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Andrew Jackson built his political career fighting the Creek Indians in the war of 1812. After white settlers were massacred at Fort Mims in the Mississippi Territory (in modern Alabama) by a faction of the Creek Indians known as the Red Sticks, Jackson was placed in charge of a Tennessee volunteer force to make war on the Creeks. Jackson’s troops savagely assaulted the Creek Nation, employing tactics against them that would later be called “Total War”. Jackson slaughtered the village of Talluschatches, destroyed a force of Red Sticks at Talladega, and finally annihilated all resistance at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River. Jackson called the Creeks to a council composed mainly of Creek who had not sided with the Red Sticks and forced them to sign a treaty accepting responsibility for the war and ceding two thirds of their land to the United States (twenty-three million acres, three fifths of what is now Alabama and one fifth of Georgia). This humiliation brought fame and respect to Jackson amongst the whites. Amongst the natives, it earned him the name Sharp Knife.

Due to his success at killing Indians, his status as a war hero against Great Britain at the Battle of New Orleans, Martin van Buren’s political machine, and his appeal to lower-class whites, Sharp Knife was elected President in 1828. While he had carefully attempted to tread a “middle path” between the interests of the northern and southern whites on the issue of tariffs, Sharp Knife felt no need for such nuance when dealing with the native tribes who occupied land envied by white landowners. With regards to the Indian problem he had a “final solution” - forced relocation to land across the Mississippi.

Jackson made his public case for Indian Removal to congress in December of 1830. While generally acknowledging that this naked land grab would bring manifold benefits to whites (more specifically the commercial and slavocrat interests demanding Indian Removal), Sharp Knife also tried to claim that relocation would be good for the Indians:
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.
In this sentiment, Jackson was echoing Jefferson and other early American butchers, who claimed time and time again that the white man could not live with the savage; but if only the savages would stop hunting, take up agriculture and commerce, and adopt the ways of the white man then they could live together in peace and harmony. One might suspect that there were more certain ways of achieving a lasting peace living side by side with another people, such as not taking their land, but it appears that this innovative solution did not occur to Jackson.

Jackson professed benevolent intentions towards the Indians, but his own professions of intent are not to be believed. His lies were understood to be toothless proclamations blunted by a convenient doctrine of "State's Rights" for the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, all of which passed strict laws restricting the rights of natives even before his inauguration. And no Indian could forget Sharp Knife’s history of making war against the people. So whilst Jackson publicly talked peace, he privately urged war against the Indian to the Southern Whites. The Southern states passed laws making the tribal unit illegal, outlawed the Freedom to Assemble, and denied Indians the rights of citizenship (including voting, filing lawsuits, or even testifying in court). The Indians were stripped of all recourse to the state, and left to the mercy of whites.

Indian land, collectively owned was seized by the state parceled out to white settles based on a lottery, with some allotted also to individual natives. This land was then seized by individual white men through legal and illegal means with violent coercion, legal trickery, alcohol induced agreements, false contracts signed by unauthorized substitutes, and any number of other tactics. White men took Indian land through any means available to them. And since the law only respects those who can appear before the court, everything was perfectly legal.

The philosophy of “State’s Rights” was used by Sharp Knife as an excuse for his inability to interfere with the plunder of the Choctaw, Creek and Cherokee tribes by the Southern Whites. This is a very convenient philosophy to have when one is interested in allowing oppression but not interested in receiving blame for it. While this idea of Federalism has never been codified to a point where I could understand it (it seems to approve of Jim Crow laws if enacted by states, but deny that states can conduct manual recounts of ballots, for example), one of the central tenets is adherence to the original intent of the Constitution. In that case, Article One, Section Eight would seem to be fairly clear about where the power to deal with and negotiate with Indian Tribes would lay, with Congress:
The Congress shall have Power To… regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
In addition, the congress had passed a law regulating land trades with Indians, The Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, passed in 1802, decreed that any land acquisitions from the tribes were to be decided by treaty ratified by the Senate. Not only did the Federal Government have the authority to interfere, it had an obligation to do so. But Sharp Knife ignored congress’s previous acts, and instead proposed the Indian Removal Act to justify the Southern State’s actions. Indian land was to be taken from its ancestral owners and given to the white man, in exchange for land across the Mississippi where the Indians could live apart from white men in peace and prosperity “as long as grass grows or water runs”.

