On this day in history, April 9, 1830, U.S. Sen. Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, a Whig Party member, gave a long and stirring speech on the Senate floor opposing the Indian Removal Act.
Sen. Frelinghuysen is unknown today, but his speech makes it clear that there were voices of conscience opposed to this immoral law, a voice other leaders chose to ignore.
President Andrew Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act, which eventually passed. It resulted in the massive forced removal of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminoles, Chocktaw, and Muskogee-Creek from the southeastern United States to present day Oklahoma. Most notably, the Act resulted in what is known as the Trail of Tears, referring to the many indigenous people who suffered and died from exposure, disease, and starvation during the long walk.
Frelinghuysen’s speech, excerpted in Paul Prucha’s Documents of United States Indian Policy, begins:
God, in his providence, planted these tribes on this Western continent, so far as we know, before Great Britain herself had a political existence. I believe, sir, it is not now seriously denied that the Indians are men, endowed with kindred faculties and powers with ourselves; that they have a place in human sympathy, and are justly entitled to a share in the common bounties of a benignant Providence. And, with this conceded, I ask in what code of the law of nations, or by what process of abstract deduction, their rights have been extinguished?