Primary Source: The Indian Removal Act of 1830

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The young American government did not consider Native Americans to be citizens and forcibly moved them off of new areas for white settlement. This led to outright conflict with many tribes throughout the 1800s.

Indian Removal Act

The relationship between Native Americans and white settlers in American history has rarely been peaceful or mutually beneficial. From the first days of European colonialism in the Americas, whites aggressively forced natives from their territory in order to build their own homes and cities. Conflict on a large and small scale continued throughout colonial American history and into the history of the republic in its early days, as white Americans slowly advanced from the eastern coast across the Appalachians and west across North America.

Andrew Jackson, president from 1829 to 1837, was one of the fiercest proponents of Indian removal. He signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, giving him the authority to make agreements with native tribes, promising them land farther and farther west from white settlements. Jackson agreed to terms with dozens of tribes, but many more were forced from their homes to reservations, most famously tribes in the regions of Georgia and Florida who were removed on the Trail of Tears.

The most direct result of the Indian Removal Act was the migration of large numbers of tribes from the southeastern United States to the territory that today is the state of Oklahoma over the next decade. Not all tribes left peacefully: the Seminole of Florida fought a war that lasted until the 1840s and resulted in the federal government, unable to quell their rebellion, granting them the ability to stay in Florida rather than be relocated.

Let's take a look at the act now.

Text of Indian Removal Act of 1830:

The Removal Act

28 May 1830

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.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That it shall and may be lawful for the President of the United States to cause so much of any territory belonging to the United States, west of the river Mississippi, not included in any state or organized territory, and to which the Indian title has been extinguished, as he may judge necessary, to be divided into a suitable number of districts, for the reception of such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remove there; and to cause each of said districts to be so described by natural or artificial marks, as to be easily distinguished from every other.

And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to exchange any or all of such districts, so to be laid off and described, with any tribe or nation of Indians now residing within the limits of any of the states or territories, and with which the United States have existing treaties, for the whole or any part or portion of the territory claimed and occupied by such tribe or nation, within the bounds of any one or more of the states or territories, where the land claimed and occupied by the Indians, is owned by the United States, or the United States are bound to the state within which it lies to extinguish the Indian claim thereto.

And be it further enacted, That in the making of any such exchange or exchanges, it shall and may be lawful for the President solemnly to assure the tribe or nation with which the exchange is made, that the United States will forever secure and guaranty to them, and their heirs or successors, the country so exchanged with them; and if they prefer it, that the United States will cause a patent or grant to be made and executed to them for the same: Provided always, That such lands shall revert to the United States, if the Indians become extinct, or abandon the same.

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