The Debate Over Indian Removal
Pro: Arguments in favor of Indian removal
Andrew Jackson, First Annual Address to Congress, 1829
The condition and ulterior destiny of the Indian tribes within the limits of some of our States have become objects of much interest and importance…though lavish in its expenditures upon the subject, Government has constantly defeated its own policy, and the Indians in general, receding farther and farther to the west, have retained their savage habits. A portion, however, of the Southern tribes, having mingled much with the whites and made some progress in the arts of civilized life, have lately attempted to erect an independent government within the limits of Georgia and Alabama. These States, claiming to be the only sovereigns within their territories, extended their laws over the Indians, which induced the latter to call upon the United States for protection.
Under these circumstances the question presented was whether the General Government had a right to sustain those people in their pretensions. The Constitution declares that “no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State” without the consent of its legislature. If the General Government is not permitted to tolerate the erection of a confederate State within the territory of one of the members of this Union against her consent, much less could it allow a foreign and independent government to establish itself there….
Actuated by this view of the subject, I informed the Indians inhabiting parts of Georgia and Alabama that their attempt to establish an independent government would not be countenanced by the Executive of the United States, and advised them to emigrate beyond the Mississippi or submit to the laws of those States.
Our conduct toward these people is deeply interesting to our national character. Their present condition, contrasted with what they once were, makes a most powerful appeal to our sympathies. Our ancestors found them the uncontrolled possessors of these vast regions. By persuasion and force they have been made to retire from river to river and from mountain to mountain, until some of the tribes have become extinct and others have left but remnants to preserve for awhile their once terrible names. Surrounded by the whites with their arts of civilization, which by destroying the resources of the savage doom him to weakness and decay, the fate of the Mohegan, the Narragausett, and the Delaware is fast overtaking the Choctaw, the Cherokee, and the Creek. That this fate surely awaits them if they remain within the limits of the States does not admit of a doubt. Humanity and national honor demand that every effort should be made to avert so great a calamity…
As a means of effecting this end I suggest for your consideration the propriety of setting apart an ample district west of the Mississippi, and without the limits of any State or Territory now formed, to be guaranteed to the Indian tribes as long as they shall occupy it, each tribe having a distinct control over the portion designated for its use. There they may be secured in the enjoyment of governments of their own choice, subject to no other control from the United States than such as may be necessary to preserve peace on the frontier and between the several tribes. There the benevolent may endeavor to teach them the arts of civilization, and, by promoting union and harmony among them, to raise up an interesting commonwealth, destined to perpetuate the race and to attest the humanity and justice of this Government.
This emigration should be voluntary, for it would be as cruel as unjust to compel the aboriginies to abandon the graves of their fathers and seek a home in a distant land. But they should be distinctly informed that if they remain within the limits of the States they must be subject to their laws…
Andrew Jackson, Second Annual Address to Congress, 1830
The consequences of a speedy removal will be important to the United States, to individual States, and to the Indians themselves. The pecuniary advantages which it promises to the Government are the least of its recommendations. 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. By opening the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south to the settlement of the whites it will incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier and render the adjacent States strong enough to repel future invasions without remote aid. It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy, and enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power. It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community. These consequences, some of them so certain and the rest so probable, make the complete execution of the plan sanctioned by Congress at their last session an object of much solicitude….
Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country, and Philanthropy has been long busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth…. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?…
It is, therefore, a duty which this Government owes to the new States to extinguish as soon as possible the Indian title to all lands which Congress themselves have included within their limits.
