Since my dad’s younger brother was named Andrew Jackson Logsdon, you might guess that Andrew Jackson was well thought of in my family. He is well thought of by most Americans as the first people’s president, a man who went to Washington, overthrew the elites, and returned the country to its democratic roots. A champion of the common man.
As a person trained in both anthropology and history, I have to declare my biases. Jackson was an important president, with much to his credit. I grant that. But he was also the leader of a successful movement to drive out the legal residents who were owners of vast tracts of land throughout the South, to make way for his white followers.
By the way, I plan to use the word Indian. It’s a description, not an insult, and it is the word that was used in the 1800’s. When Jackson finally sent the native people west of the Mississippi, he settled them in Indian Territory, not Native American Territory.
Jackson led an unapologetically racist movement, but there was no racial purity about it. The whites who moved into the vacated lands took their black slaves with them, and many of those slaves were partly white. (See yesterday’s post and numerous posts last January and February. Go to the tag cloud and click race.) The Indians who were moved out were frequently partly white, and took their black (and mixed) slaves with them when they went.
There is an argument that, morality notwithstanding, a stone age people had to give way before an industrialized one. Even if that idea has merit elsewhere, it does not apply to the frontier South in the early 1800s. The region was not industrialized, although gin-separated cotton would bring organized agriculture in the form of the plantation system during the next two decades. It was a land of small farmers (white or Indian), mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture (white or Indian), dotted with small towns (white or Indian) and few cities. White society and Indian both maintained slaves. Both traded with the larger world, mostly England, for manufactured goods.
White society, however, was under pressure from growing population beyond the Appalachians. Call it greed, or call it need, the whites wanted what the Indians had, and they took it. Jackson played a key roll in it all.
Jackson first came to public attention as an Indian fighter in the Creek War. It didn’t start out as a war between the Creeks (a historically imbedded term for the Muscogee tribe) and the Americans, but as a civil war between the lower Creeks who had made peace with the dominance of whites and the Red Stick faction which had not. Some whites were killed, militia units were organized, and Jackson became their leader. The regular American army was unavailable; they were fighting the British along the Atlantic coast. The War of 1812 was underway, and the Red Sticks were receiving British arms.
Jackson proved to be an effective general, tough and uncompromising. This is the period that gave him his nickname Old Hickory for those qualities. The Red Sticks were crushed and the entire Creek nation lost half their land at the end of hostilities. That was the pattern of frontier Indian fighting.
Next, Jackson defended New Orleans (brilliantly, to give the man his due) and emerged a Washington-like American hero. His road from New Orleans to the White House was long and rocky, but he became President in 1828 and won reelection in 1832.
Jackson was dedicated throughout his life to the removal of Indians from their lands in the South for resettlement them beyond the Mississippi. Toward that end, he effected passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830.
This act required Indian tribes to sign treaties exchanging their original lands for new lands west of the Mississippi. Most tribes resisted, and the saga of bribery, coercion, and trickery that brought about the change would fill volumes. Among the Cherokee, for example, a small faction was bribed into signing a treaty which was then enforced on the whole tribe. Anger over this betrayal led to political assassinations among the Cherokee once they reached the new Indian Territory.
16,000 Cherokees were removed for the Indian Territory. 4000 died along the way. Jackson retired after his second term and died eight years later. By that time tens of thousands of non-citizens who had been resident in America for generations had been deported – excuse me, I meant removed – to beyond the borders of the United States.
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We’ve looked at Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson, two Presidents from the first half of the nineteenth century. We’ve seen what Jackson did about the non-citizens living in America. We’ve seen how different thinking was then on race and gender, even for someone like Thomas Jefferson. It’s good that we have progressed.
Or have we? I guess we’ll find out on Tuesday.