Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
Throughout history there are the “good” guys and the “bad” guys. Much of who falls in which category depends on who is creating the list. Who one group would call “good” another group could just as easily call “evil”. It usually comes down to opinions. So is the case of all public figures. So where does Andrew Jackson fall?
Andrew Jackson was the United States’ seventh president. Before that, he was a successful general in the War of 1812 and other battles and skirmishes. He made many contributions to the young country as a Revolutionary War hero yet he remains today one of the most loved or most despised persons in American history over one issue alone – the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
This monumental law would impact history like no other. The barebones of it was to move many of the Native American tribes east of the Mississippi River to lands in the west. Looking at just that statement you could find pros and cons of the act, but like anything else there was much more to that act that sheds the true light of the country, the act, and the man behind it.
To get a better understanding of this issue we need to look at the fledgling country of the time. The settlers were expanding past original settlements. As the seaboard was beginning to crowd, the tempting lands to the south and west were beckoning. The pioneers began to push forward and discovered that these lands already had people who claimed the wilds as home. This is where a major crossroads was encountered. Now what were they do to?
To many of the white (European) settlers the thought of living in peace with the native tribes was not farfetched. They accepted the thought of living in the new land with the natives and enjoying peace. To many others that thought was ludicrous. Those that opposed living with the natives preferred the prospect of completing annihilating the tribes. In their opinion they were savages with no hope of civilization. Heated debates began over this and continued throughout into the first of the presidential terms of the new country. Each president pushed the topic to the back as more critical issues arose like wars with foreign powers. But this only led to a more explosive and history changing event.
In 1814 Andrew Jackson burst forth into the historical scene as the general to defeat the Creeks who had begun attacking white settlements that began to encroach into their territory. Jackson along his allies, the Cherokees, conquered the Creeks and obtained much land in the south that would for the new country. The intent of the battle was not to wipe out the Creeks or show who was stronger. It was a reaction to the attacks of the Creeks which could be argued as justified with so many settlers moving in and taking what was once the home of the Creeks.
One incident that happens at this time to shed some more light onto Jackson’s feelings toward the Indians was what he did in the aftermath of the battle with the Creeks. Going against what most would expect from an “Indian Hater”, Jackson adopted an orphaned Creek boy and raised him as his own son. This becomes an intriguing action from a man whose whole legacy is the bad treatment of native tribes.
Over the next few years, the southern settlers began to push the government for more land. With the economy growing demands for land increased. What was to be done with those already there? To many in the south, exterminating all tribes was the only possible answer. Just wipe them all out and let expansion take its course. To many others that was an unacceptable position. Andrew Jackson happened to be one of them.
As general, Jackson was regularly making treaties and acquiring land from the tribes. At times this was accomplished by not so honest methods, but looking at how most Europeans accomplished their treaties, this was not something that could be attributed only to Jackson. Reneging on treaties was a common result especially to those that were “conquered” or in the minority.
Becoming president, Jackson was met instantly with the demands of more land and the annihilation of all Indian tribes in the south. Here he was with the reputation for dealing with many native tribes in the past. Some saw his dealings as perfect for wiping them out. Others saw them as a chance to save them.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was passed with huge support from the voters. The country wanted the tribes removed so that the new country could expand. In his First Annual Message to Congress in 1830, Jackson stated:
The consequences of a speedy removal will be important to the United States, to individual States, and to the Indians themselves…. It puts an end to all possible danger of collision between the authorities of the General and State Governments on account of the Indians. It will place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters. By opening the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south to the settlement of the whites it will incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier and render the adjacent States strong enough to repel future invasions without remote aid.
To Jackson the only possible solution was to move the tribes to a “safer” location. Jackson stated that the act was to “save him (the native) from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.” In his mind and in many others, the Act was a blessing and the best thing for all. To the natives it was received a little differently.
Many of the thousands who were moved west of the Mississippi fought back. As they embarked on the “Trail of Tears”, many escaped and hid out in the mountains of the east. Though their land was taken from them they were given new lands in the west but these were not the lands of their ancestors. Accepting the change and adapting was not what they wanted and to this day many of the tribes despise Andrew Jackson for moving them from their homes. To them he was an “Indian Hater”.
The question arises if Jackson really harbored such animosity toward the natives. Looking at his acts of fighting the tribes and moving them, you could answer yes. Looking at his adoption of a native orphan and seeking to protect the tribes from annihilation, you could answer no. The truth probably lies a little in the middle. Jackson was a man of the times when the natives were considered “uncivilized”. He went against the “norm” and sought ways to protect the future of the native tribes while reacting to the desire to expand. Could he have chosen another way to protect them? Could there have been alternative end to it all? Maybe in an attempt to show how much he cared he actually earned the reputation of the natives’ enemy.