This Day in the Law
May 26

Congress Passes Indian Removal Act (1830)

On May 26, 1830, the United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. It was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson two days later.

President Andrew Jackson first called for an Indian Removal Act in his 1829 State of the Union address. The Removal Act was strongly supported in the South, where states were eager to gain access to lands inhabited by the Native Americans. Georgia in particular was involved in a jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokee nation. President Jackson hoped removal would resolve the Georgia crisis and settle the unrest in much of the South.

The Indian Removal Act was also very controversial. Most Americans favored the passage of the Indian Removal Act, though there was significant opposition by Christian missionaries. In Congress, a few Congressmen spoke out against the legislation and there was a long debate before the legislation was passed on May 26, 1830. Also, while Native American removal was supposed to be voluntary, great pressure was put on Native American leaders to sign removal treaties. Some Native American leaders who had previously resisted removal now began to reconsider their positions in order to protect their lives and the lives of their tribes.

The Removal Act authorized the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. Treaties were signed between the United States and the Native Americans to make these exchanges. The first removal treaty signed after the Removal Act was the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in September 1830, in which Choctaws in Mississippi ceded land east of the river in exchange for payment and land in the West. The Treaty of New Echota, signed in 1835, resulted in the removal of the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears.

The Indian Removal Act was but one part of a United States government policy known as Indian removal. The Removal Act paved the way for the forced emigration of tens of thousands of American Indians to the West.