American Indian Removal refers to the removal and relocation of Native Americans (previously called American Indians) from their land in the mid-1800s. Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi River were to be relocated to areas west of the river. This followed the expansion by white settlers into land in close proximity to the Native Americans. The "obstacle" to their growth were the tribes living in this region: the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole nations. The whites, wishing to acquire land ripe for cotton farming, exerted pressure on the federal government to obtain the area in which the Native Americans were located. The sense of racial superiority and a notion of sanctioned nationalist destiny contributed to the idea that this was their right.
President Andrew Jackson passed a law, the Indian Removal Act, through both houses of Congress, in 1830. Separation was assumed to be the solution to land conflict. Jackson's message to Congress stated that he was convinced that "the destiny of the Indians within the settlers' portion of the United States depends upon their [entire] and speedy migration to the country west of the Mississippi."
The president had the power to negotiate removal treaties with the Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River. An exchange of land was offered, with those wishing to remain east were granted citizenship in their home state. Theoretically, the removal was intended to be voluntary and peaceful. In reality, this did not occur. Jackson responded to resistance with forced removal. While some white Americans considered that there would be peaceful self-governance by the Native Americans in their resettled regions, other Americans protested against removal, determining it to be inhumane. The protests were not successful in preventing the removal.
The Choctaw tribe was the first to sign the removal treaty, in 1830. Initially many stayed in Mississippi as per the regulations of the agreement. However, mistreatment ensued, and they opted to sell their land to move west.
Forced relocation of the southeastern tribes continued for more than a decade with the sanction of the U.S. government. In 1833, some of the Seminoles signed a treaty under duress; others believed it to be illegitimate and refused to relocate. A number of Seminole wars took place, with thousands of lives lost in battle. Many Seminole tribe members ended up moving to the new territory, with the remainder staying where they were. Finally, those who had remained were paid by the government to move westwards.
The Creek tribe initially refused to move. Although they eventually did so, they did not sign a treaty. The Chickasaws did not resist, feeling that the migration was inevitable.
The Cherokee experience was that of being duped into an illegitimate treaty. They were supposed to get a grace period of two years to leave voluntarily following which they would face forced removal. Their removal in 1838 occurred at bayonet point by U.S. government forces. With no time to gather their belongings, and an onslaught of white looting of their homes, the Cherokees began their "Trail of Tears" march. Some 4,000 people died along the way due to cold, hunger and disease.
About 46,000 Native American people had been removed from their lands by 1837. The Jackson administration had systematically ensured their relocation from land east of the Mississippi River, by various means. Treaties had been signed, leading to an even larger number of removals. The emptying of the space opened 25 million acres of land to white settlement and the ensuing slavery of black Africans.
The American Indian Removal had its roots in the British separation policy enacted as early as 1763, which was meant to resolve land ownership and trade conflicts. The Proclamation Line of 1763 was a declaration to push back the Iroquois Confederacy and curtail hostilities. The colonies also established a boundary on the Appalachian Divide to separate Indians to the west and European settlers to the right, after the defeat of the Pontiac at Bushy Run. The separation policy unfolded as a long but unsuccessful series of attempts by the British and United States government to solve the issue of what they expressed as "what to do with the Indian" (New York Times, 1984). As the Whites proceeded to settle into the west, the policy of separation and "Redskin removal" continued, until the entire removal and relocation.