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. In a matter that remains one of debate by scholars, description of the policy—which clearly contributed to devastation in numbers, freedom and prosperity for those displaced—is sometimes elevated to being one of long-term genocide of Native Americans, [1] [2] in any case, a consequence of actions first by European settlers to North America in the colonial period, then by the United States government and its citizens until the mid-20th century. [3] [4] 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

American leaders in the Revolutionary and Early National era debated whether the American Indians should be treated officially as individuals or as nations in their own right. [5] Some of these views are summarized below.

Benjamin Franklin

In a draft, "Proposed Articles of Confederation", presented to the Continental Congress on May 10, 1775, Benjamin Franklin called for a "perpetual Alliance" with the Indians for the nation about to take birth, especially with the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: [6] [7]

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.

Thomas Jefferson

In his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), Thomas Jefferson 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". [8] [9] He would later write to the Marquis de Chastellux in 1785, "I believe the Indian then to be in body and mind equal to the whiteman". [10] His desire, as interpreted by Francis Paul Prucha, was for the Native Americans to intermix with European Americans and to become one people. [11] [12] To achieve that end, Jefferson would, as President, offer U.S. citizenship to some Indian nations, and propose offering credit to them to facilitate their trade—with the expectation, as Bernard Sheehan [13] argues, that they would be unable to honor their debts and thereby allow the United States to acquire their land. [14] [15] [16]

George Washington

President George Washington, in his address to the Seneca nation in 1790, described the pre-Constitutional Indian land sale difficulties as "evils", asserted that the case was now entirely altered, and publicly pledged to uphold their "just rights". [17] [18] 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. [19] Later that same year, in his Fourth Annual Message to Congress, Washington stressed the need for building peace, trust, and commerce with America's Indian neighbors: [20]

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. [21]

In 1795, in his Seventh Annual Message to Congress, Washington intimated that if the U.S. government wanted peace with the Indians, then it must give peace to them, and that if the U.S. wanted raids by Indians to stop, then raids by American "frontier inhabitants" must also stop. [22] [23]

Early Congressional Acts

The Confederation Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which would serve broadly as a precedent for the manner in which the United States' territorial expansion would occur for years to come, calling for the protection of Indians' "property, rights, and liberty": [24] The U.S. Constitution of 1787 (Article I, Section 8) makes Congress responsible for regulating commerce with the Indian tribes. In 1790, the new U.S. Congress passed the Indian Nonintercourse Act (renewed and amended in 1793, 1796, 1799, 1802, and 1834) to protect and codify the land rights of recognized tribes. [25]