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Andrew Jackson and Indians

The history of the United States of America is full of controversial and tragic moments. Among them, the removal of the Native American tribes from their lands to the Western federal territories in Oklahoma is rather significant. This episode of American history contributed to the shaping of today’s America in its demographic and political aspects. There are claimed and actual motivations to the Indian removal; the controversy surrounds also the Cherokee resistance to it. These facts are worth examining, and this paper will focus on the analysis of the Indian Removal Policies based on presidential Jackson’s annual messages to Congress and the Memorial of the Cherokee Nation.

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To begin with, the Indian Removal policies were started already by President Jefferson in the early 19th century, but the governmental control and purposeful conduct of these policies were legally adopted during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson. In his First Annual Message to Congress (1830), Andrew Jackson argues about the necessity to civilize the Indian tribes inhabiting the United States. What he stresses is the fact that the previous President administrations tried hard to civilize Delaware, Cherokee, and other tribes, which resulted in their forming separate Governments claiming independence in such states like Alabama and Georgia and asking for the US Government protection. However, Jackson sees no possibility of such protection and motivates this by purely constitutional ideas: “The Constitution declares that “no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State” without the consent of its legislature.” (Divine et al., Ch.10) Drawing from this, Jackson concludes that no legislative or military support can be given to the Indian tribes in their struggle with the state laws of Alabama or Georgia. To avoid any misunderstandings, the only way out seen by President Jackson is the emigration of the Indian tribes to the West:

Actuated by this view of the subject, I informed the Indians inhabiting parts of Georgia and Alabama that their attempt to establish an independent government would not be countenanced by the Executive of the United States and advised them to emigrate beyond the Mississippi or submit to the laws of those States (Divine et al., Ch.10).

However, moving further in his ideas, Jackson states that the emigration, or the removal, of Indian tribes should be carried out voluntarily. Understanding the impossibility of the forceful removal of the Indians based on ethical considerations, Jackson states that “this emigration should be voluntary, for it would be as cruel as unjust to compel the aborigines to abandon the graves of their fathers and seek a home in a distant land” (Divine et al., Ch.10). Motivating this point by the necessity of following the state laws, Jackson sees the only alternative for the Indians – emigration.

Further on, the next ideas expressed by Jackson reflect the actual motivations of the US President and Government. Demanding the voluntary emigration of Indians, Jackson manages to show the consequences of the decision that Indians could make not to move: “…they should be distinctly informed that if they remain within the limits of the States they must be subject to their laws” (Divine et al., Ch.10). Moreover, in the second annual message, Jackson is already more pragmatic claiming that “the consequences of a speedy removal will be important to the United States, to individual States, and the Indians themselves” (Divine et al., Ch.10). In these lines, we can suppose to see the actual motivations that drove the US Government – the Indian lands in Georgia and Alabama were necessary for the Government to develop agriculture and extend the territory of the United States. The Western lands to which the Trail of Tears moved the Indian tribes were considered infertile and useless, while the native Indian lands were rather attractive to the Government.

In this situation, the resistance of the Indians themselves was rather weak. Instead of the military defense of their lands, as the Indians might act in the 18th century, the 19th century Cherokee nation with its government and numerous white customs and traditions adopted, managed to only issue the Memorial of the Cherokee Nation (1830) in which it was “humbly” mentioned that the Cherokees do not want to live “the land of our fathers” (Divine et al., Ch.10) and have rights to remain in Alabama and Georgia. Moreover, giving reasons for the reluctance to move, Cherokees claim that Oklahoma and Arkansas lands “is unknown to us. From what we can learn of it, we have no prepossessions in its favor. All the inviting parts of it, as we believe, are preoccupied with various Indian nations, to which it has been assigned. They would regard us as intruders” (Divine et al., Ch.10). Such a futile and weak resistance did not give any result, and the Trail of Tears moved the Indian tribe to reservations in the West. In its essence, such removal is similar to the removal of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union in the 1940s or even the genocide of the Jewish people by the Nazi authorities of Germany in the 1930 – 1940s and is one of the most unpleasant pages in the US history.

To conclude, American history is full of controversial episodes among which the Indian Removal under President Jackson is one of the most tragic. Motivated either by the need to civilize Indians or make them follow the US laws, the removal which was supposed to be voluntarily turned out to be bloody action that made the Indians leave their fathers’ lands and settle in the western reservations.

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Works Cited

Divine, Robert A. et al. America: Past and Present 7th ed., New York: Pearson-Longman, 2005.

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