The North American R eview, Vo lume 30, Issue 66, January 1830, pp 62-121
A barbarous people, depending for subsistence upon the scanty and precarious supplies furnished by the chase, cannot live in contact with a civilized community. As the cultivated border approaches the haunts of the animals, which are valuable for food or furs, they recede and seek shelter in less accessible situations…There is no reason to believe, that vegetable productions were ever cultivated to any considerable extent by the Indians, or formed an important part of their food. Corn, and beans, and pumpkins were indigenous to the country, and were probably raised in small quantities around each Indian village. But they were left to the labor of the women, whose only instrument of agriculture was a clam-shell, or the shoulder-blade of a buffalo, tied to a stick. Their habits of life were then what they now are. They returned from their hunting grounds in the spring, and assembled in their villages…
That individuals among the Cherokees have acquired property, and with it more enlarged views and juster notions of the value of our institutions, and the unprofitableness of their own, we have little doubt. And we have as little doubt, that this change of opinion and condition is confined, in a great measure to some of the Half-breeds and their immediate connexions. These are not sufficiently numerous to affect our general proposition; and the causes, which have led to this state of things are too peculiar ever to produce an extensive result. An analysis of these causes is not within the task we have assigned to ourselves. They have been operating for many years, and among the most prominent of them has been the introduction of slaves, by which means that unconquerable aversion to labor, so characteristic of all savage tribes, can be indulged..
[T]he great body of the people are in a state of helpless and hopeless poverty. With the same improvidence and habitual indolence, which mark the northern Indians, they have less game for subsistence, and less peltry for sale. We doubt whether there is, upon the face of the globe, a more wretched race than the Cherokees, as well as the other southern tribes, present. Many of them exhibit spectacles as disgusting as they are degrading. Only three years since, an appropriation was made by Congress, upon the representations of the authorities of Florida, to relieve the Indians there from actual starvation…. We are well aware, that the constitution of the Cherokees, their press, and newspaper, and alphabet, their schools and police, have sent through all our borders the glad tidings, that the long night of aboriginal ignorance was ended and that the day of knowledge had dawned. Would that it were so….
The peculiar character and habits of the Indian nations, rendered them incapable of sustaining any other relation with the whites, than that of dependence and pupilage. There was no other way of dealing with them, than that of keeping them separate, subordinate, and dependent, with a guardian care thrown around them for their protection. All this, and much more than this, is incontrovertible. They would not, or rather they could not, coalesce with the strangers who had come among them. There was no point of union between them. They were as wild, and fierce, and irreclaimable, as the animals, their co-tenants of the forests, who furnished them with food and clothing. What had they in common with the white man? Not his attachment to sedentary life; not his desire of accumulation; not his submission to law ; not his moral principles, his intellectual acquirements, his religious opinions. Neither precept nor example, neither hopes nor fears, could induce them to examine, much less to adopt their improvements. The past and the future being alike disregarded, the present only employs their thoughts.
Francis J. Grund, The Americans in Their Moral, Social and Political Relations (Boston: Marsh, Capen & Lyon, 1837), pp.225-228
Let no sensitive European, therefore, complain of the barbarous cruelty of the Americans in chasing the Indians from the soil of their fathers or in forcing them to flee from the approach of civilization to the unhospitable woods of the western territory. The American aborigine, with but very few exceptions, never possessed the soil on which they trod any more than the air which they breathed. They never cultivated it to any extent, nor had they, individually, any distinct title to it arising from actual labor. They held it in common with the beasts of the forest, and it was useful to them only as it afforded them the means of prey. The English had as good a right to call the ocean their own, because they moved on it, as the American Indians to claim possession of their continent because they roamed in its woods. There was barbarity in the conquest of Lima and Mexico, the inhabitants of which were already in possession of many of the arts of peace; but there can be none in the quiet progress of civilization in the United States, except what is provoked by the Indians themselves, and for which they alone must remain accountable. The American settler takes possession of a soil which has never been cultivated, and which, therefore, has had no owner. He builds his log-house in a country in which there is room enough for the support of millions, and in which there are hardly a few hundred stragglers to follow the track of the deer. Is this robbery? Is it cruel to civilize and improve a country, and to open a new road to wealth and comfort to thousands of intelligent beings from all parts of the world, who would otherwise starve or be reduced to poverty, because in so doing they cannot avoid intruding on the favorite hunting-grounds of some wandering tribes, and disturb their game? This, however, they do; and, with the deer, the American aborigines disappear from the soil…
