This question is pretty straightforward. While looking into Victorian British beliefs about Americans and American history I began to wonder about European attitudes toward American Indians; and more specifically their reaction to the human atrocity that was the Indian Removal Act and The Trail of Tears. I quickly learned that Tocqueville glimpsed the start of it, and that while he was distressed by the expulsion he wrote it had been done "tranquilly, legally, philanthropically, without spilling blood, without violating a single one of the great principles of morality in the eyes of the world.”

This implies there was no reaction overseas, which is a little hard for me to believe. That's not because I have a high opinion of human nature, but rather because I've observed that competing nations are generally very quick to point out each other's faults. (Just as the British, for example, were quick to criticize the hypocrisy of American slavery, and the Americans were quick to attack British colonialism.) So I thought it might be productive to ask the following here:

Was there a roughly contemporary European response to the Trail of Tears and the removal of the American Indians? Whether in politics, journalism, literature, or elsewhere. As a side note, I'm using the phrase Trail of Tears in the loose sense, as shorthand for the many relocations that took place during the period.

Update: I'm reading Blood Moon by John Sedgwick, and at one point he says that the outside world saw the Trail of Tears as "pitting the Cherokee against Andrew Jackson and his nefarious Indian Removal Act." I haven't had time to finish the book, but a thorough word search makes me think Sedgwick won't elaborate much further. It's an interesting snippet to me because it implies there was an outside reaction, but seems to claim it was the opposite of what Tocqueville thought.

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    Remember that in the early 19th century, we had nothing like the global news system that we have now. It is exceedingly likely that there was general lack of awareness that it was even happening. When you couple that with the fact that many of the great powers were doing similar things or worse in their colonies, it's unlikely that it would attract much notice.
    – user15620
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 21:02
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    @StevenBurnap I think your point about the distance of communication is a very good one (the wonder of the telegraph, let alone a transatlantic cable still being decades away) but still can’t help but suspect it wouldn’t have passed entirely without comment. Europeans were not exactly wanting in moral hypocrisy (or even ignorance of or distaste for their own colonies), and with the often fetishized attention given to American Indians since the enlightenment you’d think there would have at least been a few articles or pamphlets from the left or those inclined to mix politics and Romanticism.
    – Random
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 21:22
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    +1. There must have been some reactions but I did not find them in a few minutes' search.
    – user18968
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 2:16
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    Charles Dickens, who generally wrote in favor of the down-trodden English, apparently thought very little of the American Indian: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… From this one can conclude that distant peoples were not of much interest to the English, and perhaps to other Europeans either. Commented May 29, 2018 at 15:01
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    @PeterDiehr Dickens is a hugely influential, and the link is interesting, but having already read a little bit about American Indian envoys who came to Britain from the 1700s to the 1800s I can say with some certainty they were capable of generating intermittent, if not always reliable, bursts of excitement well into the Victorian age. Just the fact that Dickens felt the need to attack the noble savage archetype could be taken as telling.
    – Random
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


The Europeans tried to "forestall" the Trail of Tears. That's partly out of sympathy for the Native Americans, but mainly because they were jealous of the resulting accretion of power to the "upstart" Americans.

The French in Canada and "Louisiana" came to trade, rather than colonize, and their missionaries were somewhat successful in converting the Indians to Christianity. They sided with the Native Americans in the French and Indian War, (against the Anglo-Americans), and even though they were allies of America in the Revolution, they were against the Americans being given "East" Louisiana (the land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi.

After the victory in the French and Indian War, the British passed the Proclamtion of 1763 to prevent "Americans" from encroaching on Native American lands west of the Appalachians in what later became the Northwest Territory. Later, in the War of 1812, the British enlisted the help of Indian leader Tecumseh, to keep the Americans out of the modern Midwest.

Unlike the Americans, many Europeans were imbued with the idea of the "noble savage. Native Americans were seen as rough and primitive, but not much more so than the white "Americans" who took their places.


Literary response

  • Stein, Gary C. Indian Removal as Seen by European Travelers, Chronicles of Oklahoma 51 (Winter 1973-1974); 399-410.

    Provides examples of European condemnation of the American policy and the American public's failure to criticize it.

  • Stein, Gary C. "And the Strife Never Ends": Indian-White Hostility as Seen by European Travelers in America, 1800-1860, Ethnohistory 20 (Spring 1973) 173-185

    Numerous European travelers to America from 1800-1860observed and discussed the conflicts between Indians and white in the United States. Generally they wrote about the causes of these conflicts within the context pf life in America. Some displayed sympathy for the Indians, others saw him as a hopeless savage, and nearly all predicted his rapid disappearance.

Political and or elsewhere response

The physical European response was for immigrants from Europe to the U.S. to occupy the lands taken from the indigenous peoples by the U.S.

Large scale immigration resumed in the 1830s from Britain, Ireland, Germany, and other parts of Central Europe as well as Scandinavia. Most were attracted by the cheap farmland.

That "cheap farmland" is the land of the sovereign indigenous nations and peoples which the U.S. took by military force at the same time that the European immigrants were arriving in the U.S.

Between 1831 and 1840, immigration more than quadrupled to a total of 599,000.

Note the correlation between U.S. military actions against the indigenous nations of the U.S. which directly resulted in their property being taken by the U.S. and distributed to European immigrants.

Between 1841 and 1850, immigration nearly tripled again, totaling 1,713,000 immigrants, including at least 781,000 Irish, 435,000 Germans, 267,000 British, and 77,000 French.

