Indian removal

Routes of southern removals

Indian removal was a policy of the United States government in the 19th century whereby Native Americans were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands in the eastern United States to lands west of the Mississippi River, thereafter known as Indian Territory. That policy has been characterized by some scholars as part of a long-term genocide of Native Americans [1] by European settlers to North America in the colonial period and citizens of the United States until the mid-20th century. [2] [3] This view has been disputed. [1] The policy traced its direct origins to the administration of James Monroe, though it addressed conflicts between European Americans and Native Americans that had been occurring since the 17th century, and were escalating into the early 19th century as white settlers were continually pushing westward. The Indian Removal Act was the key law that forced the removal of the Indians, and was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830.

The Revolutionary background

Some of the American Revolutionary thinkers and leaders viewed the American Indians not as a single people, but as nations in their own right, and developed early policies for the new United States to interact with the Indian nations:

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, in his "Proposed Articles of Confederation" (presented to the Continental Congress on May 10, 1775) for the nation about to take birth, called for a "perpetual Alliance" with the Indians, especially with the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Article XI. A perpetual Alliance offensive and defensive, is to be entered into as soon as may be with the Six Nations; their Limits to be ascertained and secured to them; their Land not to be encroached on, nor any private or Colony Purchases made of them hereafter to be held good; nor any Contract for Lands to be made but between the Great Council of the Indians at Onondaga and the General Congress. The Boundaries and Lands of all the other Indians shall also be ascertained and secured to them in the same manner; and Persons appointed to reside among them in proper Districts, who shall take care to prevent Injustice in the Trade with them, and be enabled at our general Expense by occasional small Supplies, to relieve their personal Wants and Distresses. And all Purchases from them shall be by the Congress for the General Advantage and Benefit of the United Colonies. [4]

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), defended American Indian culture and marveled at how the tribes of Virginia "never submitted themselves to any laws, any coercive power, any shadow of government" due to their "moral sense of right and wrong". [5] He would later write, "I believe the Indian then to be in body and mind equal to the whiteman". [6] His desire was for the Native Americans to intermix with European Americans and to become one people. [7] (p137) To achieve that end, President Jefferson would - in addition to offering U.S. citizenship to some of the Indian nations - propose lending credit to them for trade with the expectation they would be unable to honor their debts and thereby the United States would acquire their land. [8] [9]

George Washington

President George Washington, while addressing the Seneca nation in 1790, publicly pledged to uphold their “just rights” and described the pre-Constitutional defrauding of the Indians out of their land as “evil”. [10]

In March and April of 1792, Washington met with 50 tribal chiefs in Philadelphia – including the Iroquois – to discuss closer friendship between them and the United States. [11]

Later that same year, Washington stressed the need for building peace, trust, and commerce with America's Indian neighbors:

I cannot dismiss the subject of Indian affairs without again recommending to your consideration the expediency of more adequate provision for giving energy to the laws throughout our interior frontier, and for restraining the commission of outrages upon the Indians; without which all pacific plans must prove nugatory. To enable, by competent rewards, the employment of qualified and trusty persons to reside among them, as agents, would also contribute to the preservation of peace and good neighbourhood. If, in addition to these expedients, an eligible plan could be devised for promoting civilization among the friendly tribes, and for carrying on trade with them, upon a scale equal to their wants, and under regulations calculated to protect them from imposition and extortion, its influence in cementing their interests with our’s [sic] could not but be considerable. [12]

In 1795, in his Seventh Message to Congress, Washington expressed that if the US government wanted peace with the Indians, then it must give peace to them, and that if the US wanted raids by Indians to stop, then raids by American "frontier inhabitants" must also stop. [13]

Early Congressional Acts

The new Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which would, for years to come, serve broadly as a precedent for the manner in which the United States' territorial expansion would occur, called for the protection of Indians' "property, rights, and liberty":

Article 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them. [14]

The U.S. Constitution of 1787 (Article I, Section 8) calls for regulating commerce with the Indian tribes, and makes their importance to Congress equal to that of the states and foreign governments.

In 1790, Congress passed the Indian Nonintercourse Act (renewed and amended in 1793, 1796, 1799, 1802, and 1834) to protect and codify the Indians’ land rights.

The above acts and sentiments stood in contrast with those of President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s: [15]