Their land stolen, their spirit broken, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek eventually succumbed to the pressure and agreed to go west, although some Creek refused to go and remained to make war upon the white man. The Cherokee were an entirely different case.

The Cherokee Nation in Georgia was a model of what “civilized” Indian society could look like. They lived in houses like the white man. They farmed and cultivated land like the white man. They had craftsmen like the white man. They owned livestock, used machinery, educated their children, and even owned slaves like the white man. The Cherokee had a written language devised by one of their chiefs, Sequoyah, and published a newspaper. And although the laws of Georgia prevented the Cherokee from voting and representing themselves in the state government, they had formed their own representative government to handle their own affairs. If these people were not a civilized tribe in line with the thinking of Jefferson and Jackson’s own statements, then such a thing was not possible. Indeed it appears that such an understanding was impossible for Jackson -- because despite all of their “civilization”, the Cherokee were still red men.

In addition, the Cherokee lived peacefully side by side with white settlers. Trade and commerce between the peoples was common. They even accepted Christianity. In short, any and every problem that Jackson ever mentioned publicly when referring to native tribes did not exist within the Cherokee Nation or between the Cherokee and their neighbors. It is likely that they would’ve fully assimilated with whites and perhaps disappeared (as several tribes in the Northeast have) if gold had not been discovered on Cherokee soil.

The Cherokee sued the state of Georgia to overturn its unjust laws governing their existence and limiting their rights. The case made its way to the United States Supreme Court, but the court denied the injunction on the basis that the Cherokee Nation was not a sovereign foreign power but rather a ward of the United States and as such the court claimed it lacked the jurisdiction to issue an injunction against the state of Georgia. But at the same time the court maintained that the Cherokee had certain rights of self-government.

In addition to laws stripping Indians of their rights, Georgia's Congress had also passed laws criminalizing residence in Indian Territory for any white men who did not take a loyalty oath to the State of Georgia. Samuel Worcester and Elizur Butler were arrested and convicted of violating this law, (along with nine others who were released after swearing the loyalty oath) and they appealed again to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in Worcester’s favor, declaring:
The Cherokee Nation, then, is a distinct community, occupying its own territory, with boundaries accurately described, in which the laws of Georgia can have no force, and which the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves or in conformity with treaties and with the acts of Congress. (Worcester v. Georgia, 1832)
Not only did this ruling free Worcester, but the precedent should have invalidated every one of Georgia’s laws relating to the Cherokee.

While Jackson probably did not utter the quote apocryphally attributed to him: “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.”, his policy did not change. Sharp Knife refused to use the Federal Government’s power to uphold the court’s ruling and instead privately urged Georgia to continue in its actions. Eventually the Federal Government signed a treaty with a minority faction of the Cherokee, and forced the entire tribe to relocate to Oklahoma.

The Cherokee were witness to every lie the white man ever uttered to or about The Native Americans. State’s Rights, the need for “civilization”, the need for distance between white and red people, even the guarantee of security based on the bedrock of the Constitution was a lie. The Cherokee discovered a principle that was later proclaimed by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott Decision: The white man’s law applies only to the white man.

Node Your Homework

When doing research for this paper I happened to check out the White House’s website and official biography of Andrew Jackson. Indian Removal is not mentioned.



Sources:
Remini, Robert. Andrew Jackson. New York, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1969
Debo, Angie. A History of the Indians of the United States. Oklahoma, Oklahoma University Press, 1970
Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. New York, Holt, Rineheart, and Winston, Inc., 1970
Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999

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