Introduction: The Indian Removal Act and its Historical Context
The Indian removal act was signed into the American law on May 28, 1830, by the then President of Andrew Jackson. The decrees sanctioned the president to bargain with the Native American tribes that were located at the eastern territories to be moved to the central region, which was in the west of Mississippi so that white settlement could be established in their ancestral lands. The system of removal was later known as the unitary act that was geared towards bringing systematic genocide on the Indian people. It was regarded as a systematic genocide because it discriminated against a single ethnic group to the extent that several people died during the process. The act was powerfully enforced under the leadership of Jackson and that of Martin Van Buren. Although the southern and northeastern inhabitants much supported the law, it was primarily opposed by the Whig Party, which majorly composed of the native tribes. The paper will, therefore, explore the ideas that were prevalent in the federal government's Indian removal policy of the early 19th century by focusing on the viewpoints from the white Americans as well as the native tribes.
Reasons for the Indian Removal Act and Views of White Americans
Between the 1820s and 1830s, the forceful relocation of the native tribes was massively disputed. The controversies emanated from both the local and national levels where politicians, clergymen, and the local citizens discussed the reasons that necessitated the removal of the native tribes from the eastern territories to the west of Mississippi River. The motivation for those who supported the policy was that it would create more vacant lands for the citizens who were none Indians. The stretch would be from the great lakes all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It is important to note that the American Indian tribe leaders were also present in the conversation and, therefore, cannot be regarded as one-sided. When President Andrew Jackson was elected to power, he had visions and goals that he wanted to achieve. One of the objectives was the removal policy, which was meant to create more land for the white Americans in the Eastern territories. There were other leaders who had supported the idea of removal, and therefore Jackson was not the only one, but he used his official power to push for the effecting of the policy. The passing of the bill indicated that the American leaders were not concerned with humanity and justice but rather prioritized greed and power.
Impact on Native American Tribes and their Resistance
Although the American Indians had a voice and struggled to resist the power against them was massive. The Cherokees were the majority and well known and also targeted most in the removal act. They majorly shaped the dialogue of the Indian removal act because they had more significant political and legal strength to fight from Georgia as compared to other native tribes. The Cherokees tried their best to resist before the long trek of the trail of tears. Georgia was the most significant state, and it had great support for the removal of the Indian tribes. The president's other objective for dismissal was the hope that it would solve the Georgia crisis.
There were several people affected, and apart from the major tribes, there were also others affected, and they include; Shawnee, Lenape, Kickapoo, Wyandot, and Potawatomis. Although the Indian removal act was primarily supported, it also had significant opposition from the missionaries, and several Christians, one of them was Jeremiah Evarts. In the congress, it was opposed by leaders such as Davy Crockett as well as Theodore Frelinghuysen, and it only went through after a fierce debate. The president viewed the removal exercise is inevitable for various reasons.
From the primary sources, it is indicated that the Cherokees were defiant to observe the limits in which they were given regarding boundaries and that they claimed to be sovereign within their borders with the claim that the states are theirs. The federal government has therefore been forced to impose the authority of defense and safeguard its sovereignty. The committee found it a worthwhile course as long as it was done within the duties and administration of the federal government.
Although it was necessary to obtain consent from the Indians before their removal, the committee did not understand why this was the case, yet there was a right to eliminate competitors of their markets from their lands. The committee based their decision on the concept that they had the ground and political sovereignty on the areas in which the African Indians occupied. The white Americans claimed that they were entitled to the land and that they had the right to deny further occupation by their Indians for their subsistence farming.
Arguments for and against the Indian Removal Act
One of the arguments that necessitated the Indian removal act was that the white Americans felt that they needed to fight for the Georgia lands, which had been much occupied by the Indians. The proponents felt that the white Americans were gaining minimally from the area that was supposed to be initially theirs. Wilson Lumpkins emphasized the need to change the American policy regarding the relationship between the Indians and the state of Georgia, which needed to relieve from the significant burden it was carrying. He suggested that the Indian communities had gone beyond control, and the American government was no longer able to contain it. According to Lumpkins, there was an urgent need for change so that the American government could not be hindered in exercising control over the Indian communities.
Additionally, Lewis Cass and his arguments for the rights of civilization was also another issue that partially contributed to the removal act. Cass argued that there was a need for white colonization and control in the more significant parts of the Northern parts of America. He advocated for the displacement of the Indians and their dispossession from a general point of view, which fights for the rights of citizens. He pushed for the forward march in pursuit of civilization, and his approach was that instead of using treaty negotiations and land annexation dictation of land use and control on the uncivilized.
Another rationale for the Indian removal act was that it would eradicate the friction between the local and federal states in regard to the issues of the Indian dominion of the eastern lands. Scholars state, "It puts an end to all possible danger of collision between the authorities of the General and State Governments on account of the Indians. It will place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters"(American class ). The excerpt depicts that the federal government, which was majorly made of the majority of whites, would gain full control over the lands. It was meant to separate the Indians from the settlements of the whites and also pursue freedom and happiness in their own areas where they would exercise rebellion on their own.
On the contrary, Theodore Frelinghuysen opposed the Indian removal act, arguing that there was a need to protect and advocate for the rights of the native tribes in America and also observe the integrity of their territorial boundaries. Frelinghuysen, in his long speech, states, "I now proceed to the discussion of those principles which, in my humble judgment, fully and clearly sustain the claims of the Indians to all their political and civil rights, as by them asserted. And here, I insist that, by immemorial possession, as the original tenants of the soil, they hold a title beyond and superior to the British Crown and her colonies, and to all the adverse pretensions of our confederation and subsequent Union" ( H.R. Rep. No. 227, 21st Cong., 1st Sess. (1830), 1-3, 6-7.). He argued it form integrity and personal point of view. The Indian removal act greatly affected the native tribes because they lost not only the lands but also property and lives.
The Trail of Tears: Devastating Consequences
While the white Americans benefitted and achieved the lands they had long desired, as well as dominion of in the territories, left the American Indians suffered significant losses. In the trail of tears, the Indians walked a considerable distance to the lands that they were supposed to occupy after being forcefully evicted. They were forcibly removed from their areas, leading to the destruction of millions of properties. They suffered losses as some features were looted by the evictors as well as being destroyed as they could not get them out of their homes and premises. Women were sexually assaulted, and some families were separated. Children and the elderly suffered greatly as they could not be able to walk long distances, and several of them died on the way. Several people also died because of hunger and thirst as they were on their way. Frelinghuysen explores the laments of the Indians stating "The Indian bears it all meekly; he complains, indeed, as well he may; but suffers on: and now he finds that this neighbor, whom his kindness had nourished, has spread an adverse title over the last remains of his patrimony, barely adequate to his wants, and turns upon him, and says, "away! We cannot endure you so near us!" ( H.R. Rep. No. 227, 21st Cong., 1st Sess. (1830), 1-3, 6-7.). It is an indication that he was fighting for the rights of the Indians when humanity could not be considered.
In conclusion, it is essential to note that the Indian removal act was an act that was meant to benefit the white Americans while the native tribes suffered greatly. It was one of the visions of President Andrew Jackson when he was elected for the presidency. The native tribes lost not only property but also lives during the trail of tears.
American class. The Causes and Consequences of Indian Removal retrieved from http://americainclass.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/WEB-Indian-Removal-Presentation.pdf Accessed April 21, 2020
Bowes, John P. Land too good for Indians: Northern Indian removal. Vol. 13. University of Oklahoma Press, 2016.
Goss, George William. "The Debate over Indian Removal in the 1830s." (2011).
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