Andrew Jackson: Indian Policy

Map of the Trail of Tears showing the path that the Cherokee nation had to take to where they resettled in Oklahoma.

from mapoftheunitedstates.org

To the Native Americans in this country, Andrew Jackson is like Hitler. I've talked before about how some tribes will make efforts not to accept twenty dollar bills and the long running campaigns to remove him from the twenty dollar bill.

Jackson got his start as the famous Indian Fighter in the Tennessee Militia in skirmishes with the Creek Indians who had sympathies towards the British after the War of 1812. He later fought the Seminole Indians in Spanish Florida, nearly leading to renewed war with the British when he executed two British Citizens whom he accused of spying.

He capped off his reputation as the enemy of the Indians by siding with the State of Georgia in the 1830's when the State, having found gold on the Cherokees' land, wanted to kick them out. The surprising thing about this is that the Supreme Court at the time actually ruled against the State interfering on Indian lands due to previous treaties and Jackson went against it, eventually putting in motion the Trail of Tears, where thousands of Cherokees who were forced off of their land by the US Army died of exposure, disease and starvation in their forced Western march. The friend of democracy was not a friend of judicial supremacy apparently.

It's without a doubt, that Jackson certainly is the poster boy for the horrible policies against Indians, but I have to wonder if he's to some degree a scapegoat or convenient target. Jackson's views were extreme compared with people like Jefferson and Q. Adams who favored peaceful relations and coexistence or at least tolerance of Indians that abandoned their hunter gatherer ways and adopted agricultural practices. However, they weren't that far out of the mainstream.

Several groups favored abandoning previous Treaties that U.S. had agreed to and favored the policy of pushing Indians off their land. The poor who Jackson identified with had much to gain in homesteading fertile land that was once held by the Creeks, Cherokees or Seminoles. Wealthy land speculators wanted to buy and sell huge swaths of land for development and banking interests wanted to lend to those speculators. Religious interests feared that the Indians among them would erode morality.

Even the most compassionate/law and order whites usually only favored tolerating the presence of civilized, agriculture based tribes, not groups that still made a subsistence from hunting and gathering.

Jackson, in carrying out the policy of forced removal with the Trail of Tears, was simply removing the pretense of law and order that his predecessors had clung to. In his mind, he was bringing democracy to the masses (whites at least).

He also justified these policies as more than simple land grabs by making flimsy arguments that it's in the Cherokees' best interest to move West where tensions with the White Man would cease and they could live their own way of life (never mind that the Whites were causing most of the tension).

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