Did Andrew Jackson SAVE the Cherokee?

Apparently not – nor the OP either!

Andrew Jackson catches a lot of grief for his treatment of the Cherokee. Much of the criticism is well-deserved, but some of it lacks historical perspective.

In his book Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars, Robert V. Remini offers the seemingly paradoxical thesis that Jackson, by removing the Cherokee nation west of the Mississippi, actually saved them from utter destruction. (That, incidentally, was a large part of Jackson’s public justification for the Removal.)

I’m starting this thread to take a look at the Cherokee removal from Andrew Jackson’s perspective, and to explore whether (in a roundabout way), the Removal actually wound up preserving the Cherokee and their culture. Also, I want to see if Dopers can come up with a better solution than Jackson found to the problems he faced.

Lets start by putting ourselves in Jackson’s position for a moment. Here are some pertinent facts which shaped his thinking:[ul][li]As of 1829, there were some 18,000 Cherokees. []Of those 18,000, some 6,000 had already migrated west of the Mississippi in response to government inducements to do so. []This left some 12,000 souls occupying the Cherokee Territory in the East, an area roughly the size of New Jersey, straddling the states of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. In other words, the Cherokee territory was large, and very sparsely populated.[]The population of US citizens in the East was swelling, and settlers were pushing westward, with or without government permission. Squatters were pouring into Cherokee lands illegally. This had been happening for some time, but with the discovery of gold in north Georgia, what had been a trickle became a flood.[]Though efforts were made from time to time to roust white squatters, the American government simply did not have the resources to control the problem. It certainly could not muster enough soldiers to maintain an airtight patrol along the lengthy Cherokee border.[]Jackson feared violent conflict between white settlers and Cherokee. He had witnessed it before in his youth.[]Jackson was aware that similar problems and conflicts in the North had led to the extermination of the Mohegan tribe. Jackson frequently expressed his belief that if things continued the way they were going, the Cherokee would face a similar fate.Jackson had fought a war with the British (the War of 1812), in which the British had enlisted disaffected Indian tribes along the American frontier to attack US citizens. Jackson feared (not without justification) that Indian anger along the frontier could be exploited by foreign powers.[/ul][/li]
Jackson’s solution was to offer the Indians two options: accept US citizenship, receive a grant of land and remain in the East, or remove to the Oklahoma territory, west of the Mississippi.

Now, putting yourself in Jackson’s shoes, how would you respond to the above circumstances? What would you have done differently?

If he had done nothing, would conflicts between white squatters and Cherokee have led to the demise of the tribe?

The customs and culture of the five southeastern nations which removed to Oklahoma survive to this day, unlike the customs and cultures of many northeastern tribes. If there had been no removal, would Cherokee culture have been exterminated?

No question that the Removal was cruel, that treaties were obtained by bribery and fraud, and that the roundup and deportation of Cherokees was carried out in a savage fashion. But the question remains: In spite of those horrors, did Jackson’s action have some beneficial effect? And again, what would my fellow Dopers have done in Jackson’s shoes?

This is distressing beyond belief.

Godwin be damned. It is like asking whether the Jews benefited from the Holocaust. Yes, I believe that the institutionalized and state sanctioned extermination of thousands of innocent people, mostly elderly and children, is a holocaust.

Private John G. Burnett, Captain Abraham McClellan’s Company, 2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Mounted Infantry wrote a letter to his children on his 80th birthday on December 11, 1890 about his experiences along the Trail. It said, in part:

I just wanted to establish this as a real event, not some theoretical bad dream that deserves a “but” and a qualifying question of whether it was justified.

It should also be noted that Jackson acted in defiance of the US Supreme Court. And now I’ll proceed to address some of your facts and hypotheticals.

Was it somehow more difficult to round up the invading barbarians than the inoffensive gentle people who had done no wrong? Let’s not revise history here. Those people were not gently escorted west on a pleasure cruise. They were dragged against their will, denied their belongings, and tormented with despicably filthy and unbearable conditions.

Heavens to mergatroid! So, the fox who robbed the henhouse finds himself in a quandry. Token efforts from time to time do not constitute any sincere attempt at protecting the property of the Indians. If there were enough soldiers to forcibly remove thousands of people from their homes, why couldn’t those soldiers have been used instead to defend those people?

A consistent display of government concern and resolution might have gone a long way toward solving the problem of squatters. I mean, there weren’t enough soldiers to maintain an airtight patrol around Alabama either, but there were enough to push Governor Wallace away from the door.

If white people were squatting in black neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles, would an appropriate solution be to round up all the owners of homes and businesses and march them to a Nevada desert? For cryin’ out loud.

