The Impact of Westward Expansion on Native Americans: The Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears

Political Cartoon on the Indian Removal Act

Read the following documents and respond to the questions listed at the bottom of each page.

Be sure to click on the animated "coaches" to fully understand the information given in each document.


Map depicting the forced migration of Native American tribes from their homelands to reservations west of the Mississppi River

Preamble to the Indian Removal Act of 1830

"CHAP. CXLVIII.--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."

Jackson during the Seminole Wars

Following the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain, American slave owners came to Florida in search of runaway African slaves and Indians. These Indians, known as the Seminole, and the runaway slaves had been trading weapons with the British throughout the early 1800s and supported Britain during the War of 1812. From 1817-1818, the United States Army invaded Spanish Florida and fought against the Seminole and their African American allies. Collectively, these battles came to be known as the First Seminole War.

Florida Becomes a United States Territory

Americans reacted to these confrontations by sending Andrew Jackson to Florida with an army of about 3,000 men. Jackson was successful in his attacks and left many dead and dying Seminole behind in their destroyed villages.

Andrew Jackson as President
      "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


    , 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."
    Andrew Jackson discussing the benefits of the indian Removal Act

Chief Justice John Marshall

"The several Indian nations were distinct political communities having territorial boundaries within which their authority is exclusive, and having rights to all land within those boundaries, which is not only acknowledged, but guaranteed by the United States."

Jeremiah Evarts

". . . we have done so much to destroy the Indians, and so little to save them; and that, before another step is taken, there should be the most thorough deliberation , on the part of all our constituted authorities , lest we act in such a manner as to expose ourselves to the judgments of heaven."

Speech given by Native American supported Jeremiah Evarts

Cherokee Chief John Ross

The Cherokee, on the other hand, were tricked with an illegitimate treaty. In 1833, a small faction agreed to sign a removal agreement: the Treaty of New Echota. The leaders of this group were not the recognized leaders of the Cherokee nation, and over 15,000 Cherokees -- led by Chief John Ross -- signed a petition in protest. The Supreme Court ignored their demands and ratified the treaty in 1836. The Cherokee were given two years to migrate voluntarily , at the end of which time they would be forcibly removed. By 1838 only 2,000 had migrated; 16,000 remained on their land. The U.S. government sent in 7,000 troops, who forced the Cherokees into stockades at bayonet point. They were not allowed time to gather their belongings, and as they left, whites looted their homes. Then began the march known as the Trail of Tears, in which 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger, and disease on their way to the western lands.

Excerpt from PBS discussing the efforts of the Cherokee Indians to protest the Indian Removal Act

"I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west....On the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we reached the end of the fateful journey on March the 26th 1839, the sufferings of the Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold and exposure..."

Private John G. Burnett

Depiction of the Trail of Tears