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The Trail of Tears and Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Steven Shirley
Andrew Jackson led a political war against Native American People, which forcibly removed Native Americans from their land. This lesson explores the Trail of Tears, the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and Cherokee resistance. Updated: 08/27/2021

Jackson's Political War on the Native American People

President Jackson and Vice President Calhoun
Andrew Jackson John Calhoun

In his dealings with Vice President Calhoun and the legislature of South Carolina, President Andrew Jackson had sided distinctly with the federal government. He was the president of all the people, had fought hard to keep the Union intact, and did not believe states had the right to nullify federal law as they saw fit. In his America, the Union came first; states' rights had to take a back seat. That is until he found an issue on which he agreed with the states, and on those rare occasions, no state had a better friend than Andrew Jackson.

During his years in the White House, there happened to be one issue of particular importance to Jackson and the states, allowing for a close cooperation in its resolution. That issue? The removal of indigenous people from their ancestral lands and displacing them westward on to reservations. There, it was believed, they would be out of the settler's affairs. What is more, Native American people's lands could then be seized and exploited as the American people saw fit.

It came as no surprise that Jackson had little sympathy for the plight of Native American people east of the Mississippi. He had spent the majority of his career fighting the tribes; indeed, he had made a substantial part of his reputation as a hard-as-nails general fighting Native American tribes throughout the Southeast.

As president, he was no more eager to consent to the Native American people's self-rule inside the United States as were state governments who had to deal with the tribes directly. He believed the Native American people were uncivilized and incapable of self-government.

Even when certain tribes, like the Cherokee tribe, had adopted the ways of the settlers, settled down, and governed themselves, Jackson was quick to ignore it as an anomaly. He had one goal, and that was their removal. His people, the white people of the states, were also his voters, and they came first, and so the Native American people had to go.

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  • 0:04 War on the Native American
  • 2:20 Indian Removal Act
  • 3:29 The Cherokee Resist
  • 5:10 Trail of Tears
  • 7:05 Lesson Summary
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Map showing the changing Cherokee land borders
Cherokee Lands Map

Indian Removal Act of 1830

To modern eyes, the policy to remove the Native American people may seem heartless, but to those living at the time, they saw it as a humane way to solve a nagging problem. To facilitate this, Jackson introduced to Congress what was known as the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The act promised that the federal government of the United States would pay a fair price to the tribes for their lands, and the government would also be responsible for paying any costs associated with tribal relocation. Moreover, the new land to be given to the tribes west of the Mississippi would be inviolate, and the government promised to protect them against all encroachment and conflict.

Several tribes who inhabited lands in the South took the government up on their offer and voluntarily moved westward. For they knew, especially after the Jackson landslide victory of 1832, that resistance was futile. One tribe, however, did not budge but decided to stay and fight through legal channels. These were the members of the Cherokee tribe.

The Cherokee Resist

The Cherokee tribe, the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi, once dominated territories in the Great Smoky Mountains. At the time Jackson was president, their lands had shrunk, but still they remained in control of sizable swaths of land in northern Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, lands the white settlers wanted for growing cotton.

It didn't help their cause that gold was discovered in Dahlonega, Georgia, also an area that members of the Cherokee tribe claimed. The first gold rush of the United States simply added to the insistence that Cherokee members move out so the settlers could move in.

General Winfield Scott forced Cherokee members into concentration camps
General Winfield Scott

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