Having ventured into the vast land that is America, the white settlers, had found themselves at conflict with the Indians they found already in the land. The settlers set out to change the Indians’ way of life by dedicating themselves to introducing western civilization to the Indians, whom they deemed as uncivilized and who saw their wandering as a result of their uncivilized ways. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson’s administration passed the Indian Removal Act, passing through Congress by one vote. The Cherokee Indians were most affected by the act, which came to be because they resisted the white settlers’ attempts to take over their lands, despite the fact that they were a civilized people and did not threaten the existence of the whites, with whom they were living peacefully. The president believed that only the removal of Indians to the regions beyond the Mississippi would solve the issue.
The Cherokees sought the intervention of the Supreme Court and won the case (Historynet, 2010). This paper will look into the debates surrounding the matter and try to establish which side’s argument was better. At the First Annual Address to Congress, President President Andrew Jackson (1829), argued that both Georgia and Alabama, having become parts of the US, they have every right over the Indians as much as any other state. According to him, it is too late to start delving into the past in order to determine whether their inclusion within the boundaries of the given states was justified and it the duty of the Indians to either abide by the laws of the states they find themselves in, or move beyond the Mississippi, where the US will have set apart a district big enough for them and where they will not be bound by any state’s laws. There, the Indians would then establish their own systems of government. He proposes that such emigrations be voluntary because forcing them to “abandon the graves of their fathers and seek a home in a distant land” would be both greatly cruel and unjust, a thought he continuates in the Second Annual Address to Congress (1839). Jackson is of the opinion that if “the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south” is opened “to the settlement of the whites”, it would help make the bordering states strong enough to repel any future invasions without having to call for “remote aid”. But it is the argument presented by the North American Review (pp 62-121, 1830) that is more interesting.
According to this particular issue, the Indians could not possibly co-exist with the white settlers because they were “as wild, and fierce, and irreclaimable, as the animals, their co-tenants of the forests…” on which they depended upon for food and clothing. The Indians, according to this particular issue, were the most wretched of all races, exhibiting “spectacles as disgusting as they are degrading”, even to the extent of the white settlers having to intervene in order to save them “from actual starvation”. Similar sentiments are put across by Francis J. Grund (1837), who sees no reason for any European to “complain of the barbarous cruelty of the Americans” of driving the Indians from their ancestral habitations to the western territories “unhospitable woods”. To him, the Indians had no right to claim ownership to the land which they trod on, they same way they could not claim “the air which they breathed”. Like the animals, they only depended on the land for prey. Grund argues that as long as they never cultivated the land, which they accused the Americans of grabbing, the Indians could never claim ownership of the land.
When the whites opened up the land to the world to save it from starvation, the Indians died did the “deer”. Those against the removal of the Indians, however, present a completely different perspective to this matter. They argue that when the white settlers entered America, they found the Indians strong, albeit “ignorant and savage” (Niles’, nd), yet the Indians welcomed them with kindness. The settlers showed that they were for friendship with the Indians and the Indians willingly provided whatever they asked of them. The Indians were made to feel that they were “the lord, and the white man the suppliant”, something that had come to change completely. As the white population grew, the power of the Indian decreased, with some tribes becoming extinct. Opposing their removal, the Indians ask if they, as the remnants, should wait for the same fate to befall them. Now that the state of Georgia was “pressing hard” on them, and them to relinquish their possession and vacate their beloved country, they feel very much aggrieved.
They believe they are being forced to give up their possessions and their land which they believe is rightfully theirs, having inherited it from their ancestors from “time immemorial”. They argue that the rights of Indians as a distinct people are recognized according to the treaties they signed with the US, to which they willingly pledge their allegiance. Their big question is: if the Indians were only “tenants at will”, then what was the need of the white settlers obtaining their consent before legally claiming possession of the land? (Niles’, nd). Similar view are held by the North American Review (1830), which argues that, by accepting the set limits, the white settlers “acknowledged the title of the Indians to all lands not purchased from them”.
Also, the United States’ intercourse laws outlawed any encroachment upon their territory (Niles’, nd). Moreover, there is no guarantee that such a removal of the Indians would not occur in future on the same grounds (Duff-Green, 1834). Above all, the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Indians should not be subject to the laws of the state of Georgia overrides every other argument (Supreme Court, 1832). In conclusion, arguments by the side supporting the removal of Indians look convincing, at first, until one gets to see the matter in the perspective of those opposed to the same. This is quite a sensitive issue. By the settlers claiming that because the Indians did not extensively use the land for cultivation they could not claim its ownership, they were disregarding the importance of the Indians’ way of life. The Indians, having inherited the land from their ancestors, had used the land to obtain the basic needs, no matter how uncivilized they might have looked to the settlers. Moreover, if the settlers had befriended the Indians in order to obtain right to portions of the land and signed treaties stipulating their extent of ownership and use of the land, then how can they then later on have the right to impose laws upon the Indians, laws that the Indians deem unjust? The removal of the Indians therefore, does not seem to be justified, and they have every right to fear that they might also be removed from the lands they are being asked to move to in future under similar circumstances.
ReferencesDuff-Green. (1834). Letter from John Ross, et al, delegates from the Cherokee Nation, to the Hon. Lewis Cass, Sec.
of War, Feb. 14, 1833. Public Documents of the Twenty-Third Congress, Vol. III.
Washington, pp.32-35.Grund, F. J., (1837). The Americans in Their Moral, Social and Political Relations.
Boston: Marsh, Capen & Lyon, pp.225-228.Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act. Retrieved 12 Jul. 2010 from <http://www.historynet.com/andrew-jackson-and-the-indian-removal-act.
htm>Jackson, A. (1829). First Annual Address to Congress.Jackson, A.
(1830). Second Annual Address to Congress.“Memorial of the Cherokee Indians,” Niles’ Weekly Register vol. 38 no. 3, pp 53-54.U.
S. Supreme Court. (1832). Decision of the in Worcester v. State of Georgia.The North American Review, Volume 30, Issue 66, January 1830, pp 62-121.
The North American Review. Volume 31, Issue 69, October 1830, pp. 396-442.