If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Indian Removal

In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson pursued a policy of Indian Removal, forcing Native Americans living in Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi to trek hundreds of miles to territory in present-day Oklahoma. 


  • US President Andrew Jackson oversaw the policy of "Indian removal," which was formalized when he signed the Indian Removal Act in May 1830.
  • The Indian Removal Act authorized a series of migrations that became known as the Trail of Tears.
  • This was devastating to Native Americans, their culture, and their way of life.

A history of conflict between Euro-Americans and Native Americans

From the earliest days of colonial contact, relations between white European settlers and indigenous people in the Americas were plagued by conflict over land and its natural resources. John C. Calhoun, who served as Secretary of War under President James Monroe, was the first to design a plan for removing Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi River, but the Georgia delegation in the House of Representatives sunk the bill.
President John Quincy Adams believed the issue should be resolved peaceably, but Georgia again proved an obstacle when they blocked the implementation of voluntary removal of Native Americans from territories in the southeast United States. It wasn't until the presidency of Andrew Jackson that "Indian removal" became official US policy.1

Andrew Jackson’s policies towards Native Americans

Before becoming president, Andrew Jackson had distinguished himself as a champion of white settlers against indigenous people. In the War of 1812, Jackson had led an offensive against the Creek nation in an attempt to clear the Mississippi Territory for white settlement, and under President James Monroe, he had participated in the First Seminole War, which devastated the Seminole tribe of Florida.2
By the time Jackson entered the White House, white settlers in Georgia had been complaining for some time about the continued presence of Cherokee and Creek people on the lands they wished to inhabit. These white settlers were emboldened by the election of Jackson in 1828 and revoked the constitution of the Cherokee nation in Georgia, declaring that indigenous people were subject to the laws of the state of Georgia. In 1830, the Cherokee nation took the state of Georgia to the Supreme Court, arguing that it was an independent nation and as such, was not subject to the authority of the state of Georgia. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall agreed that the Cherokee nation was a distinct society but not that it was a foreign nation.
In Worcester v. Georgia, Chief Justice Marshall expanded on this argument, declaring that the state of Georgia had no authority over the Cherokee, which as a sovereign nation could only be subject to the authority of the federal government. The ruling established the nature of relations between the federal government and indigenous peoples as that between sovereign nations. But President Jackson refused to enforce the ruling and pursued a policy of genocide. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 authorized the voluntary relocation of Native Americans to the lands west of the Mississippi River but was frequently abused by government officials and resulted in some forced removals.3

The Trail of Tears

The Indian Removal Act was applied to the "Five Civilized Tribes"—Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole—so named by people of the time because they had to some degree assimilated into white European culture and society. In September 1830, Choctaws became the first tribe to sign a treaty and voluntarily relocate to the territory that would become the state of Arkansas. Seminoles refused to leave their ancestral lands in Florida, sparking the Second Seminole War in 1835. Seminole chief Osceola led the resistance, which proved costly to the United States in terms of both money and casualties. The US Army ultimately emerged victorious, however, and forced remaining Seminoles out of Florida and into the area west of the Mississippi River that became known as Indian Territory.4
Portrait of Osceola, who led the Seminoles in the First Seminole War
George Catlin, Portrait of Osceola, who led the Seminoles in the Second Seminole War, 1838. Image credit: courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Chickasaws agreed to leave their lands in exchange for a monetary settlement of $3 million, which the United States refused to pay until almost 30 years later. The Creeks had been forced to cede over 20,000 acres of their ancestral lands in the Treaty of Fort Jackson following the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in the War of 1812; the remaining Creeks signed over the rest of their lands after the enactment of the Indian Removal Act and relocated to Indian Territory through the Trail of Tears.5
Map showing Native Americans territories in the Eastern United States—particularly Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi—and the areas in present-day Oklahoma to which Native Americans were forcibly relocated
Map depicting the territories of Chickasaws, Choctaws, Cherokees, Creeks and Seminoles c. 1830 and the routes they took during their forced relocation—The Trail of Tears—to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
As for Cherokees, a small faction had signed a treaty with the US government in 1835, but that faction did not represent Cherokee leadership, who refused to leave their lands voluntarily. As a result, the US government forcibly relocated Cherokees to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. Of the 17,000 Cherokees who were forced to move, at least 4,000—and possibly as many as 8,000—perished.6

What do you think?

How would you characterize Andrew Jackson’s attitude toward Native Americans?
Imagine you were forced to relocate to a distant place or face death. What would you take with you? How would you feel about your new surroundings?
Can you imagine any alternative policies that would have protected the interests of white settlers while preserving the rights and respecting the culture of Native Americans?

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user neilbhat2003
    Why did Jackson ignore the W v GA lawsuit? Isn't that against the law?
    (18 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • starky ultimate style avatar for user J.A.R.V.I.S.
    Were there any other, better solutions for preserving Native American culture, and still protecting U.S. interests? (Besides forced migration, that is.)
    (12 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Tovonn Smith
    Why was Andrew Jackson so foolish in this decision?
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Trivia Master
    President: The Supreme Court's rulings are the highest law in the land, after the Constitution! By the way, Supreme Court, can I remove the Natives?
    Supreme Court: No,
    President: Ok. removes the natives
    (19 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby purple style avatar for user thinkingcorvus
    What would have happened if the United States never interfered with the lives of the Native Americans?
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops seed style avatar for user Nathan Lopez
    In the 1st and 2nd paragraph, why was Georgia an obstacle towards the removal of Indians?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Fae
    I have two problems with the title of this: One, the term "Indians" when referencing Native Americans is actually really offensive, and two, "Indian removal" makes it sound like those people were pests that needed to be eradicated. Is there any way to fix this?
    (0 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • male robot hal style avatar for user Stephen White
      The term "Indian" is perhaps offensive to many today, but it was a common term used back in the days being described. It's also rather an unfortunate term because then it becomes difficult to differentiate from the Indians from the country of India. I would suggest contacting the help center with your concerns on this issue, and perhaps they would change the title with your thoughts in mind.

      As for the "Indian Removal," again, that was common terminology of that day, and many of the letters that were written by government officials then did indicate that America's natives were considered to be pests that should be eradicated.

      It's a common sin that people look at other people as less than human. (WWII era Jews for example) But, changing words doesn't make it go away. What happened - happened, and we should look at it all - good, bad and ugly when we study history.

      Another thing to consider: 100-200 years from now, will the term "Native American" be considered an offensive term by the people of that day, and will all of us today be condemned then because we used the term today?
      (12 votes)
  • starky sapling style avatar for user johnson.deacon
    natives arent actually native to the americas they came from russia around 12,000 b.c. they crossed from russia to alaska during the last years of the ice age
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • old spice man green style avatar for user aiyaiyaira
    oh brother...this guy STINKS!
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Ally Asmodeus  ᓚᘏᗢ
    I like how the Chikasaws thought:
    "We'll move for the small price of THREE MILLION DOLLARS"
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      How many persons was that? How many dollars did each receive when it was divided up? What was the value of the property that was left behind? What did the migration on the trail of tears cost each person? What is the value of a lost home? After you answer these questions, you can determine whether three million dollars, divided up among the people who were moved, was worth the many things they suffered. Do the math, and get back to us, OK?
      (1 vote)