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Westward Expansion (1807-1912)


Indian Removal

Summary Indian Removal

Whites' demands for Native American lands peaked in the 1820s and 1830s. Under this pressure, the traditional policy of negotiating piecemeal treaties with individual factions and tribes was scrapped in favor of a policy far less friendly to the Indians. Andrew Jackson embodied America's new militancy toward the tribes. He realized that by the 1820s, the balance of power between the American settlers had shifted from earlier years. The whites had grown stronger, and the Indians, having lost foreign support, weaker. Jackson personally had led troops against the Creek Indians, and his victory at Horseshoe Bend in 1814 had convinced him that the Indians were much weaker than many assumed, and that they would crumble quickly under the advance of western expansion. He decried the practice of negotiating treaties in favor of coercive measures. His policies reflected both his disdain and racism toward the Indians and his somewhat less vicious conviction that in the East the full- blooded Indians would be exploited by devious whites and self-serving mixed- bloods. Nowhere was Jackson's commitment to removal more strongly demonstrated than in his reaction to the ruling in Worcester v. Georgia. He not only showed his unflinching support for Cherokee removal, but also demonstrated the growing power of the presidency, clearly defying the will of the Supreme Court without major consequence.

The case of the Cherokee nation is itself demonstrative of the struggle of the Indians of the 1820s. In efforts to consolidate their collective identity and ancestral lands, both slipping away as whites increasingly interacted with the tribe, the Cherokees founded a nation, in hopes of maintaining their culture and land. In response, the federal government denied the tribe the strength provided by nationhood, and in a sign of complete disrespect, used trickery and force to expel the Indians to serve the greedy desires of the American settlers and the government that backed them. Armed with a new sense of national destiny, the federal government took what it was beginning to believe was rightfully its own, with little regard to the consequences for the previous inhabitants.

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