President Andrew Jackson and the Cherokees' Perspective

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President Andrew Jackson and the Cherokees' Perspective

President Andrew Jackson & Cherokee Indians
President Jackson and Cherokee Nation.jpg
President Jackson and Cherokee Nation

Most polls, studies, historians, authors and writers rank Andrew Jackson in or near the top 10 best presidents. However, to many Cherokees, Andrew Jackson is without a doubt the worst U.S. President.

Why is Jackson so disliked by the Cherokee? Oddly enough, at one point the Cherokee were allies with Andrew Jackson. It was at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend where Andrew Jackson's famous story really began. He was considered a hero after his victory in this battle against the Creek Indians, a victory he would not have attained had it not been for his Cherokee allies.

Several years later, in 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected President. His popularity and subsequent election are largely attributed to his pro-Indian removal platform. Once in power, he began to allow whites to move onto Cherokee land. He also allowed Georgia to extend state law to include the Cherokee Nation. This called into question the Cherokee sovereignty and declared its government and laws void.

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. Gold had been discovered on what was Cherokee land in western Georgia, and the white settlers wanted to "get the Cherokee out of the way." In Jackson's own words: "[Indian Removal Act of 1830] will place a dense and civilized population in large tracts of country now occupied by a few savage hunters." Jackson painted a picture of the Cherokee as illiterate, uncivilized "savage hunters" even though 90 percent of the Cherokee Nation could read and write in Cherokee (many could also read and write in English) and were farmers.

The Indian Removal Act was very popular among voters. However, not everyone supported Indian removal. The Act's strongest opponent was Congressman Davy Crockett, but the Act passed regardless. Once passed by Congress, President Andrew Jackson quickly signed the bill into law. And so it began.

Andrew Jackson was pleased with the passage of the law because in addition to enabling the States to "advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power," he believed the law would also help the Cherokee and other Indian tribes. In his address to Congress in 1830 Andrew Jackson stated:

"It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community."

The Cherokee did not consider the Indian Removal Act to be the humanitarian act as claimed by Jackson. They fought the law by challenging it in the Supreme Court. In Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia (1831), the Supreme Court refused to hear the case on the basis that the "Cherokee Nation did not represent a sovereign nation." However, in the case of Worcester vs. Georgia (1832) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee. The Supreme Court this time ruled that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign, thus making the removal laws invalid. The decision, rendered by Justice John Marshall, declared that the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to be illegal, unconstitutional, and against treaties made. President Andrew Jackson, who had the executive responsibility of enforcement of the laws, stated: "John Marshall has made his decision; let him enforce it now if he can."

“Build a fire under them [Cherokee Indians], when it gets hot enough, they’ll move!” President Andrew Jackson to the Georgia Congress prior to the 1835 Treaty of New Echota

Andrew Jackson was clearly unhappy with the Supreme Court ruling. In order for Jackson to remove the Cherokee, he would need for the Cherokee to agree to removal in a treaty. In 1835, Jackson got what he wanted. The Treaty Party, a small faction of the Cherokee Nation led by Major Ridge, his son John, and Elias Boudinot, signed the Treaty of New Echota. The Treaty clearly violated Cherokee law. Chief John Ross, consequently, gathered 16,000 signatures of Cherokees who opposed removal. However, once the treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate it was official: the Cherokee could now be removed. (See Cherokee Chief John Ross and the 1835 Treaty of New Echota.)

In 1838, the removal of the Cherokee began when General Winfield Scott, along with several thousand men, forcibly removed thousands of Cherokees from their homes and their land. (See General Winfield Scott's Address to the Cherokee Nation.) The trip was brutal and about 4,000 Cherokees died along the way on what became known as the "Trail Where They Cried" or the "Trail of Tears." John Ross, then Chief of the Cherokee, led the later parties from Georgia to Oklahoma and helped many to survive the harrowing journey.