Neither is it reasonable to suppose that the quitting of their favorite hunting-grounds can give the American Indians the same pangs which an everlasting farewell to tile paternal soil, the scene of all early attachments, and the habitation of all that we love, fraught with the memory and tradition of centuries, can cause to a civilised nation. The Indians quit what never was precisely their own; they leave no object of memory or tradition behind; and, although the loss may be felt by the tribe, no individual is actually despoiled of his own. But it is the feelings of individuals which we must here consider; not that of the tribe or nation. A people cannot be said to feel the wrongs and pains inflicted upon it by another, except in proportion as the sufferings of the whole are felt and responded to by individuals. This, however, presupposes a degree of moral development, and a pitch of national enthusiasm, of which even history is sparing in furnishing us with examples, and of which certainly but few traces are to be found in the Indian character. Let no one mistake the hatred which the colored races bear to the whites, and to each other, for a strong love of country and an attachment to their native woods. Hatred of others is but a negative and barbarous qualification of nationality, and is by no means a necessary concomitant of its positive virtues. The hatred between the different races is something animal and instinctive, and is far removed from the noble disinterestedness of genuine patriotism. Whatever color poetry may lend to the removal of the Indians, it is, nevertheless, but the removal of a sick bed from a place where death is certain, to one from which it is more remote. Neither is it the death of youth or of manhood, but that of old age and decrepitude, which the Indian is doomed to die; and in his mouldering ashes germinates the seed of empires, destined to change the face of the world. This is but applying the universal law of nature to man: there is no life without death to precede it; no seed without destroying the blossom; no offspring without destruction to its genitors. One nation must perish to make room for another…
Con: Arguments Against Indian removal
“Memorial of the Cherokee Indians,” Niles’ Weekly Register vol. 38 no. 3, pp 53-54.
To the honorable the senate and house of representatives of the United States of America, in congress assembled:
The undersigned memorialists, humbly make known to your honorable bodies, that they are free citizens of the Cherokee nation. Circumstances of late occurrence have troubled our hearts, and induced us at this time to appeal to you, knowing that you are generous and just. As weak and poor children are accustomed to look to their guardians and patrons for protection, so we would come and make our grievances known. Will you listen to us? Will you have pity on us? You are great and renowned. The nation, which you represent, is like a mighty man who stands in his strength. But we are small, our name is not renowned. You are wealthy, and have need of nothing; but we are poor in life, and have not the arm and power of the rich….
We love, we dearly love our country, and it is due to your honorable bodies, as well as to us, to make known why we think the country is ours, and why we wish to remain in peace where we are. The land on which we stand, we have received as an inheritance from our fathers, who possessed it from time immemorial, as a gift from our common father in heaven. We have already said, that when the white man came to the shores of America, our ancestors were found in peaceable possession of this very land. They bequeathed it to us as their children, and we have sacredly kept it as containing the remains of our beloved men. This right of inheritance we have never ceded, nor ever forfeited. Permit us to ask, what better right can a people have to a country, than the right of inheritance and immemorial peaceable possession? We know it is said of late by the state of Georgia, and by the executive of the United States, that we have forfeited this right but we think this is said gratuitously. At what time have we made the forfeit? What crime have we committed, whereby we must forever be divested of our country and rights? Was it when we were hostile to the United States, and took part with the king of Great Britain, during the struggle for independence? If so, why was not this forfeiture declared in the first treaty of peace between the United States and our beloved men? Why was not such an article as the following inserted in the treaty: “The United States give peace to the Cherokees, but, for the part they took in the late war, declare them to be but tenants at will, to be removed when the convenience of the states within whose chartered limits they live shall require it.” This was the proper lime to assume such a position. But it was not thought of, nor would our forefathers have agreed to any treaty, whose tendency was to deprive them of their rights and their country. All that they have conceded and relinquished are inserted in the treaties open to the investigation of all people. We would repeat, then, the right of inheritance and peaceable possession which we claim, we have never ceded nor forfeited.
