Indian Removal: Does History Always Reflect Progress?

History is often seen as the march of progress. In U.S. history, the chronology of events that led from the settlement of to the formation of colonies, from a newborn nation to the current 50 states, is considered the natural sequence of the nation’s progress. The outcomes of historical events are presumed to be steps forward in our collective journey.
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • Examine a historical event from multiple points of view
  • Use reading strategies to increase comprehension of informational texts
  • Participate actively in collaborative work and in classroom discussion
  • Apply critical thinking skills in response to a writing prompt
Essential Questions
  • Does history always reflect progress? For whom?
  • How does examining a historical event from multiple points of view help us to more fully understand it?
  • What do good readers do when the text doesn’t make sense?
  • Second Annual Message from President Andrew Jackson in 1830
  • Primary documents for reading circles: A. Editorial from February 4, 1829; B. Letter to Congress from Guwisguwi (also known as John Ross) in 1829; C. Speech in the Senate by Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen in 1830
  • Paper and pens/pencils

Yet there were moments in our nation’s history when “progress” benefited some people over others, when the sense of progress depended on one’s point of view. The policy of Indian removal, adopted formally by the federal government in 1830, was one such example. In this lesson, students will explore primary documents from the period and grapple with two essential questions: Does history necessarily reflect progress? For whom?


Professional Development

This lesson uses primary document circles, an adaptation of literature circles, in which groups of students gather together to discuss a piece of literature in depth. To learn more about literature circles, visit the Literature Circles Resource Center.



The primary documents used in this lesson contain challenging vocabulary. The list below is not exhaustive.

benignant [ biˈ nignənt ] (adjective) kindly and benevolent

cupidity [ kyoōˈ piditē ] (noun) greed for money or possessions

encroachment [ enˈ krō ch mənt ] (noun) entry to another’s property without right or permission

General Government [ jenərəl  gəvər(n)mənt ] (noun) historical phrase: the federal government of the United States

impudence [ impyəd(ə)nse ] (noun) failure to show due respect for another person

Providence [ prävədəns; -dens ] (noun) the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power

redound [ riˈ dound ] (verb) contribute greatly to a person’s credit or honor

savage [ savij ] (adjective) fierce, violent, and uncontrolled; primitive or uncivilized



1. Read the excerpt from President Jackson’s Second Annual Message to Congress. List the arguments he makes in favor of Indian removal. Share your findings with the class. (This step can be undertaken as homework or in class, time allowing. Follow up with a brief class discussion and create a whole-class list on the board or overhead.)

2. Form a group with other students. (Provide each group, or circle, with one of the three remaining primary documents. It’s a good idea to assign specific roles to individual students within each group to enrich participation and depth of inquiry.)  

3. Your primary document reflects one or more arguments against Indian removal. Read it all the way through at least once, searching for general themes. Use reading strategies, as needed, to build your comprehension of the text.

4. Complete the tasks for your assigned role, or write, in your own words, a three-sentence interpretation of the document and one relevant question for group discussion.

5. Once all members of your group have completed their role assignments or written interpretations, begin your circle’s sharing time and discuss your individual findings.

6. Using a poster-sized piece of paper, create a poster that reflects your circle’s work and its discussion about the nature of the primary document’s arguments against Indian removal.

7. Present your circle’s poster to the whole class. Invite questions from your peers.

8. Reflect for a moment on the whole-class list of Jackson’s arguments in favor of Indian removal and on the posters you created summarizing opposing viewpoints:

  • What would be gained by the removal of American Indians from southern states?
  • Who would benefit? How?
  • What would be lost?
  • Who would endure these losses?

Briefly share your thoughts with the class.

9. Jackson’s viewpoint ultimately prevailed when Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In the decades that followed, American Indians were relocated—sometimes forcibly—to lands west of the Mississippi River. Consider this reality as you complete a three-minute “quick-write” on the following prompts: Does history always reflect progress, and for whom?


Extension Activity

Encourage students to explore what happened after the passage of the Indian Removal Act, using one or more of the following resources:

  • Blankets for the Dead, a primer on the policy’s enactment and the resulting Trail of Tears;
  • The Shape of Home, an activity based on the late 19th-century experiences of the Salish people.
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