Mere blustering and political posturing. The Mohegan, the Pequot, and other warlike tribes of the Northeast were not comparable to the peaceful Cherokee. Those tribes made war constantly, after being decimated by 17th century epidemics. By 1676, most remnants of those tribes were indentured or enslaved.

Yeah, right. Everybody knows you can’t trust Indians. Particularly when the president of their conquerors thinks he’s doing them a favor by herding them like cattle across mountainous terrain around inhospitable settlements of white squatters to a foreign and unfamiliar land, where they are stripped of their dignity and humanity.

I’d like to think I would have shot myself if I could muster no more control over my faculties than he managed. I would do as I suggested, and use my forces to protect as peaceful and honest a people who ever lived from the encroaching barbarians.

There is a thriving Cherokee cultural center in North Carolina as well. The northeastern tribes, as I said, are apples and oranges different from the southeastern tribes, who, by the way, had survived encroachments before, on their own, for thousands of years.

The whole notion of that tyrant’s heinous actions benefiting the Cherokee people is about as classic a Non Causa Pro Causa fallacy as there is.

That’s my opinion, anyway. In looking over this, I apologize for the passion, but not for the sentiment. I know that you do not necessarily hold those views, Spoke, and that you merely tossed it out for debate.

Thanks for this opportunity to express my feelings.

I would not detract a whit from Lib’s argument. I have read the book in question, as well as several others on the issue at hand, as I’ve long felt that the history of the Cherokee is very interesting indeed.

Andrew Jackson’s reputation as a vicious and unredeemable racist is striking, and well deserved. In the case of the Cherokee, it is especially appalling.

The Cherokee had been intermarrying with Europeans for many generations, indeed, the leadership of the tribe was of mixed blood primarily (for instance, the aforementioned John Ross was, IIRC, half-Euro). They had enthusiasticly adapted to and adopted such European innovations as they found useful. They were entirely open to other peoples, and frequently accepted as tribal members persons without even a drop of Cherokee blood. Only the “Seminoles”, close cousin to the Cherokee, were more open in thier acceptance of outsiders.

The true source of the displacement lies with the Cherokee’s very success at such adaptations. They had built villages, even cities. Mills, roads, schools, farms, this was the standard of Cherokee life. As such, they stood as a clear and undeniable rebuke to the racist claim that the Indian was inherently savage.

More to the point, they had land and property already broken to the plow, property already productive. A farmer settling in the wilderness could look forward to many hard years before his land became truly agricultural, if ever.

When the European’s laid covetous eyes on lands ready for the taking, the Cherokee were doomed.

Rot in Hell, Andy Jackson.

I understand your passion on this subject, Libertarian. And yeah, I’m just tossing this out for debate, because I think Remini raises some interesting questions.

Let me clarify a couple of things, though. Remini is no apologist for Jackson, and readily acknowledges his intransigence and his willingness to circumvent the law to achieve his ends.

On the other hand, Jackson is not as one-dimensional as he is made to appear these days. He had an adopted Cherokee son whom he loved dearly. (He tried to get him into West Point. I don’t recall if he succeeded.) He wished to see the Cherokee become full citizens of the US; he did not seem to think of them (as many of his contemporaries did) as irredeemable savages.

Libertarian wrote:

Lib, this is a little heavy on rhetoric. There was never any intent to “exterminate” the Cherokee. I think you’ll agree that if Jackson had intended to exterminate them, he could have easily done so.

On the other hand, there’s no doubting the horrors of the Trail of Tears. Criminal negligence, maybe. Intentional extermination, no.

Because they were not a standing force. They were mustered for a limited time for the purpose of conducting the removal. There would not have been political support for maintaining, indefinitely, a force to guard Cherokee borders. And certainly, the Cherokee did not have the manpower to do so. Calm down for a minute, Lib, and think about what practical alternatives were available.

The peacefulness of the Cherokee is much exaggerated, frankly. One might ask the Creeks (Muscogees) just how peaceful the Cherokee were. The Creeks were repeatedly victimized by Cherokee incursions.

And while it’s true that the Cherokee had been peaceful since the War of 1812, when they had fought for the US against the British-allied Creeks, there was a long prior history of Cherokee attacks on US settlers. As I mentioned in the OP, Jackson had been witness to much of that violence in his youth, which no doubt colored his views.

The Cherokees were no strangers to the scalping knife.

The question on the table, though, was whether the now-peaceful Cherokee would remain peaceful, in view of the incursions of white settlers upon their lands. And if they did not remain peaceful, if they responded violently, would they have been wiped out?

And what, as a practical matter could the US government do to prevent such a bloodbath?

Yes. Because the “barbarians” would have to be rounded up again and again and again. The Cherokee only once.