In addition to that first of all rights, the right of inheritance and peaceable possession, we have the faith and pledge of the U. States, repealed over and over again, in treaties made at various times. By these treaties our rights as a separate people are distinctly acknowledged, and guarantees given that they shall be secured and protected. So we have always understood the treaties. The conduct of the government towards us, from its organization until very lately, the talks given to our beloved men by the presidents of the United States, and the speeches of the agents and commissioners, all concur to show that we are not mistaken in our interpretation. Some of our beloved men who signed the treaties are still leaving, and their testimony tends to the same conclusion. We have always supposed that this understanding of the treaties was in accordance with the views of the government; nor have we ever imagined that any body would interpret them otherwise. In what light shall we view the conduct of the United States and Georgia, in their intercourse with us, in urging us to enter into treaties, and cede lands? If we were but tenants at will, why was it necessary that our consent must be obtained before these governments could take lawful possession of our lands? The answer is obvious. These governments perfectly understood our rights our right to the country, and our right to self government. Our understanding of the treaties is further supported by the intercourse law of the United States, which prohibits all encroachments upon our territory. The undersigned memorialists humbly represent, that if their interpretation of the treaties has been different from that of the government, then they have ever been deceived as to how the government regarded them, and what she asked and promised. Moreover, they have uniformly misunderstood their own acts….
Letter from John Ross, et al, delegates from the Cherokee Nation, to the Hon. Lewis Cass, Sec. of War, Feb. 14, 1833. Public Documents of the Twenty-Third Congress, Vol. III, (Washington: Duff-Green, 1834), pp.32-35
We cannot subscribe to the correctness of the idea which has so frequently been recurred to by the advocates of Indian removal, that the evils which have befallen and swept away the numerous tribes that once inhabited the old States are to be traced to the mere circumstance of their contiguity to a white population; but we humbly conceive that the true causes of their extinction are to be found in the catalogue of wrongs which have been heaped upon their ignorance and credulity by the superior policies of the white man, when dictated by avarice and cupidity. You appeal to our better feelings in regard to the situation of our people, and suggest that, under existing circumstances, some sacrifices may well be encountered in removing from contact with a white population in order to escape the fate which hat swept away so many Indian tribes. Should the doctrine that Indian tribes cannot exist contiguously to a white population prevail, and they be compelled to remove west of the States and Territories of this republic, what is to prevent a similar removal of them from there for the same reason? We can only plead, let equal justice be done between the red and the white man; and that so long as the faith of contracts is preserved inviolate, there will be no just cause for complaint, much less for aggressions on the right…
The North American R eview. Volume 31, Issue 69, October 1830, pp. 396-442
On the subject of the rights of the American aborigines, there has been much loose reasoning, and some quite as loose morality. It will be found, however, that respectable writers have more frequently been led into error by stating extravagant cases and raising imaginary difficulties, than by examining the foundation of title to lands, or by looking at facts, as they took place on the settlement of this country. Much of the writing on the subject has been provoked by vehement and sweeping censures of the conduct and policy pursued by colonists from Europe. The occasion of these censures, it was supposed, could be removed in no other way than by making out for Europeans a paramount title, partly on the ground of superior civilization, and partly because they were commonly in the habit of using land for tillage, which was not generally done by the original inhabitants of America. It is to be remembered, also, that self-interest has always been able to engage advocates to enlarge, fortify, and defend the pretensions of the whites; while the Indians have had no logicians to expose the sophistry of those, who would make the worse appear the better reason… The question that presents itself, at the very threshold of the discussion, is, What were the relative rights of the North American Indians, and of the early discoverers, to the lands of this continent? On this question we shall briefly express an opinion. … If, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the sovereign of a populous country might take possession of a sparsely settled territory belonging