Conflict Between Georgia and Creek Indians

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John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)

Conflict Between Georgia and Creek Indians (March 1825 - November 1827)

By the middle of 1825, the state of Georgia was again in conflict with one of the Indian nations that resided within its borders. Whereas Georgia had been in conflict with the Cherokees in the last year of Monroe's presidency, the middle years of the Adams administration found that state at odds with the Creek Indian nation. Adams was caught in the middle of the conflict between the Creeks and Georgia; his attempts at compromise ultimately worked against the Creeks.

Just days after Adams took office, the Treaty of Indian Springs was declared law. In this treaty, a Creek leader named William McIntosh (of mixed Scots and Creek ancestry) had ceded the remainder of the Creek nation's lands in Georgia to the state. Although the official transfer was not until September 1826, Georgia Governor George Troup sent surveyors into the Creek nation immediately. The majority of Creek leaders repudiated the treaty that McIntosh had made, and he was assassinated in April 1825. Violence erupted between the Creeks and the agents of Georgia. Hearing of this, Adams attempted to mediate the dispute.

The Creeks claimed that since a majority of their leaders were not at Indian Springs and did not approve of McIntosh's actions, the treaty was invalid. Georgia asserted that the treaty was ratified constitutionally and was therefore law. Adams negotiated a new treaty clause with the Creeks at Washington in January 1826 that ceded less land than the Treaty of Indian Springs, which Troup obstinately asserted was valid. In September 1826, Georgia agents began work to complete their survey of Creek lands. Adams threatened to use the army to arrest the surveyors, while Troup threatened use the state militia to resist this measure. While no armed conflict occurred, the Adams administration kept intense pressure on the Creeks to cede more of their lands. On November 15, the last Creek chief holding out ceded the remainder of the Creek lands in Georgia to the United States.

Adams's experience reveals how untenable Jefferson's Indian policy of gradual "civilization" had become by the 1820s. Adams was in a difficult position. Deep South states such as Georgia were now openly calling for the immediate removal of all Indians from the South to an area west of the Mississippi River. Georgia and other southern states couched their claims to land in the language of states' rights. Adams' willingness to work at cross-purposes to many southerners' goal of immediate removal made them consider supporting Andrew Jackson in the election of 1828. At the same time, his negotiation of large land cessions, and inability to find an alternative to land cession and removal, set the precedent for the Indian Removal Act and the removal treaties of Jackson's presidency.

Mary W. M. Hargreaves, The Presidency of John Quincy Adams (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1985)

Francis Paul Prucha, American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly (Berkeley: University of California press, 1994)

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