President Andrew Jackson's Message to Congress 'On Indian Removal' (1830)—SPEECH
With the onset of westward expansion and increased contact with Indian tribes, President Jackson set the tone for his position on Indian affairs in his message to Congress on December 6, 1830. Jackson’s message justified the removal policy already established by the Indian Removal Act of May 28, 1830.
Andrew Jackson's Annual Message
It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation. Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress, and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages.
… It will place a substantial civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters. By opening the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south to the settlement of the whites it will incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier and render the adjacent States strong enough to repel future invasions without remote aid. It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy, and enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power.
It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.
What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization and religion?
… Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.
The Cherokee Phoenix and Indians' Advocate—LETTER Vol. III NO. 17 Saturday, September 4, 1830 Pg. 2 Col. 3a-4b
To Andrew Jackson, President of the United States.
The Choctaws assembled in Council have listened with attention to the talk which you had authorized Mr. David W. Haley to deliver to them, and their heart is filled with sorrow at what you tell them.
You say we must submit to the laws of the State of Mississippi, or move to the west of the Mississippi River. This is a painful alternative; and when we look at the confusion, the distress, the ruin which we are fearful will result from the issue of either, our minds are bewildered, and we know not what to do.
Father, Is not the country in which we live, ours? Has it not hitherto been uniformly admitted that we were the rightful and only true owners of the soil which we have inherited from our forefathers? And have we done any act to forfeit our title?
Father, If this land be ours, why should we leave it, and if we are a free people, why should laws be forced upon us, which we do not understand, which we have never assisted to frame, and which will involve us in confusion,-ruin?
…Father, How shall we understand the treaties which have been made with us? In the Treaty of October 1820, it was stipulated that the line then established should continue without alteration until the Choctaws should become civilized. That then they should be citizens of the United States, and brought under the law of the whites. Being apprehensive however, that our white brothers might declare us civilized before we are so in reality and bring us under laws which we would not understand, and which of course it would be impossible for us to observe, we had that article modified in the treaty of 1825 so as that we never should become subject to the laws of the United States, without previously having given our willing consent,
This treaty was ratified by our good Father James Monroe, and the Senate of the United States. We then had every reason to believe that we should continue unmolested in the enjoyment of our own laws and customs, until we should become sufficiently enlightened in understanding the laws of the whites, and that even then, we should act from choice, not upon compulsion. Actuated by the prospect then before us, we gave fresh encouragement in our schools, - we applied additional funds for the purpose of education, we sent many of our children abroad among the whites; and we encouraged ministers of religions to come among us. But the scene is suddenly changed. The day is overcast and a dreaded storm seems ready to burst upon us.
Father, How have we merited this? Have we broken faith, violated any treaty, or committed any act of hostility against the whites? Surely nothing such can be alleged against us. We appeal to you, to testify, that our friendship to the whites has been constant and uniform.
Father, The laws of the State of Mississippi have been extended over us, but contrary to our wishes, and without our consent, we protest against the attempt on the part of the State of Mississippi, to abolish our laws and customs for they were adapted to our present condition, and better calculated to further the ends of peace and justice among ourselves, than any multifarious code of laws prevailing among the whites. And we protest against the assumption of jurisdiction over us, on the part of the State of Mississippi, or of any other State, as contrary to the faith of treaties, and utterly subversive of our rights as a free people.
Father, May not our white brothers of Mississippi have overlooked the Treaty of January 1825, and that clause, which secures us against the imposition of any laws upon us except with our consent? Perhaps they did not sufficiently deliberate, and in time will retrace their steps, or are we to understand that a law of a State legislature is paramount to the obligations of a treaty.
