Jackson announces Indian Removal nearing consumation; the Chocktaw and Chickasaw peoples agree to relocation; this development will induce other tribes to follow; states his good-will toward aboriginal people;

"Toward the aborigines of the country no one can indulge a more friendly feeling than myself, or would go further in attempting to reclaim them from their wandering habits and make them a happy, prosperous people." -- Andrew Jackson

Third Annual Message to Congress, December 6, 1831
Funds are appropriated for the removal of eastern tribes; treaty negotiation for actual removal of the Choctaw and Chickasaw underway; Cherokee registration in Georgia recommences with hopes of up to two-thirds participation; removal efforts concentrated in Ohio and Indiana where treaties extinguished all Ohio reservations; philanthropists and missionaries invited to help removed Indians advance "from barbarism to the habits and enjoyments of civilized life."

"It is pleasing to reflect that results so beneficial, not only to the States immediately concerned, but to the harmony of the Union, will have been accomplished by measures equally advantageous to the Indians. What the native savages become when surrounded by a dense population and by mixing with the whites may be seen in the miserable remnants of a few Eastern tribes, deprived of political and civil rights, forbidden to make contracts, and subjected to guardians, dragging out a wretched existence, without excitement, without hope, and almost without thought." -- Andrew Jackson

Fourth Annual Message to Congress, December 4, 1832
Substantial deficit reduction despite Indian 'removal and preservation' costs; oblique reference to economics of converting Indian land first to public land, then selling parcels to settlers at cost; Sac and Fox uprising put down -- disaffected tribes 'dispersed or destroyed'; the 'wise and humane' Indian removal policy is steadily pursued and approaching consummation -- Secretary of War reports; Georgian Cherokees resist removal.

"After a harassing warfare, prolonged by the nature of the country and by the difficulty of procuring subsistence, the Indians were entirely defeated, and the disaffected band dispersed or destroyed. The result has been creditable to the troops engaged in the service. Severe as 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." -- Andrew Jackson

Fifth Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1833
Survivors of Sac and Fox War of 1832 removed west of Mississippi; 'inferior' Georgian Cherokee continue to resist 'force of circumstances' and refuse removal; Jackson reiterates removal and 'political reorganisation' form the best and only option for continued existence of eastern Indians.

"My original convictions upon this subject have been confirmed by the course of events for several years, and experience is every day adding to their strength. That those tribes can not exist surrounded by our settlements and in continual contact with our citizens is certain. They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear." -- Andrew Jackson

Sixth Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1834
Military blocks 'inroads' of Western frontier Indians; Creek removal imminent, Seminole next, Cherokee stubbornly refuse against own best interests; Indian Trade and Intercourse Acto of 1834 made law, restricting treatied sovereignty of Western Indians.

"I regret that the Cherokees east of the Mississippi have not yet determined as a community to remove. How long the personal causes which have heretofore retarded that ultimately inevitable measure will continue to operate I am unable to conjecture. It is certain, however, that delay will bring with it accumulated evils which will render their condition more and more unpleasant. The experience of every year adds to the conviction that emigration, and that alone, can preserve from destruction the remnant of the tribes yet living amongst us." -- Andrew Jackson

Seventh Annual Message to Congress, December 7, 1835
Inexplicably, Jackson makes no direct reference to Indian removal in this message, though it was in this year that the Seminole were ordered to leave Florida. In fact, the only reference to native issues is made obliquely in a paragraph concerning the sale of public lands, much of which were once treatied Indian territories.

"The extraordinary receipts from the sales of the public lands invite you to consider what improvements the land system, and particularly the condition of the General Land Office, may require. At the time this institution was organized, near a quarter century ago, it would probably have been thought extravagant to anticipate for this period such an addition to its business as has been produced by the vast increase of those sales during the past and present years. It may also be observed that since the year 1812 the land offices and surveying districts have been greatly multiplied, and that numerous legislative enactments from year to year since that time have imposed a great amount of new and additional duties upon that office, while the want of a timely application of force commensurate with the care and labor required has caused the increasing embarrassment of accumulated arrears in the different branches of the establishment." -- Andrew Jackson

Eighth Annual Message to Congress, December 5, 1836
Indian wars force massive mobilisation of troops, militia and volunteers; Seminoles refuse to relocate and win early upper-hand in Second Seminole War; Urgent need for further appropriations to 'suppress hostilities;' Creek defeated and relocated West of Mississippi; Cherokee country pacified and secured by ongoing military vigilance; Mexico authorises expeditions to quell Indians beyond US frontier; Commissioner of Indian Affairs suggests larger military presence in Indian country to protect Western frontier from Indians, and the Indians from each other; Jackson prematurely declares Indian Removal to be consummated--Cherokee forcibly relocated two years later in 1838.

"The national policy, founded alike in interest and in humanity, so long and so steadily pursued by this Government for the removal of the Indian tribes originally settled on this side of the Mississippi to the West of that river, may be said to have been consummated by the conclusion of the late treaty with the Cherokees." -- Andrew Jackson

101 Years of Westward Expansion and Native Genocide
The text of the Westward Expansion Museum's History Wall