Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson, for whom "Jacksonian Democracy" is named, served as the seventh President of the United States. The descendents of Native Americans, however, recall the Jackson's legacy as violent and oppressive. Among Native Americans, Jackson is most closely identified with the Indian Removal Act (1830), which forced at least 100,000 Native people off their traditional homelands into involuntary exile in "Indian territory," now Oklahoma. Jackson called Indian removal the "most arduous" of his duties as President of the United States. "I watched over it [removal] with great vigilance," Jackson recalled after he left the presidency.

Jackson was born March 15, 1767, in Waxhaws, South Carolina. Jackson's career, first as an Army general, then as president, coincided with rapid westward migration into Native lands. The explosion of westward migration after 1800, generated enormous profits in land speculation. During this period many fortunes were made in by buying and holding large parcels of land. Speculators then offered them for sale after demand increased dramatically. As a frontier lawyer in Tennessee, Jackson acquired immense holdings with which he began a mercantile establishment and bought a large plantation. Jackson also quickly acquired more than a hundred slaves, making him one of frontier Tennessee's largest owners of human capital. He traded actively in slaves, occasionally wagering them on horse races in a display of expendable wealth. As an Army general and later as president, Jackson represented the values and interests of the land-speculation industry.

By the time he emerged as an advocate of Indian removal, President Jackson had fought Native Americans for decades. As a general in the U.S. Army, Jackson attacked Native Americans throughout the South, refusing to retreat even when his superiors ordered him to relent. Between 1814 and 1824, before becoming president, he already served as the main agent for the United States in 11 treaties of cession. The land involved in these treaties included three-quarters of Alabama and Georgia, one-third of Tennessee, and one-fifth of Georgia and Mississippi.

In a battlefield confrontation with William Weatherford's Creek at Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, Jackson imprisoned assistants who advised retreat. For those who retreated in battle without authorization, the penalty levied by General Jackson was harsher: they would be executed. Once he and his troops subdued the Creek, General Jackson next received orders to quell what the War Department politely called "troubles" in Georgia, principally among the Seminole. By 1818, Jackson's troops were chasing them into Florida, which was still under Spanish jurisdiction. Having seized several Spanish forts along the way, Jackson withdrew. While he endured a debate in Congress over his cross-border expedition, Jackson reaped popular acclaim from expansion-minded Americans.

The Seminole, most of whom were descended from Creek, had elected to ally with the Spanish rather than the United States, an act of virtual treason to General Jackson. Furthermore, the Seminole were giving shelter to runaway slaves. Inasmuch as the Seminole and the escaped slaves had intermarried over generations, the pretext of Jackson's raid was the recovery of "stolen property," runaway slaves. After the United States purchased Florida from Spain, slave-hunting vigilantes invaded the area en masse, killing the Seminole as well as blacks. During the 1830s, when President Jackson proposed to remove the Seminole from Florida to Indian Territory, they refused. Moving deep into the swamps of southern Florida, the Seminole fought 1,500 U.S. Army troops to a bloody stalemate during seven years of warfare. They were never defeated, and they never moved from their new homeland.

After Spain ceded Florida to the United States, General Jackson and other U.S. officials lost any remaining motive for treating the Indians as allies. From then on, they were defined as subjects, to be moved out as Anglo-Americans rushed into the Southeast. Jackson's policy, "move the Indians out," became the national standard after his election as president in 1828. Alabama had already been created in 1819 from Creek and Cherokee territory; Mississippi was created in 1817 from Choctaw and Chickasaw country. These two states, along with Georgia, passed laws outlawing tribal governments and making Native Americans subject to state jurisdiction.

All of this activity violated treaties with the federal government. Confronted with this fact, President Jackson told the Natives that he was unable to stand by the treaties because they raised nettlesome issues of states' rights, an emerging issue in the decades before the Civil War. Instead, Jackson proposed that the Native Americans be moved westward.

In a message to Congress in December of 1830, in the midst of the nationwide debate over Indian removal, Jackson maintained that Indian removal was necessary for the development of the nation. Jackson, who as a general told his troops to root out Indians from their "dens" and to kill Indian women and their "whelps," struck the same themes on a more erudite tone as president. In his second annual message to Congress, Jackson reflected on the fact that some white Americans were upset by the violence of Indian removal. According to Jackson, these critics must understand that "true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make way for another."

During the Jackson administration, the United States concluded nearly 70 treaties with Native American nations, more than any other presidential administration. The United States acquired more than 100 million acres of Native American land during the same period, in exchange for roughly $68 million and 32 million acres west of the Mississippi River. Forty-six thousand Native Americans were compelled to leave their homelands and move west of the Mississippi during this time.

Jackson's effect on Native American nations was catastrophic. He believed that his Indian removal policy would benefit Native people. His actions as a general and as president permanently altered, and sometimes destroyed, Native ways of life. His term as president ended in 1837, and he died June 8, 1845, at The Hermitage, in Davidson County, Tennessee.

Barry M. Pritzker


Further Reading
Brandon, William. 1961. The American Heritage Book of Indians. New York: Dell; Cole, Donald B. 1993. The Presidency of Andrew Jackson. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas; McNickle, D'Arcy. They Came Here First: The Epic of the American Indian. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott Co, 1949; Pritzker, Barry M. Native Americans: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture and Peoples. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1998; Rogin, Michael Paul. Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975; Satz, Ronald N. 1975. American Indian Policy in the Jacksonian Era. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; Stannard, David. 1992. American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Tebbel, John W. 1966. The Compact History of the Indian Wars. New York: Hawthorne Books.
 

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