As the United States expanded into the lower South during the early 19th century, white settlers faced an obstacle. This region was already home to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chicasaw, and Seminole nations. Eager for land to raise cotton, the settlers pressured the federal government to acquire Indian territory.
Andrew Jackson was a supporter of Indian removal. He negotiated treaties that exchanged land of the southern tribes for frontier lands in the west. The tribes agreed because in the hopes of retaining some of their land. Yet only a small number of Indians actually moved.
In 1823 the Supreme Court decided that Indians could occupy land but could not hold titles of ownership. The Creeks, Cherokee, and Chicasaw tried to restrict land sales to the government to protect what remained of their land before it was too late. Some Indian nations refused to leave their land. The Creeks and the Seminoles even waged war.
The Cherokee sought protection, but the land-hungry white settlers harassed them by stealing their livestock, burning their towns, and squatting on their land. In 1827 the Cherokee adopted a written constitution declaring themselves a sovereign nation. The Supreme Court in 1831 decided in favor of the Cherokees, but President Jackson refused to enforce the decision.
Jackson enacted the "Indian Removal Act”, giving himself power to negotiate removal treaties with Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi. The Indians were to voluntarily and peacefully give up their lands in exchange for lands to the west. But the southeastern nations resisted, and Jackson forced them to leave.
The Choctaws signed the removal treaty in 1830. Those who lawfully stayed in Mississippi were cheated by the squatting land-hungry whites. Soon most of the remaining Choctaws sold their land and moved west.
A small group of Seminoles signed a removal treaty in 1833, but most of the tribe declared the treaty illegitimate, leading to the Second Seminole War. In the end, most of the Seminoles moved to the new territory.
The Creeks signed a treaty in 1832. It opened most of their Alabama land to white settlement but protected ownership of the remainder. The government did not protect them from speculators, however, who quickly cheated them out of their lands.
The Chickasaws saw removal as inevitable and did not resist. They signed a treaty in 1832 that stated that the federal government would provide them with suitable western land and protect them until they moved.
The Cherokees were tricked with an illegitimate treaty. In 1833, a small group agreed to sign a removal agreement called the Treaty of New Echota. The leaders of this group were not recognized leaders, and 15,000 Cherokees protested. The Supreme Court ignored their demands and ratified the treaty in 1836. The Cherokee were given two years to migrate voluntarily or be forcibly removed. Thus began the Trail of Tears march, in which 4,000 Cherokee died of cold, hunger, and disease on their way to the western lands.
Source: Indian Removal Act
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