Indian removal marks among the darkest blots on the American history; the whole process aimed at relocating whole communities to the west of the Mississippi had various motivations ranging from the need to settle white farmers to removing the possibility of having sovereign groups within the preformed states.
Apart from the disenfranchisement of the Native Americans through alienation from their land, there was also immense suffering during and after the relocation process. Additionally, the removal was in direct contradiction of the treaties with the Indian nations that obliged the federal government to protect them from the hostile treatment received from the respective state governments in their quest to coerce the Indians to move from their ancestral land (Renini, 2002).
This paper seeks to compare between the opinions of two authors regarding the role of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 in the process and outcome of removal; and in the way the then president Andrew Jackson used it to achieve the removal goals.
On one hand Michael Morris (2007) in his article “Georgia and the conversation over Indian removal” urges that the act was a necessary part of the process of removal as it legitimized the unjust loss of ancestral lands by Native Americans. On the other hand, Alfred A. Cave (2003) in the article “Abuse of Power: Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act Of 1830” urges the president was operating completely outside the act and the constitution; and indeed that some of the actions against the Indian people sanctioned by the white house amounted to a gross abuse of power and illegal.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 as a Necessity to Relocation
Morris (2007) is of the view that the act was a part of the debate that in the view of the president for legitimizing the removal of Indians. Such was the basis of promoting the opinion that the removal of the Indian tribes was the only way to ensure their survival in a rapidly expanding western culture. This was in-turn based on the belief that the western culture held the monopoly of civilization in the United States and indeed in the world.
The author acknowledges that the issue of removal was never really open for discussion on the part of the president; and was a foregone conclusion after the discovery of gold in some Indian territories such as in Auraria in the northern portions of the state of Georgia in 1828. the main aim of the president was to put up front of commitment to the welfare of the Indian people so as to placate the many voices vehemently opposing the uprooting of people from the rightfully owned land for the benefit of white settlers.
The president having grown up in a frontier environment where there was constant danger of raids from the Waxhaw Indians and repression by British troops in South Carolina; and must have harbored hostile sentiments towards Native American existence within the white population. This was evident in the disdain that he held the process of making and enforcing treaties; especially vis-à-vis reversing the invasion of protected Indian Territory by the often hostile white settlers. As such, the president was opposed to the ‘civilization’ program that sought to transform the Indian population into a Christian farmers community; terming it as ineffective. The only solution that he saw was the complete segregation of the aborigines so that they can live out their ‘uncivilized’ existence away from the white population.
However, for a considerable period of time, the official rhetoric from the white house was that the assimilation program had some, albeit modest success with the native Americans adopting some aspects of western culture such as textile and farming; and had abandoned practices of fishing and hunting for subsistence. However, during this period, Jackson was acquiring and designating land for the resettlement of removed Indians.
From the very onset of his reign in office, the issue of removal was at the forefront; as seen by the appointment of John Eaton as the secretary of war and John M. Branch as the attorney general; these two were very loyal and strongly supported the removal policy. They also covered the president well since Indian affairs were administered by the Department of War; and the legal issues were handled by the attorney general.
Additionally, Jackson also appointed Thomas L. McKenney as the chair of the Indian Board for the Emigration, Preservation, and Improvement of the Aborigines of America. While the name of this body suggests that it existed for the benefit of the Native Americans, its main aim was to counter the opposition to removal from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions; by framing the issue as a being inevitability.
Opposition also came from the missionaries who foresaw the reversal of all the gains they had made in civilizing and converting the Indians. The missionaries had some credibility since their activities had been sanctioned by the federal government; and since they lived within the Indian communities and were thus more knowledgeable on the life of the culture of the Native Americans.
Attempt to limit the influence of the missionaries on the Indian tribes resulted in the imprisonment of some of them for period ranging up to four years under state legislation; and without the intervention of the federal government.
According to the author, one of the biggest assets to the Jackson administration was the North-versus-South angle that the debate took in congress; and attributes this to the passage of the act thus legitimizing Indian removal and its excesses.
Indian Removal: An Abuse of Executive Powers
Cave (2003) holds the view that Indian removal as carried out by President Andrew Jackson was outside the mandate given by the congressional legislation authorizing this removal; and amounted to the violation of this law and the constitution. The author points out that there is a general misconception among historians that the Indian Removal Act of 1830 gave the president the power to remove any Indian tribe from their land through force if s/he deemed it necessary.
The true sense however is that this act did not give the president the power to abrogate the treaties that aboriginal Americans made with the federal government that guaranteed them land rights within the respective states in which their tribes habited. Additionally, the act did not have a provision for the forced removal of the Indians. However, the president failed to protect these communities from encroachment by both state government and white settlers for example the Cherokee in the state of Georgia. Indeed, Jackson failed to keep his end of the bargain in treaties which he had played a part in the negotiations himself.
Time and time again, the president made proclamations that the relocation of Indians was voluntary; and that no single person would be forced to move from their ancestral lands. However, he did not take any action, as mandated by the constitution as part of the federal government’s obligation to honor treaties made with Indian nations, to restrict state governments in their activities in Indian territories.
Yet, Jackson knew that there was no way he could get congress to pass legislation that was overtly discriminative legislation that would see to the disenfranchisement of whole sections of the population. As such, contrary to popular belief, Jackson did not seek legitimization for forced deportation; what he sought was the authority from congress to acquire land for the tribes that were willing to relocate. The act gave the president the option of negotiating land exchanges; and obliged the government to pay for any improvements that were deemed necessary on the land that the government was offering; such included houses and farmlands. There is no portion of the act that gave any authority a mandate to unilaterally seize land which Indians refused to surrender through treaty.
The Indian removal process as administered by Jackson stood in direct contravention of this act; many Indians were coerced and literally forced to leave their land and start new lives from scratch; and in locations that had significantly lower productivity compared to their ancestral land (Renini, 2002).
Another misconception of the removal is that the Indians were primitive communities living close to nature. Some of the Indians from which their property was seized were wealthy landowners and businessmen. This beat any logic of the opinion that Indian and white farmers could not exist side by side. Indeed, the removal process was driven solely by the greed for the Indian land; and racist sentiments that viewed dimly the state whereby an Indian can own property in competition of white settlers.
The author concludes that the Indian Removal Act was completely disconnected with the Removal process which was inhumane and illegal; and that Jackson only pursued passing of the law to give an official face to activities that would not have survived congressional debate.
Cave, A. A. (2003): Abuse of Power: Andrew Jackson and The Indian Removal Act Of 1830. Historian, Vol. 65; Number 6, Pages 1330-1353.
Morris, Michael (2007): Georgia and The Conversation Over Indian Removal. Georgia Historical Quarterly 91(4): 403-423 21p.
Remini V. Robert (2002): Andrew Jackson & his Indian wars. Penguin Books.