Father, you know that we have long been a peaceful people and that our friendship toward the whites has become a second nature. You will give us credit for sincerity, therefore, when we say, that although deeply grieved, we permit no sentiment of hostility to enter our bosoms. - we still rely upon your protection. We still rely upon the justice and forbearance of our white brothers of the State of Mississippi. Father, you have seen many of us tried in battle, you know that we are not cowards, and that we fear not death. But we shall make no forcible resistance. If any men tell you otherwise believe them not. We know that we are weak, we know that you are strong. We shall submit to whatever fate awaits us, with calmness and resignation. If we have mistaken our ancient rights, if we have misunderstood treaties, if we have built our hopes on sand, when we thought they were founded on a rock, then we must yield. But we claim the privilege of this solemn protest, that it is no choice, but necessity to which we shall yield.
…Father, Give us time to reflect and deliberate, for we are greatly troubled. It is hard that we should be compelled to leave our country and go to a country we know nothing of. A single individual may leave his home, he may travel into distant lands; but he still has a hope of return, to cheer him. But with us, if we leave our country, there is no hope of return. It is like death. Our feeble old men, bowed down with the weight of years & sorrow, would die in the wilderness. Our children would die with disease.
Father, Do not abandon us. Our earnest and last request is, that you would not forsake us & we pray the Great Father above to have you and us in his holy keeping.
Perhaps no question, since the organization of the general government of the United States, has attracted more attention among the thinking members of our community, than the present controversy respecting Indian rights…
On the subject of the rights of the American aborigines, there has been much loose reasoning, and some quite as loose morality…
The question that presents itself, at the very threshold of the discussion, is, What were the relative rights of the North American Indians, and of the early discoverers, to the lands of this continent?…
Those who urge the removal of the Indians say, that such a measure would be greatly for their advantage. Our limits do not permit us to enter at large into this question of utility. If the Indians remove to better their condition, it is manifest that their removal should be voluntary. They should have time to consider the subject. No threats should be used. They should have abundant opportunity to examine the country, to which they are to be removed. The territory …
A soldier recalls the Trail of Tears—A LETTER
Private John G. Burnett: Cherokee Indian Removal, 1838–39.
…I am eighty years old today. …I grew into manhood fishing in Beaver Creek and roaming through the forest hunting the deer and the wild boar and the timber wolf. Often spending weeks at a time in the solitary wilderness with no companions but my rifle, hunting knife, and a small hatchet that I carried in my belt in all of my wilderness wanderings. On these long hunting trips I met and became acquainted with many of the Cherokee Indians, hunting with them by day and sleeping around their camp fires by night…
One can never forget the sadness and solemnity of that morning. Chief John Ross led in prayer and when the bugle sounded and the wagons started rolling many of the children rose to their feet and waved their little hands good-by to their mountain homes, knowing they were leaving them forever. Many of these helpless people did not have blankets and many of them had been driven from home barefooted.
On the morning of November the 17th we encountered a terrific sleet and snow storm with freezing temperatures and from that day until we reached the end of the fateful journey on March the 26th, 1839, the sufferings of the Cherokees were awful. The trail of the exiles was a trail of death. They had to sleep in the wagons and on the ground without fire. And I have known as many as twenty-two of them to die in one night of pneumonia due to ill treatment, cold, and exposure. Among this number was the beautiful Christian wife of Chief John Ross. This noble hearted woman died a martyr to childhood, giving her only blanket for the protection of a sick child. She rode thinly clad through a blinding sleet and snow storm, developed pneumonia and died in the still hours of a bleak winter night, with her head resting on Lieutenant Greggs saddle blanket.