I do not dispute the horrors of the roundup or the journey west. Like I said. Criminal. The most poignant description I’ve read was by a soldier who described how the Cherokees would mournfully and tenderly touch familiar rocks and trees as they passed westward, knowing that they were seeing them for the last time. (And Lib you may recall that I am not without some personal connection to the Cherokee. Ahem.)

But the question still remains: How would things have played out if the Cherokee had not been removed?

I’m just gonna back up elucidator with a citation, since in my experience I find that many people today refuse to believe how well the Cherokee had adoped Western technology and culture:

The Cherokee were ripped off, plain and simple. Moreover, despite the Trail of Tears, many of the Cherokee never actually left, and though many assimilated into the greater American culture, thousands and thousands did not and have not. The Eastern Cherokees are a federally recognized tribe, and there are almost two dozen other non-federally recognized Cherokee bands spread across the United States from Florida to Indiana and from the Atlantic to Oklahoma.

Amen, elucidator.


Yes, the Cherokee were “ripped off.”

Yes, they lived peaceful lives as farmers. (Well, not all of them did, but a good many.)

All of that is beside the point. The question for debate is what Jackson could have done, other than the Removal? What practical options were available to him?

Elucidator wrote:

I’m quite certain that was not Jackson’s motive. Besides, with 12,000 Cherokee scattered over an area the size of New Jersey, how much of the land do you suppose was really “broken to the plow?”

Dopers, you disappoint me.

All are quick to condemn Jackson. Easy enough. OK then, what should he have done? He could not possible patrol the entire circumference of the Cherokee territory to prevent incursions. The manpower and the financing were simply not available.

If Jesus were President, what could he have done to resolve the looming crisis?

spoke wrote:

Uh, not sure there was an effort by the Nazis to exterminate all of the Jews either - as long as there was benefit to be gained from their slave labor.

You are belaboring a mighty fine and ugly point, if you wish to contrast “extermination” with the far more enlightened approach of evicting a people from their traditional land, moving them to an alien and hostile environment, with no care for their well being during the transition, and minimal assistance to allow them to survive - let alone prosper, at their new location.

An attempt was certainly made to exterminate the Cherokee culture, even tho certain individuals were permitted to survive.

I agree with Lib, elucidator, and Sofa. It was a land grab. The whites wanted the land. All that good land, already “broken in”. They had the power to take it, so take it they did. Also, many whites did not like it one bit that the Cherokees and other Southern Tribes were competing with them so successfully. The situation offended their sensiblilities by giving the lie to their assumptions re their own inherent superiority to “lesser breeds”.

You keep describing the impossibility of defending the Cherokee borders. What efforts were ever made to prevent incursions? What penalties were meted out?

Was any effort made to identify a reservation within the existing Cherokee nation with borders that could be defended?

I have always thought that Jackson’s defiance of the Supreme Court, I forget the exact quote, but something like “They have ruled, now let them enforce it” was a very very dark moment in American history, and could have marked the end of the American government. To my knowledge no President since has so blatantly ignored the SCOTUS.

I am not qualified to speak to the other issues raised, but I am curious why the Cherokee did not accept US citizenship in order to remain on their land. The fact that they did not leads me to believe that it was not a true offer.

As I said in the OP, there were repeated efforts to roust squatters. They were eveicted, their cabins were burned.

And theywere almost immediately replaced by new squatters.

It was like trying to hold back the tide.

Boy, as a thought experiment, this thread is a miserable failure. Everybody wants to jump in with a platitude. No one wants to think the problem through.

In one respect, the Cherokee have triumphed. In my native Texas, the dominant strain of Redneck heritage is Scotch-Irish and Cherokee, and that is quite common throughout the US. Indeed, I have read recent articles (which I am too lazy to cite-search) to the effect that Cherokee blood is a prominent element in the heritage of black Americans as well. Mr. Bearden, the black American artist, and Mr. Bearden, the white PBS commentator, have a common ancestor, it would seem.

The story as regards AJ’s adoption of a Cherokee boy is quite true, AJ often displayed a streak of sentimentality that is to his credit. Not nearly enough.

As to the allegation that the Cherokee were “no stranger to the scalping knife”, a distinction is in order. Of course, the Cherokee squabbled with the Creeks and others. Hell, they all did. But tribal conflict over hunting territory is an entirely different order of magnitude compared to the European concept of “war”.

Frequently, these tribes were forced to make choices and alliances in conflict not of their making. But they never partook in the kind of horrendous bloodshed that was a common feature of the wars of the Huron and the Iriquois, whom the Cherokee considered to be, in fact, “bloodthirsty savages”.

As to Jackson’s alleged “solution”, i.e., accept American citizenship and a “grant of land”: well, yes, but…

The “citizenship” granted entailed all the resonsibility of citizenship but none of the protections of law. Any number of Cherokee, by virtue of thier parentage, might well claim “citizenship” as thier due, and not something to be “granted”. The “one drop of blood” rule has an ancient and repulsive lineage.

