Westward expansion and the policy of Indian Removal: Was it moral? Was it legal?

  • 1783-1804. American settlers poured into the territories between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. This threatened Spanish and French holds on the Louisiana territory west of the Mississippi River. Mountains, rivers, snakes, swamps and grizzly bears were nowhere near the threat to American expansion compared to the Native American tribes who STILL LIVED ON THE LAND.
  • 1780s-1810s As Americans expanded westward, the British in Canada won alliances with many Indian nations in the hopes the tribes would serve as a buffer between the settlers and British held in Canada.
  • 1780s-1810s The British often encouraged these native tribes to wage war on American settlers. These Indian raids wreaked havoc upon American settlements. These citizens demanded that the government intervene. (This conflict would help ignite the War of 1812.)
  • 1785 First treaty between Cherokee and United States, established peaceful relations.
  • “I believe scarcely anything short of a Chinese wall, or a line of troops, will restrain land jobbers, and the encroachment of settlers upon the Indian territory.” –President George Washington, 1796
  • Student Talk: What is Washington saying about white settlers moving west?
  • The question of what to do with the hundreds of tribes and millions of natives becomes a problem that George Washington must solve as the nation’s first president.
  • Student talk: What should Washington do with the Indian population standing in the way of the settlers?



Beloved Cherokees,

Many years have passed since the White people first came to America. In that long space of time many good men have considered how the condition of the Indian natives of the country might be improved; and many attempts have been made to effect it. But, as we see at this day, all these attempts have been nearly fruitless.

I also have thought much on this subject, and anxiously wished that the various Indian tribes, as well as their neighbours, the White people, might enjoy in abundance all the good things which make life comfortable and happy. I have considered how this could be done; and have discovered but one path that could lead them to that desirable situation. In this path I wish all the Indian nations to walk. It may seem a little difficult to enter; but if you make the attempt, you will find every obstacle easy to be removed. Mr. Dinsmoor, my beloved agent to your nation, being here, I send you this talk by him. He will have it interpreted to you, and particularly explain my meaning.

Beloved Cherokees,

You now find that the game with which your woods once abounded, are growing scarce; and you know when you cannot meet a deer or other game to kill, that you must remain hungry; you know also when you can get no skins by hunting, that the traders will give you neither powder nor clothing; and you know that without other implements for tilling the ground than the hoe, you will continue to raise only scanty crops of corn…

My beloved Cherokees,

Some among you already experience the advantage of keeping cattle and hogs: let all keep them and increase their numbers, and you will ever have a plenty of meet. To these add sheep, and they will give you clothing as well as food. Your lands are good and of great extent. By proper management you can raise live stock not only for your own wants, but to sell to the White people.

By using the plow you can vastly increase your crops of corn. You can also grow wheat, (which makes the best bread) as well as other useful grain. To these you will easily add flax and cotton, which you may dispose of to the White people, or have it made up by your own women into clothing for yourselves. Your wives and daughters can soon learn to spin and weave…

I have directed Mr. Dinsmoor to procure all the necessary apparatus for spinning and weaving, and to hire a woman to teach the use of them. He will also procure some plows and other implements of husbandry, with which to begin the improved cultivation of the ground which I recommend, and employ a fit person to show you how they are to be used.

I have further directed him to procure some cattle and sheep for the most prudent and industrious men, who shall be willing to exert themselves in tilling the ground and raising those useful animals. He is often to talk with you on these subjects, and give you all necessary information to promote your success. I must therefore desire you to listen to him; and to follow his advice. I appointed him to dwell among you as the Agent of the United States, because I judged him to be a faithful man, ready to obey my instructions and to do you good.

But the cares of the United States are not confined to your single nation. They extend to all the Indians dwelling on their borders. For which reason other agents are appointed; and for the four southern nations there will be a general or principal agent who will visit all of them, for the purpose of maintaining peace and friendship among them and with the United States; to superintend all their affairs; and to assist the particular agents with each nation in doing the business assigned them.

Beloved Cherokees,

What I have recommended to you I am myself going to do. After a few moons are passed I shall leave the great town and retire to my farm. There I shall attend to the means of increasing my cattle, sheep and other useful animals; to the growing of corn, wheat, and other grain, and to the employing of women in spinning and weaving; all which I have recommended to you, that you may be as comfortable and happy as plenty of food, clothing and other good things can make you.

Beloved Cherokees,

The advice I here give you is important as it regards your nation; but still more important as the event of the experiment made with you may determine the lot of many nations… The wise men of the United States meet together once a year, to consider what will be for the good of all their people. The wise men of each separate state also meet together once or twice every year, to consult and do what is good for the people of their respective states. I have thought that a meeting of your wise men once or twice a year would be alike useful to you. Every town might send one or two of its wisest counsellors to talk together on the affairs of your nation, and to recommend to your people whatever they should think would be serviceable.

…For the preservation of peace; for the protection of your lands; for the security of your persons; for your improvement in the arts of living, and for promoting your general welfare.

President George Washington

City of Philadelphia, August 29, 1796.


Document A: President George Washington letter to the Cherokee Nation.

1. Pre-read: What do you predict President Washington will tell the Cherokee Nation? Why might he want to tell them these things?

2. First read: Based on this letter, what does President Washington want the Cherokee Nation to do? (cite evidence)

3. Close-read:I…anxiously wished that the various Indian tribes, as well as their neighbours, the White people, might enjoy in abundance all the good things which make life comfortable and happy.” What does this imply about the ways Indians traditionally live their lives?

4. Close-read:The wise men of the United States meet together once a year, to consider what will be for the good of all their people. …I have thought that a meeting of your wise men once or twice a year would be alike useful to you.“ In what way does Washington want the Cherokee Nation to behave like the United States government?

5. Close-read: What is the role of Mr. Dinsmoor? (cite examples)

6. Corroboration: Do you believe President Washington is sincere in wanting to better the lives of the Cherokee Nation, or do you feel he is insincere and only wants their lands? Cite evidence from the text to show view point.


3rd period: Finished 9.5 (part two) and discussed the dynamics of the wealthy neighborhoods. No assignment collected.

8th period: Finished documentary on D-Day.

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