The Dawes Act (Dawes Severalty Act) (article)

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Dawes Act Law and Legal Definition

The Dawes Act of 1887 is a U.S. federal statute. The Act is also known as the Indian General Allotment Act. This Act aims at providing individual property to Indian tribes in Oklahoma. Thus the Act provides for the distribution of tribally held land to individuals. This Act puts an effort to break the tradition and culture held by tribal people by bringing in the western culture.

The main functions of the Act are:

1. to civilize the native peoples; and

2. to gain use of native-American lands for non-natives.

The Burke Act amended this Act and was made ineffective in 1934.

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Dawes General Allotment Act

United States [1887]
Written By:

  • The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
See Article History

Alternative Title:
Dawes Severalty Act

Dawes General Allotment Act, also called Dawes Severalty Act, (Feb. 8, 1887), U.S. law providing for the distribution of Indian reservation land among individual tribesmen, with the aim of creating responsible farmers in the white man’s image. It was sponsored in several sessions of Congress by Sen. Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts and finally was enacted in February 1887. Under its terms, the president determined the suitability of the recipients and issued the grants, usually by a formula of 160 acres to each head of household and 80 acres to each unmarried adult, with the stipulation that no grantee could alienate his land for 25 years. The Indians who thus received land became U.S. citizens, subject to federal, state, and local laws. The original supporters of the act were genuinely interested in the welfare of the Indians, but there were not enough votes in Congress to pass it until it was amended to provide that any land remaining after the allotment to the Indians would be available for public sale. The combined influence of friends of the Indians and land speculators assured passage of the act.

Dawes General Allotment Act
Dawes General Allotment ActHenry L. Dawes, who sponsored the Dawes General Allotment Act.Portraits of Henry Laurens Dawes, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-DIG-ppmsca-07783)
Read More on This Topic

Navajo Supreme Court justices questioning counsel during a hearing.

Native American: Allotment

…policy was effected through the Dawes General Allotment Act (1887).

Under the Dawes Act, Indian life deteriorated in a manner not anticipated by its sponsors. The social structure of the tribe was weakened; many nomadic Indians were unable to adjust to an agricultural existence; others were swindled out of their property; and life on the reservation came to be characterized by disease, filth, poverty, and despondency. The act also provided that any “surplus” land be made available to whites, who by 1932 had acquired two-thirds of the 138,000,000 acres the Indians had held in 1887.

Learn More in these related Britannica articles:

  • Navajo Supreme Court justices questioning counsel during a hearing.

    Native American: Allotment
    …policy was effected through the Dawes General Allotment Act (1887).…
  • United States

    United States: Indian policy
    …Congress in 1887 enacted the Dawes Act, which empowered the president to grant title to 160 acres (65 hectares) to the head of each family, with smaller allotments to single members of the tribe, in those tribes believed ready to accept a new way of life as farmers. With the…
  • Cleveland, Grover

    Grover Cleveland: Presidency
    …the United States, and the Dawes General Allotment Act (1887), which redistributed Native American reservation land to individual tribe members.…
  • Fletcher, Alice Cunningham

    Alice Cunningham Fletcher
    …in the passage of the Dawes General Allotment Act (1887), which further apportioned remaining tribal lands and provided for eventual citizenship for Native Americans. Though viewed as humanitarian at the time of its enactment, the Dawes Act came to be regarded as a public policy failure.…
  • Amelia Stone Quinton.

    Amelia Stone Quinton
    In 1887 Congress enacted the Dawes General Allotment Act, which granted Indians citizenship and allotments of reservation land to be used for farming.…


  • Euro-American settlers assembling at the border of Oklahoma Territory, preparing to stake claims on land made available by the Dawes General Allotment Act (1887).

More About Dawes General Allotment Act

7 references found in Britannica articles

Assorted References

    • major reference
      • In Native American: Allotment
    • Indian resettlement policies
      • In Indian Reorganization Act
      • In United States: Indian policy
    • Oto people
      • In Oto

    role of

      • Cleveland
        • In Grover Cleveland: Presidency
      • Fletcher
        • In Alice Cunningham Fletcher
      • Quinton
        • In Amelia Stone Quinton

      Article History

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