Through Their Eyes - Indian Removal

Of all of the decisions of the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the Indian Removal Act and the resulting Trail of Tears is the most controversial as we look back in history. Find out more about Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears using this overview from the History Channel.  


How did various people feel about Indian Removal back in the 19th century? How could anyone support such a decision? What were the opposing viewpoints? Can you summarize the two sides of the event?

Andrew Jackson, President of the United States

"All preceding experiments for the improvement of the Indians have failed. It seems now to be an established fact they can not live in contact with a civilized community and prosper. Ages of fruitless endeavors have at length brought us to a knowledge of this principle of intercommunication with them. . . .

"No one can doubt the moral duty of the Government of the United States to protect and if possible to preserve and perpetuate the scattered remnants of this race which are left within our borders. In the discharge of this duty an extensive region in the West has been assigned for their permanent residence. It has been divided into districts and allotted among them. . . .

"Such are the arrangements for the physical comfort and for the moral improvement of the Indians. The necessary measures for their political advancement and for their separation from our citizens have not been neglected. The pledge of the United States has been given by Congress that the country destined for the residence of this people shall be forever "secured and guaranteed to them."

"A country west of Missouri and Arkansas has been assigned to them, into which the white settlements are not to be pushed. No political communities can be formed in that extensive region, except those which are established by the Indians themselves or by the United States for them and with their concurrence. A barrier has thus been raised for their protection against the encroachment of our citizens, and guarding the Indians as far as possible from those evils which have brought them to their present condition."

Government letter to a Cherokee agent

"An Almighty hand has stamped upon every creature a particular genius, propensity and leading traits of character. The polish of education may improve, but cannot change, for the imperishable seal is there; bars and dungeons, penitentiaries and death itself, have been found insufficient, even in civilized society, to restrain man from crime, and constrain him to the necessity of moral and virtuous action. How then are we to look for, or expect it, in a community made up of savage and illiterate people?"

Lewis Cass, Secretary of War

"A barbarous people, depending for subsistence upon the scanty and precarious supplies furnished by the chase, cannot live in contact with a civilized community."

John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee

"Brothers: The tradition of our Fathers . . . tells us that this great and extensive Continent was once the sole and exclusive abode of our race. . . . Ever since [the whites came] we have been made to drink of the bitter cup of humiliation; treated like dogs . . . our country and the graves of our Fathers torn from us . . . through a period of upwards of 200 years, rolled back, nation upon nation [until] we find ourselves fugitives, vagrants and strangers in our own country. . . .

"The existence of the Indian Nations as distinct Independent Communities within the limits of the United States seems to be drawing to a close. . . . You are aware that our Brethren, the Choctaws, Chickasaws and Creeks of the South have severally disposed of their country to the United States and that a portion of our own Tribe have also emigrated West of the Mississippi -- but that the largest portion of our Nation still remain firmly upon our ancient domain. . . . Our positon [sic] there may be compared to a solitary tree in an open space, where all the forest trees around have been prostrated by a furious tornado."

Theodore Frelingbuysen, New Jersey Senator

The Europeans found the natives "exercising all the rights, and enjoying the privileges, of free and independent sovereigns of this new world. They were not a wild and lawless horde of banditti, but lived under the restraints of government, patriarchal in its character, and energetic in its influence."

Colonel Gold, Niles Weekly Register 

The Cherokee show  "strong evidence that the wandering Indian has been converted into the industrious husbandman; and the tomahawk and rifle are exchanging for the plough, the hoe, the wheel, and the loom, and that they are rapidly acquiring domestic habits, and attaining a degree of civilization that was entirely unexpected, from the natural disposition of these children of the forest."

Edward Everett, Massachusetts Senator

"The evil, Sir, is enormous; the inevitable suffering incalculable. Do not stain the fair fame of the country. . . . Nations of dependent Indians, against their will, under color of law, are driven from their homes into the wilderness. You cannot explain it; you cannot reason it away. . . . Our friends will view this measure with sorrow, and our enemies alone with joy. And we ourselves, Sir, when the interests and passions of the day are past, shall look back upon it, I fear, with self-reproach, and a regret as bitter as unavailing."