Was the Indian Removal Act Constitutional? Performance Task Quarter 3 Author

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Was the Indian Removal Act Constitutional?

Performance Task Quarter 3
Author: Christina Thomas, Wilde Lake Middle School, Howard County Public School System

Course/Level: U.S. History, 8th Grade



Jackson as Great Father Political Cartoon (1835)

Document: Indian Removal Act (1830)

Document: Worcester v. State of Georgia (1832)

Document Analysis Graphic Organizer

HCPSS Curriculum Connections

This activity would be completed during the unit Growth of a New Nation: Jacksonian Era – 3rd Quarter.

Learning Outcome(s):

21. Assess the impact of Jacksonian policies on Native Americans.

Task Question: Was the Indian Removal Act Constitutional?
Historical Thinking Skills Assessed:

  • Corroboration

  • Contextualizing

Background for the Teacher

Students should have already been introduced to the concept of Judicial Review created by the Marbury vs. Madison case and which will be called into question about the validity of the Indian Removal Act and the power of the President. President Jackson had a complicated relationship with American Indians. On one hand he fought against many during the Creek Wars and on the other he adopted a Native American son. He talks about a “benevolent” policy toward Indians while aggressively pursuing their removal. Ultimately he set in motion the forced march of the remaining Cherokees to lands west of the Mississippi River (Other tribes had chosen to leave earlier, on their “own accord”). Although he was not in office at the time the actual march occurred he was the author of this act. This PAT can be given before or after the Hero or Villain DBQ.


1821 The Cherokee syllabary is finished by Sequoyah

1825 John Quincy Adams becomes the 6th President of the United States

1827 Cherokees draft a constitution declaring themselves a nation.

1828 The Cherokee newspaper – Phoenix is Published and Andrew Jackson becomes the 7th President.

1830 The Indian Removal Act is passed

1835 The Treaty of New Echota is signed by approximately 100 Cherokee, stating all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi River belongs to the U.S. Government.

1837 Martin Van Buren becomes the 8th President of the United States

1838 The Trail of Tears (the forced marched of the remaining Cherokees off of their land east of the Mississippi to Oklahoma) begins. Thousands die on the journey.

Context Setting -- The Hook

Show students the political cartoon of Jackson as Great Father. Ask students to describe what they see and discuss what is the relationship between the people in the picture. Discuss that relationships are complicated and not often easily defined. Ask students what they think the author wants us to believe about Jackson and his relationship to Native Americans and whether or not that seems appropriate. Are Native Americans “children” that need to be handled or are they free men with their own culture, government, laws etc. The teacher may want to include a copy of the Cherokee Constitution that resembles our own constitution.

Document Analysis

  • Ask students to recall what they remember about Judicial Review and write it on the board. They should ultimately discuss that Judicial Review allows the Judicial Branch to decide whether or not a law is constitutional.

  • Explain to students that they will be reading 2 documents to figure out if the Indian Removal Act was indeed constitutional or not.

  • Hand out the documents and have students source each document using their graphic organizer.

  • Have students read each document, writing down the claims that each document makes.

Corroborating Evidence and Constructing Interpretations -- Close Analysis

  • Using the Document Analysis Graphic Organizer students should write down the information, filling in each of the appropriate sections.

  • Focus on the language that describes the position of the Tribes, are they a Nation, a foreign country, or subject to U.S. laws?

  • Discuss the perceptions being made about Native Americans in each document.

  • Discuss reasons for the removal and ask students to put themselves in the shoes of a Georgian Farmer, A Georgian Government Official, a Judge, the President or a Cherokee Tribe member.

Thoughtful Application

Students will write a Letter to the Editor either supporting The President’s decision or condemning it. They must cite evidence from the articles to support their view.

The grading rubric for writing assignments that teachers are accustomed to should be used.
lithograph. ca. 1835.ttp://www.clements.umich.edu/exhibits/online/american-encounters/case11/jackson.jpg
The Indian Removal Act of 1830
CXLVIII.--An Act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi.    

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That it shall and may be lawful for the President of the United States to cause so much of any territory belonging to the United States, west of the river Mississippi, not included in any state or organized territory, and to which the Indian title has been extinguished, as he may judge necessary, to be divided into a suitable number of districts, for the reception of such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remove there; and to cause each of said districts to be so described by natural or artificial marks, as to be easily distinguished from every other.       

SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the President to exchange any or all of such districts, so to be laid off and described, with any tribe or nation within the limits of any of the states or territories, and with which the United States have existing treaties, for the whole or any part or portion of the territory claimed and occupied by such tribe or nation, within the bounds of any one or more of the states or territories, where the land claimed and occupied by the 
Indians, is owned by the United States, or the United States are bound to the state within which it lies to extinguish the Indian claim thereto.        

Worcester v. Georgia  (1832)

In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that state laws could not be applied to Indians.  This ruling said that the state of Georgia did not have the power or right to remove the Cherokee from their land in Georgia. 

The defendant is a State [Georgia], a member of the Union, which has exercised the powers of government over a people who deny its jurisdiction, and are under the protection of the United States..... We must inquire whether the act of the Legislature of Georgia...be consistent with, or repugnant to the Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States.  It has been said at bar that the acts of the Legislature of Georgia seize on the whole Cherokee country, parcel it out among the neighboring counties of the State, extend her [law] to the whole country, abolish its institutions and laws, and annihilate its political existence....The very passage of this act [by Georgia]  is an assertion of jurisdiction over the Cherokee Nation....

From the commencement of our government Congress has passed acts to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indians; which treat them as nations, [and] respect their rights....
The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community, occupying its own territory... in which the laws of Georgia have no force.... The Acts of Georgia are repugnant to the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States.  They interfere forcibly with the relations established between the United States and the Cherokee Nation, the regulation of which according to the settled principles of our Constitution, are committed exclusively to the government of the Union.
Was the Indian Removal Constitutional? – Reading Like a Historian

Examine the two documents about Indian Removal and fill in the graphic organizer below.


What is this source? When was it created? Who Created it?

Indian Removal Act source –

Worcester v. State of Georgia source –


What are the claims/directives being made?

Indian Removal Act –

Worcester v. State of Georgia -


What was going on at the time of this document? What was life like in 1830 for Native Americans and U.S. Americans?

Indian Removal Act –

Worcester v. State of Georgia-


How is the description or claims of the Native Americans’ position in this new United States different or the same?

Indian Removal Act –

Worcester v. State of Georgia-

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