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Indian Removal Act, 1830, and Cherokee Chief John Ross’s Memorial and Protest to Congress, 1836

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

Suggested Sequencing


Westward expansion, and the ensuing conflict with American Indians who called these lands home, was a recurrent theme in colonial and early American history. In the early part of the 1800s, American settlers began pressuring the federal government to remove American Indians occupying the lands the settlers desired. Through military campaigns and treaties, the U.S. government slowly and sporadically began to transfer American Indians from their lands to areas west of the Mississippi River. However, by the time Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828, thousands of American Indians still lived east of the Mississippi River. The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes (collectively known as the Five Civilized Tribes) made up most of this remaining population. Part of their success in keeping their lands was due to their adoption of some American cultural and political values. Despite their attempts at assimilation, the Five Civilized Tribes ultimately suffered the same fate as other Indian tribes.

As president, Jackson pushed for a removal policy that would move all remaining American Indians west of the Mississippi. As a result, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. In 1836, a small Cherokee faction signed the Treaty of New Echota, which ceded all the tribes’ land in exchange for a reservation in modern day Oklahoma. In response, Cherokee chief John Ross submitted his Memorial and Protest of the Cherokee Nation to Congress to declare the Treaty of New Echota void.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Who wrote these documents?
  2. Why were these documents written?

Source A: Indian Removal Act of 1830, May 28, 1830

Vocabulary Text
An Act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembledThat it shall and may be lawful for the President of the United States to cause so much of any territory belonging to the United States, west of the river Mississippi, not included in any state or organized territory, and to which the Indian title has been extinguished, as he may judge necessary, to be divided into a suitable number of districts, for the reception of such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remove there; and to cause each of said districts to be so described by natural or artificial marks, as to be easily distinguished from every other.
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to exchange any or all of such districts, so to be laid off and described, with any tribe or nation of Indians now residing within the limits of any of the states or territories, and with which the United States have existing treaties, for the whole or any part or portion of the territory claimed and occupied by such tribe or nation, within the bounds of any one or more of the states or territories, where the land claimed and occupied by the Indians, is owned by the United States, or the United States are bound to the state within which it lies to extinguish the Indian claim thereto.
Sec. 3. And be it further enactedThat in the making of any such exchange or exchanges, it shall and may be lawful for the President solemnly to assure the tribe or nation with which the exchange is made, that the United States will forever secure and guaranty [guarantee] to them, and their heirs or successors, the country so exchanged with them; and if they prefer it, that the United States will cause a patent or grant to be made and executed to them for the same: Provided always, That such lands shall revert to the United States, if the Indians become extinct, or abandon the same.
ascertain (v): to find out for certain

appraisement (n): the act of estimating the value of something
Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That if, upon any of the lands now occupied by the Indians, and to be exchanged for, there should be such improvements as add value to the land claimed by any individual or individuals of such tribes or nations, it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such value to be ascertained by appraisement or otherwise, and to cause such ascertained value to be paid to the person or persons rightfully claiming such improvements. And upon the payment of such valuation, the improvements so valued and paid for, shall pass to the United States, and possession shall not afterwards be permitted to any of the same tribe.
emigrants (n): people who leave their country to settle in another area Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That upon the making of any such exchange as is contemplated by this act, it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such aid and assistance to be furnished to the emigrants as may be necessary and proper to enable them to remove to, and settle in, the country for which they may have exchanged; and also, to give them such aid and assistance as may be necessary for their support and subsistence for the first year after their removal.
Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such tribe or nation to be protected, at their new residence, against all interruption or disturbance from any other tribe or nation of Indians, or from any other person or persons whatever.
superintendence (n): the management or arrangement of an organization

contemplate (v): to look at thoughtfully for a long time

construe (v): to interpret words or actions in a certain way
Sec. 7. And be it further enactedThat it shall and may be lawful for the President to have the same superintendence and care over any tribe or nation in the country to which they may remove, as contemplated by this act, that he is now authorized to have over them at their present places of residence: Provided, That nothing in this act contained shall be construed as authorizing or directing the violation of any existing treaty between the United States and any of the Indian tribes.
Sec. 8. And be it further enactedThat for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of this act, the sum of five hundred thousand dollars is hereby appropriated, to be paid out of any money in the treasury, not otherwise appropriated.


Source B: Chief John Ross’ Memorial and Protest to Congress, 1836

Vocabulary Text
scrupulous (adj): thorough and extremely attentive to details

stipulations (n): conditions that are specified as part of an agreement

despoiled (v): stolen from

savage (adj): outdated term meaning uncivilized

purport (v): to claim to be something, usually falsely

aver (v): to state or assert to be the case

sanction (n): official approval

acquiesce (v): to accept
The United States solemnly guaranteed to [the Cherokee] nation all their land not ceded, and pledged the faith of the government, that “all white people who have intruded, or may hereafter intrude on the lands reserved for the Cherokees, shall be removed by the United States . . . ” The Cherokees were happy and prosperous under a scrupulous observance of treaty stipulations by the government of the United States, and from the fostering hand extended over them, they made rapid advances in civilization, morals, and in the arts and sciences. Little did they anticipate, that when taught to think and feel as the American citizen, and to have with him a common interest, they were to be despoiled by their guardian, to become strangers and wanderers in the land of their fathers, forced to return to the savage life, and to seek a new home in the wilds of the far west, and that without their consent. An instrument purporting to be a treaty with the Cherokee people, has recently been made public by the President of the United States, that will have such an operation if carried into effect. This instrument, the delegation aver before the civilized world, and in the presence of Almighty God, is fraudulent, false upon its face, made by unauthorized individuals, without the sanction, and against the wishes of the great body of the Cherokee people. Upwards of fifteen thousand of those people have protested against it, solemnly declaring they will never acquiesce.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Who was granted the ability to create districts for Indians to move west of the Mississippi?
  2. What guarantees were made for the American Indians and their new land?
  3. How long would the U.S. government grant aid to the American Indians after their removal?
  4. Who would have authority over the American Indians in the new area to which they moved?
  5. How much money did Congress appropriate for this bill?
  6. According to the author, what had the U.S. government pledged to the Cherokee?
  7. According to the author, what was the initial relationship between the Cherokee and the American citizen? How did that change?
  8. How many Cherokee people protested against the Treaty of New Echota?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. President Jackson defended his Indian Removal Policy in his Second Annual Message to Congress, December 6, 1830:

The consequences of a speedy removal will be important to the United States, to individual states, and to the Indians themselves. . . .

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. . . . Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers. 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? . . .

. . . Rightly considered, the policy of the general government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the states and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the general government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.

Do you agree with Jackson that the Indian Removal Policy was a generous act toward the American Indian tribes? Explain your answer.

2. In his message to Congress, Chief John Ross stated the Cherokee people made rapid advances in civilization, morals, and culture by mimicking American citizens. What do you think constitutes the definition of a “civilized people”?

Indian Removal Act of 1830 (Source A)

Memorial and Protest of the Cherokee Nation (Source B)