In what ways did Native Americans resist the Indian Removal Act? 

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In the early 19th century, many settlers in North America thought the Native Americans, especially the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole, were standing in the way of western expansion. When the Supreme Court held, in Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), that indians could occupy, but...

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In the early 19th century, many settlers in North America thought the Native Americans, especially the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole, were standing in the way of western expansion. When the Supreme Court held, in Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), that indians could occupy, but not own, land within the United States, and by aboriginal right, the Indians could only transfer land to the U.S. government, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek nations tried to protect what land they had left by restricting sales to the United States Government. Not withstanding those actions, removal was inescapable due to the westward onslaught of white settlement.

Andrew Jackson was instrumental in Indian removal early as early as 1814 when he defeated the Creek nation, taking about 22 million acres of their land in Georgia and Alabama. Jackson continued his quest for Indian removal until 1824 when he ran for President of the United States. He lost to John Q. Adams, but won the 1828 Election.  Almost immediately after taking office President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The new law gave

the president power to negotiate removal treaties with Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi…Indians were to give up their lands east of the Mississippi in exchange for lands to the west. Those wishing to remain in the east would become citizens of their home state.  “Indian Removal,” PBS.org

Even though the president had the power to “remove” Indigenous tribes, removal was supposed to be voluntary, but when “southeastern nations resisted, Jackson forced them to leave.” Previous peaceful attempts at resistance failed, so Native Americans used new methods after 1830. The Choctaw were the first to accept a treaty of removal, however, many of the tribal members resisted removal. They stayed behind under the provisions of the treaty but were mistreated by white settlers. Most finally gave up their land and moved west. 

The Cherokee nation had written and adopted a Constitution in 1827, and later sued the State of Georgia for restricting their freedoms on tribal lands. In 1830, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in favor of the State of Georgia, but when the Cherokee returned to the Supreme Court in 1831, the Court reversed the earlier decision, ruling that the “Indian tribes were sovereign and immune from Georgia laws.” Although the ruling favored the Native American tribes, Alabama and Andrew Jackson chose to ignore the Court and pushed for removal. By trickery in 1833, a group who claimed to be Cherokee leaders (they were not the recognized leaders of the Cherokee nation) signed a removal treaty. Cherokee Chief John Ross and 15,000 others signed a petition in protest, but the Supreme Court refused the petition, ratified the treaty, and gave the nation two years to move west or face forced migration. The result, in 1838, was the infamous “Trail of Tears” that led to the loss of 4,000 Cherokee lives. 

In 1833, some members of the Seminole nation accepted a treaty of removal. The majority of the tribe’s members considered the treaty illegitimate and resisted removal. The resistance resulted in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) which cost thousands of Seminole lives. Most of the Seminole moved west after that war, but a few stayed behind. The remaining tribal members were forced to defend themselves again in the Third Seminole War (1855-58), but they too moved west after the United States government paid them to do so. 

The Creeks refused to leave Alabama, but in an 1832 treaty, they gave up a large portion of their land with a guarantee of “protected ownership of the remaining portion.” Unfortunately, the protection didn’t materialize, and by 1832, the Creeks were left destitute by speculators who cheated them out of their land. The destitute Creeks turned violent against the white settlers. Their theft of livestock and crops, arson, and murder led to a forced removal in 1837 as a military necessity. No treaty of removal was ever signed.

Of the “Five Nations,” only the Chickasaw did not resist. They had signed a treaty of removal in 1832 with a guarantee of U.S. government protection until they could emigrate. Again, the guaranteed protection did not materialize due to the onslaught of white settlers. Under duress, the Chickasaw were forced to pay the Choctaw to occupy a portion of the Choctaw's western allotment. The Chickasaw emigration commenced in 1837. 

In a nutshell: the Choctaw were the first to sign a treaty of removal but some tribal members resisted by staying behind under treaty provisions; the Cherokee used legal means to resist removal; the Seminole who considered the treaty of removal illegitimate fought two wars of resistance; the Creek refused to leave Alabama but compromised with the white settlers until they were left destitute and turned to violence against the settlers; and the Chickasaw did not resist.

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