As to the “grants” of land: the Cherokee was expected to accept the grant of untamed wilderness as “hunting grounds” in exchange for thier own agricultural lands. There is no possibility that the Cherokee, given the size of thier population, could survive “in the wild”. as it were. All of which conveniently ignores that those lands where already occupied by tribes who had no good reason to abide by Mr. Jackson’s largesse.

But enough: despite all the evil visited upon them, the Cherokee survived and flourished, even in Godforsaken Oklahoma, a treeless wasteland dominated by the truly warlike and dangerous Comanche. That they survived at all, much less flourished, is damn near miraculous. That thier blood mingles with America is a blessing.

I think the bigger reason was the discovery of gold on Cherokee land. It’s not until gold is first discovered that the Georgia legislature becomes really active in their calls for removal of the Cherokee. I mean, look at the chronology.

In 1828, gold is discovered. Between 1828 and 1830, the state of Georgia passes a series of laws abolishing Cherokee tribal government and asserting their right to Cherokee land. In 1832, the Supreme Court decides Worcester v. Georgia, declaring the Cherokee to be independent of Georgia law. Jackson announces he won’t enforce the decision, and Georgia holds a lottery for Cherokee lands. The treaty of New Echota is signed illegally in 1835, and removals start in 1838.

What Jackson could have done is enforce the law and the Supreme Court decision. The main problem wasn’t so much white settlement of Cherokee land, because whites had been settling Cherokee land since the 1700s. The main problem was that the State of Georgia wanted the rights to the gold that was under Cherokee control and ownership.

Rhum Runner wrote:

A reasonable question. My impression is that they thought the offer unfair. If I recall correctly, the options were either to remove to the west, or accept 400 acres of land per person, and become a citizen of the US. I can certainly understand how (given the vast holdings of the Cherokee) they would not consider 400 acres each a fair exchange.

However, it was a real offer.

Wow, this thread moves fast. Even if, and it is a big if, the forced removal was better than the alternatives that were available, why did they have to be moved in December? Why not wait and move in the spring when conditions would have been so much easier? Was it that essential that they move right away?

Elucidator, I think you’re conflating various proposals which were made to the Cherokee over time.

Prior to the removal, they were offered the option of staying in the East (i.e., where they were). They would become full US citizens and receive 400 acres of land apiece.

Captain Amazing the discovery of gold brought matters to a head, but the removal of the Cherokee was on the table long before that fateful nugget was found.

IIRC, Thomas Jefferson had first proposed the removal of the eastern tribes to land west of the Mississippi. The primary motivating factor was security concerns. The government feared that Indians would ally themselves with foreign powers and present a threat to the frontier (as indeed several tribes did do during the War of 1812). It was thought that by removing them beyond the natural barrier of the Mississippi, the threat would be removed.

Eluciadtor wrote:

Not sure why you think a distinction is in order. The Cherokee also made war on white settlers from time to time, with great enthusiasm. And my “scalping knife” comment was a literal truth. The Cherokee scalped their victims, as per Indian custom.

I will grant you, though, that the Cherokee had been at peace with the US for a generation prior to the removal. I have my doubts as to whether that peace could have been maintained as squatters poured into Cherokee lands.

Spoke wrote:

Whether intentional or not, he exterminated some 3,000 of them with his solitary decree.

What is practical depends on what a man is practicing. There was no need to maintain a standing army at the borders. As I said, simply responding to the incursions as they occured and enforcing the ethical and moral law would have sufficed to send a message to squatters.

[…stunned stare…]

I can’t imagine what you mean, unless you mean the wars of the 18th century culminating in the Battle of Tah Li Wa, where the Creek, who massively outnumbered the Cherokee (who had lost 25% of their nation to smallpox a few years earlier), attacked five times, finally killing Chief Kingfisher. Legend has it that his wife picked up his weapon and charged the Creek, leading the Cherokee to victory.

With respect to scalping, if you do indeed understand its context and history, you’ve not expressed it here. Removing the scalp of a dead warrior was a rite of honor for both men. It was not the way of Indians to murder people. War and battle were only meaningfully engaged and the warriors had great respect for one another.

Well, who can say? I guess now we’ll never know.

But again, I want to draw a parallel to the Holocaust, not for the purpose of creating hysteria (the Trail of Tears is, as you point out, sufficiently horrific on its own), but for the purpose of illustrating the absurdity of the question. Why should they have to endure incursions from white settlers? If Indians had squatted on white land, do you think for a minute that Jackson’s response would have been to round up the whites in stockades, and then herd them to Oklahoma without so much as shoes and blankets?