Sympathy with the Devil: Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act of 1831

By Maddie Hoaglund, Class of 2017

Andrew Jackson stated, “The lower country is of too great importance to the Union for its safety to be jeopardized.”Andrew Jackson stated this in relation to the Indian Removal Act. He thought America desperately needed peace with the Native Americans or the Union would not be able to function. Solving the conflict proved to be incredibly difficult for the growing country. With no clear option in sight, the country desperately needed a leader in the conflict. Therefore, Andrew Jackson became the forerunner in the various conflicts with the Native Americans. Although Jackson’s Indian Removal Acts were not justified, he perceived that they would benefit the country by allowing the country to expand, protecting both the Native Americans and settlers from further bloodshed, and preventing disagreements between both governments. In summary, Andrew Jackson firmly believed that his policies helped the country progress.

Andrew Jackson lived from 1767 to 1845. He was born in the South and served in the Revolutionary War as a young boy. Later he became a lawyer, politician, and general. Jackson fought in many wars and through his many successes became a war hero. Eventually, Jackson was elected president and during his presidency he signed the Indian Removal bill in 1831. This bill forced the Native Americans to migrate from their homeland to the less fertile lands in the west. Many Native Americans refer to the journey as the Trail of Tears because of the hundreds of people who died.  Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal bill forced the Native Americans to move westward.

Andrew Jackson perceived the benefits to America with the Indian Removal Act because America needed room to expand. He stated in a letter to Congress, “It will relieve the whole state of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy and enable those states to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power.” Jackson saw the Native American removal as beneficial to the southern states. The property owned by various Native American tribes contained incredibly fertile farm lands: “The region was accessible because of its rivers and dark, clayey soils that were well suited to the plantation style cotton production.” The pre-Civil War southern states had a mostly agricultural economy and relied on cotton as their main crop. The states were always in need of more farm land to support their rich economy. Although the lands were near other southern states, they belonged to the Native Americans. With Jackson’s policy in place, the southern states were given more land to farm which strengthened their economy. Finally, the Native American territory included a vast expanse of land. Alabama alone spanned over 52,000 square miles. The Native American territory was a wild country in which people were unable to settle. The Americans could not live anywhere near the Native American lands for fear of being attacked which pushed them farther west. This was a hindrance to expansion because it interrupted the natural flow of settlers. The settlers were forced into the dangerous and less accessible western lands. Andrew Jackson believed all these advantages to the people of America and desired to make the best decision for the country.

Next, there was much wealth in the Native American territory: “They (the Cherokee) could not stop the settlers’ push for possession of the Cherokee territory, especially when gold was discovered on their lands in Georgia.” The United States government was almost always in debt and therefore, in need of any gold. When gold was found, the government turned a blind eye to the Cherokees. For the sake of the U. S. economy, the Cherokees were forced out of their homes. Although this is immoral, it was necessary to benefit America.

Furthermore, Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Act to prevent future conflict between the Americans and Native Americans. Jackson stated, “It (The Indian Removal Bill) puts an end to all possible danger of collision.” Andrew Jackson was referring to the many wars and skirmishes between the settlers and the Native Americans. As the settlers moved farther and farther into Native American territory, these skirmishes became increasingly violent. For example, in 1813 part of the Creek tribe attacked Fort Mims: “Almost 250 whites were butchered in the quickest manner.”This instance was especially gory and showed that the conflict between the Native Americans and the settlers could no longer be ignored. The brutal event discouraged many American from settling in hostile territory. In retaliation, Andrew Jackson led his men to the warring village of Tallushatchee. Davy Crocket who was present at the battle reported, “We shot them like dogs.” Jackson massacred the Native American village with the same brutality as the Battle at Fort Mims. This demonstrates the desire for both people groups to destroy each other. Moreover, in 1817 Jackson forcibly took the Seminoles’ land and moved them westward. The Seminoles, refusing to obey the Indian Removal Acts, were attacked and conquered by Jackson. Eventually, Jackson had a decision to make. He believed that the only way to protect the Native Americans and settlers from conflict was to forcibly remove the Native Americans west. Therefore, they would come into less contact with one another. Jackson believed that moving the Native Americans west was the only way to avoid any more conflict.

Lastly, the Indian Removal Acts, in Jackson’s opinion, were for the good of the country to prevent government disputes. Since the Native Americans were not American citizens, they had their own government which led to confusion. In his message to congress, Jackson stated, “It (The Indian Removal Bill) will free them from the power of the states; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way.” Jackson believed that the state government was a hindrance to the Native American government because of the amount the states interfered with the Native Americans. Also, there were many instances when the governments clashed. For example, the Cherokee tribe appealed to the Supreme Court. The Cherokee appealed because they passed a law in their territory which forbids the selling of any Cherokee land. However, Georgia declared their law null and void in 1828. “John Marshall decided in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia that the Cherokee were not citizens of the United States and therefore had no right to appeal to the Supreme Court.” The Cherokee went to John Marshall who declared in 1832 that Georgia had no power in Cherokee lands. This is a prime example of the two governments disagreeing. No one knew how to handle the two governments in the same land. Neither government could properly function with the other in such close proximity. Therefore, Jackson thought was best to relocate the Native Americans. In short, Jackson believed that the Indian Removal Acts prevented further government disputes.

Even though Andrew Jackson claimed the Indian Removal Act was for the benefit of America, one might say he was acting out of his own prejudice. Prejudice is undermining or degrading another human being. For example, Jackson ordered his men to destroy an entire village in the Creek War; “He slew 186 braves and brought back to Jackson’s camp 84 women and children.” Savagely, Jackson ordered his men to annihilate the village and tear apart many families. Killing over 100 men without a thought, demonstrates how he had no regard for their lives. Clearly, Jackson demonstrated prejudice in destroying an entire generation of men. However, Jackson did not act of his prejudice because he truly believed strong retaliation was necessary to protect future American settlers. A few months before the battle, the Creeks had massacred Americans in the Battle of Fort Mims. The fighting became so gruesome that the Creek leader even attempted to stop it.The Native Americans fought just as brutally as Jackson. Therefore, Jackson did not purposefully destroy the village because of his prejudice, but because the country needed forceful retaliation to feel safe. The Battle of Fort Mims was terrifying to settlers, but Jackson retaliated harshly enough to protect future settlers. Both people groups should not have thrown life away. Although Jackson was not justified, he did not act out of prejudice.

Andrew Jackson stated, “The lower country is of too great importance to the Union for its safety to be jeopardized.” Jackson’s Indian Removal Act left an incredible impact on the country. Although the act was unimaginably difficult on the Native American, Jackson believed it was the only option. The settlers and Native Americans grew increasingly violent as the Americans pushed the boundaries of their territory. To save the lives of countless people, Jackson decided to pass the Indian Removal Act. Andrew Jackson was a firm leader who took action against for the benefit of America. In conclusion, Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Bill to benefit the United States of America.

Bibliography

Flynt, Wayne. “Alabama” (July 9, 2008) Encyclopedia of Alabama. www.encyclopediaofalabama.org. (accessed November 17, 2013).

Jackson’s Message to Congress on Indian Removal. Andrew Jackson. PBS. http:pbs.org/kcet/ andrewjackson/edu/primaryresources.html. Accessed November 12, 2013.

Mitchell, Charles. “Agricultural in Alabama.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. Accessed November 17, 2013. www.encyclopediaofalabama.org.

McGill, Sara Ann. “Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears.” Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears.(September, 2009):1-2. History Reference Center, EBSCOHost  (accessed November 13, 2013).

Remini, Robert Vincent. The Life of Andrew Jackson. New York: Perennial, 2001.

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