The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 26, 1830. President Andrew Jackson called for an Indian Removal Act in his 1829 speech on the issue.The Removal Act was strongly supported in the South, where states were eager to gain access to lands inhabited by the Five Civilized Tribes. In particular, Georgia, the largest state at that time, was involved in a contentious jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokee nation. President Jackson hoped removal would resolve the Georgia crisis. The Indian Removal Act was also very controversial. While Native American removal was, in theory, supposed to be voluntary, in practice great pressure was put on Native American leaders to sign removal treaties. Most observers, whether they were in favor of the Indian removal policy or not, realized that the passage of the act meant the inevitable removal of most Indians from the states. Some Native American leaders who had previously resisted removal now began to reconsider their positions, especially after Jackson's landslide re-election in 1832. Affected tribes include the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.
Most European Americans favored the passage of the Indian Removal Act, though there was significant opposition. Many Christian missionaries, most notably missionary organizer Jeremiah Evarts, protested against passage of the Act. Future U.S. President Abraham Lincoln also opposed the Indian Removal Act. In Congress, New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen and Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee spoke out against the legislation. The Removal Act was passed after bitter debate in Congress.
The Removal Act paved the way for the reluctant—and often forcible—emigration of tens of thousands of American Indians to the West. The first removal treaty signed after the Removal Act was the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on September 27, 1830, in which Choctaws in Mississippi ceded land east of the river in exchange for payment and land in the West. Choctaw chief (thought to be Thomas Harkins or Nitikechi) quoted to the Arkansas Gazette that the 1831 Choctaw removal was a "trail of tears and death." The Treaty of New Echota (signed in 1835) resulted in the removal of the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. The Seminoles did not leave peacefully as did other tribes; along with fugitive slaves they resisted the removal. The Second Seminole War lasted from 1835 to 1842 and resulted in the forced removal of Seminoles, only a small number to remain, and around 3,000 were killed amongst American soldiers and Seminoles.
In 1823 the Supreme Court handed down a decision (Johnson v. M'Intosh) which stated that Indians could occupy lands within the United States, but could not hold title to those lands.