to his neighbor, merely because he could put the land to a better use than his neighbor was inclined to do, Europe might have afforded opportunities enough to carry the principle into practice. Large portions of Prussia, Poland, and European Russia were at that time very thinly inhabited. When such a chapter had been fairly inserted in the law of nations, and had been found convenient in its application to such a power as Russia, it would be quite soon enough to force it upon the natives of America. The Christian powers of Europe made what they called the Law of Nations. Why not first apply their own law to themselves? If it may be forcibly demanded of a community, which has much land and few people, to give a part of its land to a populous neighbor, why not make a great international agrarian law, by which Europe should he parceled out to the different nations, in a compound ratio, having regard to the number of souls, and the relative productiveness of the land? Even in our own days, there are many places upon the Eastern continent, where land might he claimed by all the arguments, which are set in such formidable array against the possession of the American Indians… The fact is, that the great title to land, from the days of Noah to the present time, both in respect to communities and individuals, has been a lawful occupancy… Over a great part of the world, indeed, the law of the strongest has been the only governing rule of action. But wherever nations, or individuals, have pretended to respect each others claims, and to act upon principles of moral rectitude, the title to property has not been made to depend upon the use to which the possessor applies his property. He must, indeed, so use his own as not to injure his neighbor; but more than this he is not required to do. Nations are not to be asked whether they gain their subsistence by hunting, pasturage, fishing or agriculture, before it can be determined, whether they have a title to their own country or not. The only question, which an honest man need to put, is, Have you a lawful possession of a country within known boundaries? If this question can be answered in the affirmative, the whole matter of title is forever at rest. The United States would contend with a very ill grace for the doctrine, that unsettled lands may be seized by those, who need them for the purpose of cultivation. How many millions of the people of France, Germany and Ireland might appropriate to themselves good farms in the States of Indiana, Illinois and Missouri? Why should they not take immediate possession and set up their own forms of government? It is worse than idle to say, that an uncivilized man has not the same title to property that a civilized man would have, in the same circumstances. There is not, there never was, a law of nations that explicitly made this distinction. It is admitted, that an Indian has as good a title to his canoe, as an English merchant to his ship. Why not as good a title to his landing-place, his little island, and his wigwam, as an English gentleman to his park and his villa?…
But if we were to admit, that Indians had no right to their own lands when this continent was discovered, and that they were to be considered as without the pale of human society, and to be hunted down as buffaloes and bears, it by no means follows, that their character and relations would remain the same, after the white settlers had entered into friendly engagements with them. This, in point of fact, was always done by the settlers, at the earliest practicable moment. The language of the whites to the Indians was, we are brethren, children of the same Almighty Lord and Father of all. We have come to do you good. We wish to live in peace with you. As you have much land, will you not grant us a little, and admit us into your neighborhood? The Indians answered, though sometimes with hesitation and fear, you may settle by our side, and you may have land within certain limits. Compacts of this kind were made between the first settlers and the Indians, along the whole line of the Atlantic coast. From the moment, in which they were made, whatever the respective rights of the parties might have been previously, the question of lawful title should have been considered as forever settled. The Europeans had chosen to regard the red men as human beings, and not as buffaloes and bears. They had addressed them as reasonable beings, and found them accessible to motives, and susceptible of love and hatred, hope and fear; gratitude and generosity. They had proposed friendly relations, and their proposal had been accepted. They had admitted a title in the original possessors, by accepting grants from them; and, by agreeing upon limits, they acknowledged the title of the Indians to all lands not purchased from them. No conclusion can be safer, or more unquestionable than that the bare assignment of limits between communities, with the declaration, reciprocally made, the land on this side belongs to us, on the other side to you, is an acknowledgment of a perfect title.
