On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signs the Indian Removal Act into law. The bill enabled the federal government to negotiate with southeastern Native American tribes for their ancestral lands in states such as Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. As a result, some 60,000 Native Americans were forced westward into “Indian Territory” (present-day Oklahoma). The mass migration resulted in more than 4,000 deaths and became known as the Trail of Tears.
At the time, Jackson said the removal would “incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier,” and would enable new states like Alabama and Mississippi to “advance rapidly in population, wealth and power.” By the end of his presidency in 1837, his administration negotiated almost 70 removal treaties that led to the relocation of 50,000 eastern Native Americans to the Indian Territory. Twenty five million acres of land were now freed up for white settlement in the east and as a result used for the expansion of slavery.
Some tribes including the Cherokees refused to leave their homes and were pushed out by the U.S. military between 1838 and 1839. Thousands of Native Americans died traveling thousands of miles through harsh weather toward unknown territory they were to call home.
By 1940, nearly all Native American tribes were driven west, and the Indian Removal Act had achieved its purpose.