Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Policy

Authored by: John R. Burch

The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History

Print publication date:  August  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415533805
eBook ISBN: 9781315817347
Adobe ISBN: 9781317813354


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The ascension of Thomas Jefferson to the presidency of the United States in 1801 marked the effective beginning of an organized federal effort to remove Indians from their native lands to locales in the supposedly unsettled West. Jefferson’s designs on Indian lands were first evident in the Land Ordinance of 1785. It provided the blueprint for how the United States government would first purchase lands from Indian groups and then sell those very lands to settlers at a profit. Upon becoming President, Jefferson told the native peoples that they would have a place in the United States if they became “civilized.” That meant embracing Christianity, abandoning their traditional cultures, and adopting an agricultural lifestyle. It was envisioned that in time, this acculturation would lead to complete assimilation. Although some Cherokees and Creeks endeavored to meet that requirement, Jefferson wasted no time in negotiating the Georgia Compact of 1802, which promised the use of the federal government’s resources to peaceably remove the Cherokees and Creeks from Central Georgia in exchange for the state giving up its western land claims. 1 The western lands eventually became the states of Alabama and Mississippi. In April 1803, Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase with France which, in the eyes of the United States, gave it ownership of a swath of land extending from the country’s borders of the time to the Pacific Ocean. Indians were thus squatters on federal lands. Jefferson soon publicly posited that the country might want to consider moving all Indians west of the Mississippi River to open up land for the United States’ citizenry. Although Jefferson was never able to accomplish that goal, his administration’s agents were successful in securing approximately 200,000 square miles of Indian lands by treaty during his presidency. Jefferson’s actions towards Indians strongly influenced Andrew Jackson, who would subsequently prove far more ruthless in his acquisition of lands occupied by Indians than his predecessor. 2

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