Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Plan
In 1830, Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal bill. This provided for the Indians that were living in Georgia and other parts of the Southeast and some Western areas to be moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. Most Indians did not want to move. Jackson gave a speech on this bill right after it passed, a speech which is not incredibly nice to the Indians. This led to a long and hard battle between the US government and the Indians, which lasted several years and caused the death of many people.
In the initial speech on the Indian removal bill, Jackson speaks to the Indians’ conditions. He first says that some major tribes have happily signed the agreement to move to the Oklahoma territory, and hopes others will follow. This means he would like their moving to be voluntary, which is how Jackson’s ideas about moving start out. However, he goes on to say some very contradictory things. First he states that such a move will avoid collision between the US and the Indians, an idea which seems to support this notion – peace for all. Then Jackson talks about relieving states of their Indian population, and helping them gain wealth and power, which is not so generous to the Indians, as it implies that Indians and white men cannot live in a civilized manner together. He also uses several derogatory terms when he refers to the Indians, and seems to feel that they are generally inferior to the white men. His speech is extremely off-putting to many Indians.
During his speech, Jackson refers to the Indians as “savages,” another contradictory term. It is the most common term used to refer to the Indians and occurs throughout Jackson’s speech. This is just one of the terms he uses to describe the Indians, though. He also speaks in a ‘back handed’ way, saying that Indians should change their ways to become law abiding Christian men, full of love for their country, and religious like he is. He refers to such Christians as ‘civilized,’ thereby implying that the Indians are uncivilized. Jackson’s terms change throughout the speech, but seem mainly derogatory, by today’s standards. To Jackson, the only people who are worthy of land, and respect, and white men who are Christian and who live in the accepted way in the U.S. The Indians did not fit that profile and Jackson speaks about their inferiority in his speech.
Jackson compares the Indians’ emigration to the white citizens’ emigration. As he puts it, the white men frequently leave their homes and the graves of their fathers to seek new lands and to find better experiences. Jackson assumes that the Indians will have better experiences on their new land, because this land will keep them separate from the white men. He also explains how much better this deal is – purchasing them land on which to live – than the way white citizens handled expansion in previous generations (simply killing the Indians, through wars or disease). Jackson assumes that if the white men left England to come to America and find new opportunity (despite the difficulty of leaving their families and culture behind), that the Indians can deal with moving, too. He also compares the continued westward and southward expansion of the settlers to the Indians’ movement. Movement is good for all, according to Jackson.
Moving the Indians is also completely legal, Jackson explains. The Indians are unwilling to submit themselves to the laws of the U.S. and will not “mingle with their population” (Jackson). Therefore, the best course of action is to provide them with an area where they can live as they see fit without causing problems between themselves and the white settlers. The Indians are “savages,” and the deal that Jackson is offering is far better than any deal they’ve been offered before, especially considering their refusal to submit to the laws of the country. Jackson feels he is more than justified in his moving the Indians, and says as much in his speech. The Indians are also not considered a sovereign nation, but are merely seen as tenants on the land. It was also seen that the Indians’ rights to the land (if in fact they had any) were less important than the rights of the settlers to expand Westward. This also legally justifies his insistence that they move. If the Cherokee had been a sovereign nation (as they declared themselves), then it would have been illegal to move them. Of course, in 1830, they lost the battle to be declared a sovereign nation, but in 1832 they later won. However, this did not stop Jackson, who had already made up his mind about what he wanted to do with the Indians.
The Cherokee, as part of the Indian removal plan, did not want to leave their homes. It was due to their native land, but also because they felt themselves to be a sovereign nation, who owned the land. They insisted that their land was their own, because they built on it, farmed it, and adopted, in some cases, Western ways of living. They took their case to the Supreme Court twice. The first time the court decided against them; the second time, the court decided in their favor. However, no one was willing to uphold the court’s decision, including state officials, the military, and Andrew Jackson himself. This led to the Cherokee’s forcible removal in 1838.
The ultimate removal of the Cherokees came to be known as the Trail of Tears, as 4,000 of the 16,000 Cherokee forced to move died along the trail. They were moved at bayonet point by US troops, and were not allowed to pack or take any of their belongings. The Cherokee resistance, which bought them 8 years from the time the Indian Removal Act was signed was ultimately futile. The government was determined to remove the Indians, and high level officials agreed with this plan. The few dissenters, including the Supreme Court justices and Davy Crockett, were not vocal enough to make a difference in the government’s overall policy.
Additionally, many other tribes were being forced off their land during this time. The government was systematically removing tribes who stood in the way of Western expansion. Some did sign treaties and move voluntarily, which only added strength to the government’s insistence that the Cherokee also sign and move. A few signed the treaty, but most protested.
Beyond the government’s agenda, however, were the feelings of the white settlers. Many wanted to move West and felt the Indians were all standing in the way of their progress. This was especially true in the land in Georgia where gold was discovered. If the government wasn’t helping, or if the Indians ignored what the government said, the white settlers went in and harassed the Indians – killing animals, destroying crops, looting homes. Some Indians ended up moving simply because they were tired of the way white settlers were treating them.
Due to the strong anti-Indian movement in the country, and the pervasive belief that the Indians had no rights to any of the land they occupied, the Cherokee resistance was futile.
There have been other events in human history that compare to the way the Cherokees were treated. For example, the later removal of the Jews from Germany during the Holocaust. The leader in power, Hitler, was entirely against the Jews. He began subtly in his removal efforts, but ultimately began to force them in awful ways, including concentration camps, routine murders, and more. The overall feeling toward the Jews in Germany was that they were bad and deserved what they got, so that the pure Aryan race could rule the country. Any Jewish sympathizers were also killed, so they were not very vocal. While the Cherokee situation was not quite so violent – at least until the Trail of Tears – the actions and feelings were very similar. The U.S. government did not resort to routine killings or concentration camps. The reservations were similar to concentration camps in that they were pre-selected locations where the Indians had to live, but they were not also occupied by soldiers who forced the Indians to do anything once there. The reservations were really more similar to the ghettos of Germany – Indians could not leave them, but they also were not harmed as long as they stayed.
In the entire situation was very difficult. Indian removal was necessary for white settlers to expand Westward, but removing the Indians from lands they had owned for years was not particularly fair to the Indians. However, it is what is now. Many Cherokee still live in Oklahoma on the land they were forced to move to many decades ago, and the whites have completely expanded west and have filled the country. A difficult chapter in U.S. history is closed.
Jackson, Andrew. “Indian Removal Speech.” Presented in 1830. Accessed July 13, 2008. Website: http://www.classbrain.com/artteenst/publish/article_52.shtml.