The Cherokee settled in Indian Territory. The Cherokee land covered the Northeastern corner of present day Oklahoma. For their act of betrayal against the Cherokee Nation, the leaders of the Treaty Party faced a punishment of death, according to Cherokee law. In 1839, Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot were all assassinated. The factionalism created by the Treaty and removal did not subside; it divided the Cherokee people for many years; most notably during the Civil War. Presently, many are divided over the issue of blame between the Ridge Party and the Ross Party.

President Jackson and Cherokee Indians
President Jackson and Cherokee Indians.jpg
Andrew Jackson and Cherokee

Source: Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation, edited by Matthew D. Parker

Recommended Reading: Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. Description: One of the many ironies of U.S. government policy toward Indians in the early 1800s is that it persisted in removing to the West those who had most successfully adapted to European values. As whites encroached on Cherokee land, many Native leaders responded by educating their children, learning English, and developing plantations. Such a leader was Ridge, who had fought with Andrew Jackson against the British. Continued below...

As he and other Cherokee leaders grappled with the issue of moving, the land-hungry Georgia legislators, with the aid of Jackson, succeeded in ousting the Cherokee from their land, forcing them to make the arduous journey West on the infamous "Trail of Tears." ...A treasured addition for the individual remotely interested in American Indian history as well as general American history.

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Recommended Viewing: The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy (2006), Starring: James Earl Jones and Wes Studi; Director: Chip Richie, Steven R. Heape. Description: The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is an engaging two hour documentary exploring one of America's darkest periods in which President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 consequently transported Native Americans of the Cherokee Nation to the bleak and unsupportive Oklahoma Territory in the year 1838. Deftly presented by the talents of Wes Studi ("Last of the Mohicans" and "Dances with Wolves"), James Earl Jones, and James Garner, The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy also includes narrations of famed celebrities Crystal Gayle, Johnt Buttrum, Governor Douglas Wilder, and Steven R. Heape. Continued below...

Includes numerous Cherokee Nation members which add authenticity to the production… A welcome DVD addition to personal, school, and community library Native American history collections. The Trail Of Tears: Cherokee Legacy is strongly recommended for its informative and tactful presentation of such a tragic and controversial historical occurrence in 19th century American history.

 

Recommended Reading: The Eastern Band of Cherokees, 1819-1900, by John R. Finger. Review from University of Tennessee Press: This volume presents the story of the Eastern Band of Cherokees during the nineteenth century. This group – the tribal remnant in North Carolina that escaped removal in the 1830’s – found their fortitude and resilience continually tested as they struggled with a variety of problems, including the upheavals of the Civil War and Reconstruction, internal divisiveness, white encroachment on their lands, and a poorly defined relationship with the state and federal governments. Yet despite such stresses and a selective adaptation in the face of social and economic changes, the Eastern Cherokees retained a sense of tribal identity as they stood at the threshold of the twentieth century. Continued below…

“Most scholars, like most Cherokees, have tended to follow the Trail of Tears west with scarcely a backward glance at the more than 1,000 Indians who stayed behind in the North Carolina mountains. In this pathbreaking book, John R. Finger combs federal, state, and local archives to tell the story of these forgotten natives.”

-- Journal of Southern History

“This work is a significant contribution to the literature on this long-ignored group….Finger works [his] sources well and out of them has produced a narrative that is readable and that puts the Eastern Band of Cherokees as a tribal entity into a clear, historical perspective.”

-- American Historical Review

John R. Finger is professor of history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

 

Recommended Reading: The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents (The Bedford Series in History and Culture) (Paperback). Description: This book tells the compelling story of American ethnic cleansing against the Cherokee nation through an admirable combination of primary documents and the editors' analyses. Perdue and Green begin with a short but sophisticated history of the Cherokee from their first interaction with Europeans to their expulsion from the East to the West; a region where Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama connect. The reader is directed through a variety of documents commenting on several important themes: the "civilizing" of the Cherokee (i.e. their adoption of European culture), Georgia's leading role in pressuring the Cherokee off their land and demanding the federal government to remove them by force, the national debate between promoters and opponents of expulsion, the debate within the Cherokee nation, and a brief look at the deportation or forced removal. Continued below...