I made the long journey to the west with the Cherokees and did all that a Private soldier could do to alleviate their sufferings. When on guard duty at night I have many times walked my beat in my blouse in order that some sick child might have the warmth of my overcoat. I was on guard duty the night Mrs. Ross died. When relieved at midnight I did not retire, but remained around the wagon out of sympathy for Chief Ross, and at daylight was detailed by Captain McClellan to assist in the burial like the other unfortunates who died on the way. Her unconfined body was buried in a shallow grave by the roadside far from her native home, and the sorrowing Cavalcade moved on…
The only trouble that I had with anybody on the entire journey to the west was a brutal teamster by the name of Ben McDonal, who was using his whip on an old feeble Cherokee to hasten him into the wagon. The sight of that old and nearly blind creature quivering under the lashes of a bull whip was too much for me. I attempted to stop McDonal and it ended in a personal encounter. He lashed me across the face, the wire tip on his whip cutting a bad gash in my cheek. The little hatchet that I had carried in my hunting days was in my belt and McDonal was carried unconscious from the scene…
Chief Junaluska was personally acquainted with President Andrew Jackson. Junaluska had taken 500 of the flower of his Cherokee scouts and helped Jackson to win the battle of the Horse Shoe, leaving 33 of them dead on the field. And in that battle Junaluska had drove his tomahawk through the skull of a Creek warrior, when the Creek had Jackson at his mercy.
Chief John Ross sent Junaluska as an envoy to plead with President Jackson for protection for his people, but Jackson’s manner was cold and indifferent toward the rugged son of the forest who had saved his life. He met Junaluska, heard his plea but curtly said, “Sir, your audience is ended. There is nothing I can do for you.” The doom of the Cherokee was sealed. Washington, D.C., had decreed that they must be driven West and their lands given to the white man, and in May 1838, an army of 4000 regulars, and 3000 volunteer soldiers under command of General Winfield Scott, marched into the Indian country and wrote the blackest chapter on the pages of American history.
Men working in the fields were arrested and driven to the stockades. Women were dragged from their homes by soldiers whose language they could not understand. Children were often separated from their parents and driven into the stockades with the sky for a blanket and the earth for a pillow. And often the old and infirm were prodded with bayonets to hasten them to the stockades.
In one home death had come during the night. A little sad-faced child had died and was lying on a bear skin couch and some women were preparing the little body for burial. All were arrested and driven out leaving the child in the cabin. I don’t know who buried the body.
In another home was a frail mother, apparently a widow and three small children, one just a baby. When told that she must go, the mother gathered the children at her feet, prayed a humble prayer in her native tongue, patted the old family dog on the head, told the faithful creature good-by, with a baby strapped on her back and leading a child with each hand started on her exile. But the task was too great for that frail mother. A stroke of heart failure relieved her sufferings. She sunk and died with her baby on her back, and her other two children clinging to her hands.
Chief Junaluska who had saved President Jackson’s life at the battle of Horse Shoe witnessed this scene, the tears gushing down his cheeks and lifting his cap he turned his face toward the heavens and said, “Oh my God, if I had known at the battle of the Horse Shoe what I know now, American history would have been differently written.”
At this time, 1890, we are too near the removal of the Cherokees for our young people to fully understand the enormity of the crime that was committed against a helpless race. Truth is, the facts are being concealed from the young people of today. School children of today do not know that we are living on lands that were taken from a helpless race at the bayonet point to satisfy the white man’s greed.
Future generations will read and condemn the act and I do hope posterity will remember that private soldiers like myself, and like the four Cherokees who were forced by General Scott to shoot an Indian Chief and his children, had to execute the orders of our superiors. We had no choice in the matter…
…The fleeing years have come and gone and old age has overtaken me. I can truthfully say that neither my rifle nor my knife were stained with Cherokee blood. I can truthfully say that I did my best for them when they certainly did need a friend. Twenty-five years after the removal I still lived in their memory as “the soldier that was good to us”.
However, murder is murder whether committed by the villain skulking in the dark or by uniformed men stepping to the strains of martial music. Murder is murder, and somebody must answer. Somebody must explain the streams of blood that flowed in the Indian country in the summer of 1838. Somebody must explain the 4000 silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exile. I wish I could forget it all, but the picture of 645 wagons lumbering over the frozen ground with their cargo of suffering humanity still lingers in my memory.
Let the historian of a future day tell the sad story with its sighs, its tears and dying groans. Let the great Judge of all the earth weigh our actions and reward us according to our work.