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POLICY TOWARD NATIVE AMERICANS

In 1824 President James Monroe proposed that all Native Americans be moved west of the Mississippi River. Conflict had continued east of the Mississippi between settlers and various Native American tribes. Even though tribes had signed legal treaties for land, settlement constantly encroached on Native American territories. Monroe claimed that his proposal would benefit the Native Americans, stating that settlers would never bother them as long as they settled west of the Mississippi River Some tribes, such as the Cherokee, adopted systems of government similar to those used in many states, but even that did not stave off the pressure for removal.

The state of Georgia pressured the Cherokee to sell the land they held in that state. The Cherokee felt they held a valid treaty for the land that they lived on and decided to take their case to the federal court system. In a 1831 decision, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia. Chief Justice Marshall stated that Native Americans had no real standing in court, since they were not a state or a foreign country. Nevertheless, Marshall affirmed that the Cherokee had a right to the lands that they possessed.

The Constitution states that it is the job of the executive branch to enforce the laws or decisions of the other two branches. Andrew Jackson was now president, and a large part of his reputation was as a successful Indian fighter. Jackson declined to take action to enforce this decision, stating “John Marshall has made his decision: let him enforce it.” In his inaugural speech Jackson affirmed his support for Native American removal. During the War of 1812 Jackson led troops against the Creek tribe. As a result, the Creeks lost over 60 percent of their tribal lands. Congress had already passed and Jackson signed the Removal Act of 1830. which authorized the removal of all tribes east of the Mississippi.

Tribes were forced to move beginning in 1831; the horrors of these journeys, sometimes undertaken during winter months, are very well documented. In 1838 the Cherokees were finally marched west at gunpoint in what is now called the Trail of Tears: nearly one-third died of disease or exhaustion along the way. Many Native Americans were never able to adjust to the alien environment found west of the Mississippi. Indian resistance continued in Florida until 1841.

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