William Penn, Essays on the Present Crisis in the Condition of the American Indians (Perkins & Marvins: Boston, 1829), pp. 7-8
What right have the Cherokees to the lands which they occupy? This is a plain question, and easily answered. The Cherokees are human beings, endowed by their Creator with the same natural rights as other men. They are in peaceable possession of a territory which they have always regarded as their own. This territory was in possession of their ancestors, through an unknown series of generations, and has come down to them with a title absolutely unencumbered in every respect. It is not pretended, that the Cherokees have ever alienated their country, or that the whites have ever been in possession of it…
It has been alleged, that the savage of the wilderness can acquire no title to the forests, through which he pursues his game. While not admitting this doctrine, it is sufficient to reply here, that it has no application to the case of the Cherokees. They are at present neither savages nor hunters. It does not appear that they ever were mere wanderers, without a stationary residence. At the earliest period of our becoming acquainted with their condition, they had fixed habitations, and were in undisputed possession of a widely extended country. They were then in the habit of cultivating some land near their houses, where they planted Indian corn, and other vegetables. From about the commencement of the present century, they have addicted themselves more and more to agriculture, till they now derive their support from the soil, as truly and entirely as do the inhabitants of Pennsylvania or Virginia. For many years they have had their herds and their large cultivated fields. They now have, in addition, their schools, a regular civil government, and places of regular Christian worship. They earn their bread by the labor of their own hands applied to the tillage of their own farms and they clothe themselves with fabrics made at their own looms, from cotton grown in their own fields.
“Georgia.” Encyclopedia Americana , 5th Volume. Philadelphia: Desilver, Thomas, & Co., 1836. 440
The following notice of them is extracted from Mr. Sherwood’s Gazetteer of Georgia, published in 1827. “Within the last 20 years, the Cherokees have rapidly advanced towards civilization. They now live in comfortable houses, chiefly in villages, and cultivate large farms. They raise large herds of cattle, which they sell for beef to the inhabitants of neighboring states. Many mechanical arts have been introduced among them. They have carpenters and blacksmiths, and many of the women spin and weave, and make butter and cheese. The population, instead of decreasing, as is the case generally with tribes surrounded by the whites, increases very rapidly. There are now 13,563 natives in the nation; 147 white men and 73 white women have intermarried with them. They own 1277 slaves. Total, 15,060 souls. Increase in the last six years, 3563. Their government is republican, and power is vested in a committee and council, answering to our senate and house of representatives. The members are elected once in two years. Newtown is the seat of government. Their judges act with authority, and prevent entirely the use of ardent spirits during the sessions of their courts. The mission at Spring Place was established in 1801. Since that time, nearly a dozen have been brought into operation in various parts of the nation. The number of children in the several missionary schools is nearly 500, all learning the English language.
Decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Worcester v. State of Georgia (1832)
Much has been said against the existence of an independent power within a sovereign state; and the conclusion has been drawn, that the Indians, as a matter of right, cannot enforce their own laws within the territorial limits of a state. The refutation of this argument is found in our past history. That fragments of tribes, having lost the power of self-government, and who lived within the ordinary jurisdiction of a state, have been taken under the protection of the laws, has already been admitted. But there has been no instance, where the state laws have been generally extended over a numerous tribe of Indians, living within the state, and exercising the right of self-government, until recently…
[I]f it shall be the policy of the government to withdraw its protection from the Indians who reside within the limits of the respective states, and who not only claim the right of self government, but have uniformly exercised it; the laws and treaties which impose duties and obligations on the general government should be abrogated by the powers competent to do so. So long as those laws and treaties exist, having been formed within the sphere of the federal powers, they must be respected and enforced by the appropriate organs of the federal government.
It has been shown, that the treaties and laws referred to come within the due exercise of the constitutional powers of the federal government; that they remain in full force, and consequently must be considered as the supreme laws of the land. These laws throw a shield over the Cherokee Indians. They guarantied to them their rights of occupancy, of self- government, and the full enjoyment of those blessings which might be attained in their humble condition. But, by the enactments of the state of Georgia, this shield is broken in pieces-the infant institutions of the Cherokees are abolished, and their laws annulled.
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