Indian Removal Act Essay Questions

Indian Removal Act

The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, authorizing the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. A few tribes went peacefully, but many resisted the relocation policy. During the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, the Cherokees were forcibly moved west by the United States government. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died on this forced march, which became known as the "Trail of Tears."

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.

  • February 22, 1830 - Senator Hugh White, from the Committee on Indian Affairs, reported A Bill 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 (S. 102).
  • February 22, 1830 - The Committee on Indian Affairs issued a report (S.doc.61).
  • April 9, 1830 - Debated in the Senate.
  • April 15, 1830 - Debated in the Senate.
  • April 17, 1830 - Debated in the Senate.
  • April 20, 1830 - Debated in the Senate.
  • April 21, 1830 - Debated in the Senate.
  • April 22, 1830 - Debated in the Senate.
  • April 23, 1830 - Debated in the Senate.
  • April 24, 1830 - The Senate voted 28 to 19 to pass the Indian Removal Act (S. 102).
  • May 15, 1830 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
  • May 17, 1830 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
  • May 18, 1830 - Debated in the House of Representatives (additional speeches from May 18 were published separately in the back of the volume).
  • May 19, 1830 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
  • May 24, 1830 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
  • May 26, 1830 - The House of Representatives voted 102 to 97 to pass the Indian Removal Act (S. 102).
  • May 26, 1830 - The Senate concurred in the House amendments.
  • May 28, 1830 - The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson.
  • December 6, 1830 - President Andrew Jackson outlined his Indian removal policy in his Second Annual Message to Congress. Jackson's comments on Indian removal begin with the words, "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." Additional copies of Andrew Jackson's Second Annual Message to Congress can be found in the House Journal and the Senate Journal.

The United States Congressional Serial Set contains the House and Senate documents and reports. Items related to the Indian Removal Act include:

Search in the 21st Congress (1829-31) using the phrase "removal of the Indians" to locate additional Congressional debate on the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

Andrew Jackson Papers

The Andrew Jackson Papers contain more than 26,000 items dating from 1767 to 1874. Included are memoranda, journals, speeches, military records, land deeds, and miscellaneous printed matter, as well as correspondence reflecting Jackson’s personal life and career as a politician, military officer, president, slave holder and property owner.

A selection of references to the Indian Removal Act includes:

  • Alfred Balch to Andrew Jackson, January 8, 1830, "I flatter myself that Mr Bell will do justice to the interesting subject committed to his charge as Chairman of the committee of Indian Affairs— The removal of the Indians would be an act of seeming violence—But it will prove in the end an act of enlarged philanthropy. These untutored sons of the Forest, cannot exist in a state of Independence, in the vicinity of the white man. If they will persist in remaining where they are, they may begin to dig their graves and prepare to die."
  • Andrew Jackson to John Pitchlynn, August 5, 1830, " I beg of you to say to them, that their interest happiness peace & prosperity depends upon their removal beyond the jurisdiction of the laws of the State of Mississippi. These things have been [often times] explained to them fully and I forbear to repeat them; but request that you make known to them that Congress to enable them to remove & comfortably to arrange themselves at their new homes has made liberal appropriations. It was a measure I had much at heart & sought to effect because I was satisfied that the Indians could not possibly live under the laws of the States. If now they shall refuse to accept the liberal terms offered, they only must be liable for whatever evils & dificulties may arise. I feel conscious of having done my duty to my red children and if any failure of my good intention arises, it will be attributable to their want of duty to themselves, not to me."
  • Andrew Jackson to Chickasaw Chiefs, August 23, 1830, "Brothers! If you are disposed to remove say so, and state the terms you may consider just and equitable."
  • Andrew Jackson, December 6, 1830, 2nd Annual Message - Drafts regarding Indian Affairs


The Library of Congress has custody of the largest and most comprehensive cartographic collection in the world.

American Treasures at the Library of Congress - Cherokee Nation Denied Foreign Nation Status

In the landmark case, The Cherokee Nation v. The State of Georgia, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1831 that the Cherokee Indian Nation was not a foreign nation and therefore ruled that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction. This exhibit contains Associate Justice Smith Thompson's dissenting opinion.

Presentation - Immigration: Native Americans

Provides an overview of Native American history, including information on the government's Indian removal policy.

October 3, 1790

John Ross, Chief of the United Cherokee Nation from 1839 to 1866, was born on October 3, 1790.

Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Oklahoma State University Library, Compiled and Edited by Charles J. Kappler

Indian Removal, 1814-1858, PBS

Indian Treaties and the Removal Act of 1830, United States Department of State

Our Documents, President Andrew Jackson's Message to Congress 'On Indian Removal', National Archives and Records Administration

Foreman, Grant. Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1932. [Catalog Record]

Garrison, Tim Alan. The Legal Ideology of Removal: The Southern Judiciary and the Sovereignty of Native American Nations. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Green, Michael D. The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. [Catalog Record]

Inskeep, Steve. Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab. New York: Penguin Press, 2015. [Catalog Record]

Perdue, Theda and Michael D. Green. The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears. New York: Viking, 2007. [Catalog Record]

Remini, Robert Vincent. Andrew Jackson & His Indian Wars. New York: Viking, 2001. [Catalog Record]

Satz, Ronald N. American Indian Policy in the Jacksonian Era. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Wallace, Anthony F. C. The Long, Bitter Trail: Andrew Jackson and the Indians. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993. [Catalog Record]

Dunn, John M. The Relocation of the Native American Indian. Detroit: Lucent Books, 2006. [Catalog Record]

Nardo, Don. The Relocation of the North American Indian. San Diego, Calif.: KidHaven Press, 2002. [Catalog Record]

Stewart, Mark. The Indian Removal Act: Forced Relocation. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2007. [Catalog Record]

Williams, Jeanne. Trails of Tears: American Indians Driven from Their Lands. Dallas, Tex.: Hendrick-Long Pub. Co., 1992. [Catalog Record]

Historical Background

In 1830, under President Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act directing the executive branch to negotiate for Indian lands. The act set the tone for President Jackson in dealing with Indian affairs. The removal of the Cherokee Nation from the state of Georgia started under Jackson and outlasted his term in office. The forcible removal, known as the Trail of Tears, took place in 1838. The Cherokee Nation brought suit against the state of Georgia in the famous case of Cherokee Nation v. Georgia in 1831, which was reversed in the case of Worcester v. Georgia.


The arrival of colonists into North America significantly impacted the Native Americans. It is estimated that ten million Native Americans were on this continent when the Europeans arrived. Over the next 300 years, the American Indian population was almost wiped out through disease, warfare, and famine. The story of the Trail of Tears serves as a reminder of the impact that white Americans had on Native Americans.

Essential Question

Did the removal of the Native Americans from east of the Mississippi River violate the principles found in the Declaration of Independence?


Students will be able to:

  1. Describe the rationale that President Jackson used in the removal of the Native Americans from east of the Mississippi River.
  2. Compare Jackson’s actions toward Native Americans in the context of his First Inaugural Address.
  3. Identify the responsibilities given to the President under the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
  4. Describe the background and decisions in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia.
  5. Write a coherent essay, using evidence from the lesson and outside sources in answering the essential question.
  6. Give evidence of reading comprehension by demonstrating their ability to translate and interpret primary sources.


  • Andrew Jackson’s First Annual Message to Congress, Mt. Holyoke College
  • Andrew Jackson’s First Inaugural Address,
  • Indian Removal Act, May 28, 1830, Mt. Holyoke College
  • Andrew Jackson’s letter to the Cherokee Tribe, March 16, 1835 (PDF)
  • Robert Lindneux’s painting of the Trail of Tears, Athens Regional Library
  • John Ross’s letter to President Martin Van Buren, August 14, 1840 (PDF)


  1. Divide class into groups of two. Each group is to read President Jackson’s First Annual Message to Congress and list the reasons used to remove the Native Americans. Class comes together to share their findings.
  2. In his First Inaugural Address, President Jackson stated, "It will be my sincere and constant desire to observe toward the Indian tribes within our limits a just and liberal policy, and to give the humane and considerate attention to their rights and their wants which is consistent with the habits of our Government and the feelings of our people."
  3. Have students discuss what they think Jackson means in using the words "just," "liberal," "rights," and "wants." Does the use of the phrase "within our limits" present a dilemma in understanding Jackson? Explain.
  4. Each student receives a copy of the Indian Removal Act, May 28, 1830. Using this document, the teacher leads the students in identifying the obligations of the President in the removal of the tribes from territories within each state.
  5. The teacher provides a brief lecture (no more than eight minutes) on the Cherokee Nation v. Georgia case and on the Worcester v. Georgia case. During the lecture students are to take notes. Individual students will read their notes to the class to give and obtain further information.
  6. Students are to read Andrew Jackson’s letter to the Cherokee Tribe dated March 16, 1835, and answer the following question: What reasons does Jackson provide in stating that the removal is being done to "promote your (Cherokee) welfare"?
  7. Have students view Robert Lindneux’s painting of the Trail of Tears and identify the different people being portrayed; the emotions being displayed; and the overall composition used by the painter to depict the removal.
  8. Students are to read John Ross’s letter to President Martin Van Buren, August 14, 1840. What problems does Ross present to the President related to the removal? 


Students are to discuss the answer to the essential question.

Extended Activity

Students are to write an essay answering the essential question using evidence from the lesson and other outside sources.


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