The vertical expansion of specifically European immigration to the U.S. during the removal of native, indigenous (American Indian) from their sovereign national lands is no coincidence.

The indisputable physical European response that we have on the historical record was the act of vast numbers of Europeans becoming "immigrants" and "settlers" in the lands taken from the indigenous nations in the western hemisphere by U.S. military actions.

Source: History of immigration to the United States

The policy of removing indigenous peoples from their lands by force is not novel to European nation state or principality and subsequent U.S. history, whether that be in the form of direct military aggression, imminent domain, or so-called "race riots".

Note that there are several events in U.S. history which are referred to as the "Trail of Tears".

We can examine the prelude to the conquest of the indigenous nations and peoples in the western hemisphere via several documents composed by European powers before any of the "Trail of Tears" occurred to draw the conclusion that while individual European persons may have objected to the genocide of Native Americans, the policies of the European powers was decidedly conquest.

Romanus Pontifex

...since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso -- to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit -- by having secured the said faculty, the said King Alfonso, or, by his authority, the aforesaid infante, justly and lawfully has acquired and possessed, and doth possess, these islands, lands, harbors, and seas, and they do of right belong and pertain to the said King Alfonso and his successors, nor without special license from King Alfonso and his successors themselves has any other even of the faithful of Christ been entitled hitherto, nor is he by any means now entitled lawfully to meddle therewith.

Dum diversas

We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property [...] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.

Discovery doctrine

On the discovery of this immense continent, the great nations of Europe ... as they were all in pursuit of nearly the same object, it was necessary, in order to avoid conflicting settlements, and consequent war with each other, to establish a principle which all should acknowledge as the law by which the right of acquisition, which they all asserted, should be regulated as between themselves. This principle was that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession. ... The history of America, from its discovery to the present day, proves, we think, the universal recognition of these principles.

Manifest Destiny

As the boundaries of America grew, white settlers and proponents of expansion began to voice concerns over what they considered an obstacle to settlement and America’s economic and social development – the American Indian tribes living on lands east of the Mississippi River which bordered white settlement. The land was home to many tribal nations including the Cherokee, Creek and Seminole in the south and the Choctaw and Chickasaw in the west. That land held the promise of economic prosperity to raise cattle, wheat, and cotton, and harvest timber and minerals. Eager to take possession of the land, the settlers began to pressure the federal government to acquire the lands from the Indian tribes. To these white settlers, the Indian tribes were standing in the way of progress and of America’s manifest destiny.

Monroe Doctrine

We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power, we have not interfered and shall not interfere.

The Debate over Indian Removal in the 1830s (Cass, 17, Kent, Commentaries, Vol. III, 310)

Cass argued that because Euro-American society was superior to North American Indian society, civilized, Christian, settled agriculturists had a God-given right to redistribute land occupied by barbarian, heathen, wandering hunters. The established customs and practice of colonizing countries from Europe supported Removal and past federal laws and practice supported states such as Georgia in exercising control over Indian communities and disposing of the land they occupied. Cass said that clear Indian title to their land did not really exist, and to support that quoted from arguments made before the US Supreme Court. (Cass, Lewis. "Considerations of the Present State of the Indians and Their Removal to the West of the Mississippi," North American Review 30 (January 1830) reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.) at 20

Cass also supported the assertion of Georgia’s right to claim Cherokee land through an entitlement of Christians to take land of non-Christians. He thought it was clear that being a heathen people meant a loss of rights in the face of European claims.

Where the immigrant Europeans response was to become American "settler" of lands taken by the U.S. for those same arriving Europeans. The process was a symbiotic relationship. The U.S. is simultaneously stating that European powers where the immigrants were leaving should not interfere in the activities of the U.S. as to any U.S. policy in the western hemisphere.

The European response at that time was mixed, depending on whether the power was Britain or any other European power. Still, the actual people poured in to the U.S. It must be stressed here that the lands that were considered "cheap farmland" is the lands of the original peoples of that land which they were removed from by U.S. military force.

The historical facts are that a vast number of Europeans response was not to protest the removal of the sovereign, indigenous, native american peoples from their lands, but rather, to occupy those lands as "settlers", in effect, becoming instruments of the Indian removal policy themselves.

From the perspective of the native peoples, the entire enterprise of the several states was in effect the policy of Indian removal

John Ross (Kooneskoowe), Cherokee

... without the consent or knowledge of the native lords, a potentate of England, whose eyes never saw, whose purse never purchased, and whose sword never conquered the soil we inhabit, presumed to issue a parchment, called a “Charter,” to the colony of Georgia, in which its boundary was set forth, including a great extent of country inhabited by the Cherokee and other Indian Nations.

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    This doesn't seem to be an answer to the question as to whether there was a contemporaneous response in Europe to the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1930 and the twenty-year Trail of Tears forced migrations that followed. Commented May 30, 2018 at 14:51
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    1930 was clearly a typo, show a little charity perhaps?
    – Random
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 0:52
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    I believe some of my ancestors fled the absorption of Poland by Russia in the 1830s, and were involved in farming in the Upper Peninsula. Others fled genocide under Ottoman rule. I really doubt 1830 peasant farmers in Poland would have any awareness of the problems face by North American native peoples. It is akin to how nobody seems to know or care about a million Rohingya being persecuted today. Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 21:11
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    It seems the author simply used this question as an excuse to write a diatribe he had been storing up. It simply does not address the question at all.
    – pokep
    Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 23:03
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    Perhaps you could present actual reactions to the specific event in contemporary European sources (such as newspapers and pamphlets), such as the question actually asks for?
    – pokep
    Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 5:40

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