Spirit of the Frontier, painting
"Spirit of the Frontier" by John Gast (1872)


Indian Removal and the Politics of Westward Expansion


Teacher Resources
Student Resources

Task and Product Assessments Questions Gather
and Sort
Organize Conclusion
Research Scenario

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson by engraver Alexander Richie (1860) from the Library of Congress

Imagine you are a member of Congress during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson. He has come to you to request assistance with negotiating a solution between white settlers moving west and several Native American Tribes. You will need to draft an alternative policy to replaced the one outlined in the Indian Removal Act of 1830 for presentation to Congress. In order to do so, you will need to be able to answer the essential questions:

What political, social, and economic factors contributed to
the passage of the Indian Removal Act?
How did the Indian Removal Act impact the Native American people?

First, you will need to build some background knowledge about this topic.

To 19th century Americans, land represented wealth, self-reliance and freedom.  In an era characterized by rapid population growth and plagued by economic depression, the pull to move west was strong in white settlers who hoped for a better life.  This desire to move west was soon characterized as our national "destiny."  Americans would move west and "extend the boundaries of freedom."

The presence of Native American tribes on western land hampered this "destiny."  U.S. Government policy moved first to assimilate the Native Americans into white culture, then to remove Native Americans from their land and relocate them to land set aside for them further west.  Enforcement of these policies led to violence and destruction.

In 1830, Congress passed the "Indian Removal Act," which would allow the government to relocate eastern tribes to lands west of the Mississippi.

Build Background Knowledge Read more about Indian Removal between 1814-1858.
Reading Comprehension: Check your understanding Click the button to check your understanding of the background reading.
BrainPop Watch a BrainPop video about the Trail of Tears and use the supplementary materials to check your understanding.
Task and Product

Sequoyah

Sequoyah by Henry Inman (1830) from the National Portrait Gallery

Your task is to conduct research in order to prepare for a debate on 19th century policies regarding the treatment of Native Americans and then write an alternative policy concerning Native Americans and United States westward expansion.

  • First, you will research the political, social, and economic motivation which drove government policies of assimilation (the cultural absorption of a minority group into the main cultural body) and relocation (moving a minority group to another area). You will also need to gather images which could be used to support an oral argument on either side of the debate.
  • Then, you will be assigned to a debate team representing one side of the issue in order to argue in favor of either tassimilation or relocation.
  • Following the debate, you will use your research findings and knowledge gained during the debate to write an alternative policy concerning Native Americans and United States westward expansion.

 

Assessments

OK Indian Territory

Oklahoma Indian Territory from clipart.com

The following scoring tools may be used or adapted by your teacher to evaluate your research process, group work, and final product/presentation.

Research Process Assessments:

Group Collaboration Assessments:

Final Product Assessments: 

Questions

Chief John Ross

Chief John Ross, first Chief of the Cherokee Nation (1843) from the Library of Congress

Essential Question:

What political, social, and economic factors contributed to
the passage of the Indian Removal Act?
How did the Indian Removal Act impact the Native American people?

"Jump-start" Your Thinking:

  • What were the advantages and disadvantages of the policy of assimilation of Native Americans into white culture?
  • Evaluate the impact of removal and resettlement on Native Americans in the Five Civilized Tribes.  
  • How is it possible to sustain a culture under these circumstances (assimilation, removal and resettlement)?
  • How did removal and resettlement of the Native Americans impact white settlers? 
  • What other concerns should you consider?
Gather and Sort

wagon train

Use a variety of sources from the Student Resources page to gather information about your topic.

Be sure to avoid plagiarism and remember to cite your sources.

Sort your research findings using this graphic organizer.

Organize

wagon

 

You will be assigned to a debate team on one side of the Native American issue: assimilation vs. relocation.

Analyze and evaluate your research notes by meeting with your debate team members to compare notes:

  • Have you gathered sufficient details about the the consequences of government policies toward Native Americans in order to state and support your position in the debate?
  • Did you differentiate your findings to address the social, political, and economic consequences of these actions?
  • Does your team have research that supports both sides of the debate? (assimilation vs. removal) Knowing both sides will allow you to effectively prepare your argument and rebuttals of opposing arguments.
  • Have you gathered images to support your oral arguments?

Prepare images supporting your oral arguments for display during the debate. You may use one of the following tools as directed by your teacher:

Debate the question of assimilation vs. removal using the Tag Team Debate strategy:

  • Each team will represent one side of the debate issue (assimilation or relocation).
  • The first speaker on a team will talk for 1 minute.  Then, they will tag another team member to speak, and so on, until the allotted 5 minutes are up.
  • Team members can put out their hand if they want to be chosen to speak.
  • No one can be tagged more than once until all group members have spoken.
  • Take notes during the debate to document any key points or new facts that emerge.

Evaluate your learning as a result of your research and debate experience:

  • Do you have sufficient knowledge about the the consequences of government policies toward Native Americans in order to create your own policy as an alternative to the Indian Removal Act?
  • Compare your research notes to the notes you took during the debate. What new information or understanding did you achieve as a result of the debate?

Synthesize your research findings and new knowledge gained during the debate to write your own policy as an alternative to the Indian Removal Act.

  • Is information from your research and debate notes reflected in your policy?
  • How would your policy address the impact of westward expansion on both Native Americans and white settlers?
  • Did you cite your sources to give credit where credit is due?
Conclusion

sunset

 

Presentation: Submit your final Policy Proposal to President Jackson for his approval. Share your Policy Proposal with your classmates, and examine their proposals, as directed by your teacher.

Reflection:

  • Knowing what we know now, do you believe that the United States government acted justly or unjustly in their treatment of the Native Americans? Explain your answer with supporting details from your research and debate. Your teacher may have you do this in a written response or class discussion.

Extension Activity:

  • In the film Avatar, directed by James Cameron, a similar pattern of conflict is explored. At first, a corporation seeks to assimilate the indigenous people, and then tries to convince them to move in order to aquire the resources buried beneath their homes. However, when that course of action is rejected, the story turns down a violent and destructive path. Discuss, either face to face or virtually, the similarities between this story and the history of Indian Removal.