Conveyed in the voices of the Cherokee and the framers of the debate, it allows the reader to appreciate the complexity of the situation. Pro-removal Americans even made racist judgments of the Cherokee but cast and cloaked their arguments in humanitarian rhetoric. Pro-emigration Cherokee harshly criticize the Cherokee leadership as corrupt and possessing a disdain for traditional Cherokee culture. American defenders and the Cherokee leadership deploy legal and moral arguments in a futile effort to forestall American violence. “A compelling and stirring read.”

 

Recommended Reading: The Cherokee Nation: A History. Description: Conley's book, "The Cherokee Nation: A History" is an eminently readable, concise but thoughtful account of the Cherokee people from prehistoric times to the present day. The book is formatted in such a way as to make it an ideal text for high school and college classes. At the end of each chapter is a source list and suggestions for further reading. Also at the end of each chapter is an unusual but helpful feature- a glossary of key terms. The book contains interesting maps, photographs and drawings, along with a list of chiefs for the various factions of the Cherokee tribe and nation. Continued below...

In addition to being easily understood, a principal strength of the book is that the author questions some traditional beliefs and sources about the Cherokee past without appearing to be a revisionist or an individual with an agenda in his writing. One such example is when Conley tells the story of Alexander Cuming, an Englishman who took seven Cherokee men with him to England in 1730. One of the Cherokee, Oukanekah, is recorded as having said to the King of England: "We look upon the Great King George as the Sun, and as our Father, and upon ourselves as his children. For though we are red, and you are white our hands and hearts are joined together..." Conley wonders if Oukanekah actually said those words and points out that the only version we have of this story is the English version. There is nothing to indicate if Oukanekah spoke in English or Cherokee, or if his words were recorded at the time they were spoken or were written down later. Conley also points out that in Cherokee culture, the Sun was considered female, so it is curious that King George would be looked upon as the Sun. The "redness" of Native American skin was a European perception. The Cherokee would have described themselves as brown. But Conley does not overly dwell on these things. He continues to tell the story using the sources available. The skill of Conley in communicating his ideas never diminishes. This book is highly recommended as a good place to start the study of Cherokee history. It serves as excellent reference material and belongs in the library of anyone serious about the study of Native Americans.

 

Recommended Reading: The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears: The Penguin Library of American Indian History series (Penguin Library of American Indian History) (Hardcover). Description: Today, a fraction of the Cherokee people remains in their traditional homeland in the southern Appalachians. Most Cherokees were forcibly relocated to eastern Oklahoma in the early nineteenth century. In 1830 the U.S. government shifted its policy from one of trying to assimilate American Indians to one of relocating them and proceeded to drive seventeen thousand Cherokee people west of the Mississippi. Continued below...

The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears recounts this pivotal moment in American history and considers its impact on the Cherokee, on U.S.-Indian relations, and on contemporary society. Guggenheim Fellowship-winning historian Theda Perdue and coauthor Michael D. Green explain the various and sometimes competing interests that resulted in the Cherokee’s expulsion, follow the exiles along the Trail of Tears, and chronicle their difficult years in the West after removal.

 

Recommended Reading: Trail of Tears (Hardcover). Description: Insightful, rarely told history of Indian courage in the face of White expansionism in the 19th century. Truth-telling tale of the ruthless brutality that forced the Native American population into resettlement camps and reservations, with a look at the few white Americans who fought to help them. This is an amazing book.

Tireless research and the author's gift of vision and words produce a magnificently readable narrative of the American Indian Removals. It is very balanced with no point of view overlooked. Include many surprising appearances and plenty of twists which will make you laugh out loud and break your heart. A very human book and an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to learn history through the eyes and ears (and hearts) of those that experienced it. You won't be able to put it down.

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