Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Lois Presser

Committee Members

Ben Feldmeyer, Daniel Feller, Paul Gellert


The Indian Removal Act of 1830 gave the President of the United States the authority to negotiate treaties with the Native American tribes in the east for their emigration to territory west of the Mississippi River. Although the emigration was technically voluntary, in practice, the Native tribes emigrated under coercion and force, the most infamous instance of which was the Cherokee Trail of Tears in 1838, which resulted in the deaths of at least 4,000 Native people. This dissertation applies Sykes and Matza’s (1957) neutralization theory to archival data including the papers of Andrew Jackson and publications documenting the removal debate, to explain how the policy was justified notwithstanding American norms and public opposition. Examples of neutralization techniques, especially denial of responsibility and denial of victim, were identified within the rhetoric of removal supporters, as were two new categories of neutralization: reducing the target and urgency of the moment. The research explores possibilities for the application of criminological theory for the study of atrocity crime.

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