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Jackson and the Indians

Andrew Jackson’s desire to serve the interests of the common man did not extend to African and Indians. It was during his administration that the policy of “removal” (forcing Indians to move to lands west of the Mississippi River) became the official federal strategy.

Removal efforts were centered on the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes,” the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole. They were regarded as “civilized” in that they had adopted many white ways. The Cherokee in Georgia, for example, had received recognition of their semiautonomous status in a federal treaty in 1791. They had given up their semi-nomadic way and become farmers, ranchers, and cotton producers. They developed their own constitution, built roads and churches, developed a successful educational system, and owned slaves. The Cherokee refused all inducements to sell their highly prized and fertile lands.

In 1828, the State of Georgia enacted a law that gave authority over all Indian land matters to the state government. The Cherokee resisted and took their case to court, arguing that their treaty rights had been established by the federal government in 1791, and could not be abrogated by the state. The initial case was dismissed, but in 1832, the John Marshall Court ruled that only the federal government had authority over Indian lands.

Giving the federal government power to deal with Indian tribes rather than the states did not do the Indians any good. Jackson was committed to the policy of removing Indians from desirable lands and relocating them to what became Oklahoma. In his second State of the Union speech in 1830, Jackson noted the progress of this policy with satisfaction:

It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation. Two important tribes have accepted the provision made for their removal at the last session of Congress, and it is believed that their example will induce the remaining tribes also to seek the same obvious advantages.

By 1838, the policy of relocation had essentially cleared the natives from the southeastern lands east of the Mississippi River. The Cherokee were the last to go, being forced to leave most of their possessions behind, including their livestock. Their “Trail of Tears” extended 1,200 miles, from Georgia to present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee trek was supervised by an army of 7,000 soldiers under the command of General Winfield Scott. More than 4,000 of the initial group of 15,000 Cherokee died during the ordeal.

The Seminole resisted all efforts to relocate. They were defeated in a number of battles and a segment of the tribe consented to removal. The remainder under Chief Osceola retreated deep into the Everglades and allied themselves with a number of runaway slaves. This contingent of Seminole was never finally defeated, but by 1842, had been so reduced in number that it was no longer a threat. Because of their mastery of guerilla warfare, the Seminoles' resistance exacted the lives of more than 1,500 U.S. soldiers.

Removal of Indians was also an issue in the Old Northwest, where brief resistance was put up in the Black Hawk War.


See Indian Wars Time Table .

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The Age of Jackson by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr..
The young Schlesinger, for all the tradition he embodied, had a refreshing streak of informality. While working in the Kennedy White House, he found t...