Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War
Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Policy
President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) delivered this message at his inauguration in 1829. During his previous military career and his two terms in office (1829-1837), he worked to implement an "Indian Removal" policy intended to push all Native Americans west of the Mississippi River and segregate them from white settlers.
The Congress responded to Jackson's request by passing an act (signed into law on May 30, 1830) that authorized him to exchange western lands for Indian territories east of the Mississippi. This established a legal foundation for moving many indigenous peoples thousands of miles from their homelands. Although both Jackson's speech and the text of the law assumed such removals would be voluntary, they were in fact carried out at gunpoint if tribes refused to relocate peacefully. The Black Hawk War is only one of many instances of Indian resistance to this policy, and it showed tribal leaders across the continent that resistance would be met with overwhelming force.
For more information, see the excellent page that the Library of Congress has created on the Indian Removal Act.
... I suggest for your consideration the propriety of setting apart an ample district west of the Mississippi, and without the limits [i.e., outside] of any State or Territory now formed, to be guaranteed to the Indian tribes as long as they shall occupy it, each tribe having a distinct control over the portion designated for its use. There they may be secured in the enjoyment of governments of their own choice, subject to no other control from the United States than such as may be necessary to preserve peace on the frontier and between the several tribes. There the benevolent may endeavor to teach them the arts of civilization, and, by promoting union and harmony among them, to raise up an interesting commonwealth, destined to perpetuate the race and to attest the humanity and justice of this Government.
This emigration should be voluntary, for it would be as cruel as unjust to compel the aboriginies to abandon the graves of their fathers and seek a home in a distant land. But they should be distinctly informed that if they remain within the limits of the States they must be subject to their laws. In return for their obedience as individuals they will without doubt be protected in the enjoyment of those possessions which they have improved by their industry. But it seems to me visionary to suppose that in this state of things claims can be allowed on tracts of country on which they have neither dwelt nor made improvements, merely because they have seen them from the mountain or passed them in the chase. Submitting to the laws of the States, and receiving, like other citizens, protection in their persons and property, they will ere long become merged in the mass of our population.
[Source: Jackson, Andrew First Annual Message (1829) (From A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents. Ed. James D. Richardson. New York: Bureau of National Literature, 1897. 1005-1025)]