Andrew Jackson, the Architect of the Indian Removal Act of 1830
On May 28,1830 the Indian Removal Act was established as a lawful way to force Native American tribes from thier homelands in the east to the rough and unfamiliar lands west of the Mississippi River. Most historians today are critical of this act and hold Andrew Jackson, our seventh President (1829-1837) as being largely responsible for implementing the act.
Andrew Jackson was born of Scots/Irish heritage on March 15,1767, just weeks after his father’s accidental death, in the Waxhaws region. This was an area within the Appalachian Mountains that straddled the border between North and South Carolina. This was an area that was glutted with Creek, Cherokee, and Choctaw Indians. In this area, Jackson had a rudimentary education, then worked for a time in a saddle shop.
At the age of thirteen, Jackson joined a local militia as a courier during the Revolutionary War. During the war, his eldest brother died during the Battle of Stono Ferry. Andrew and another brother, Robert, were captured and held prisoners by the British. The two nearly starved to death while in captivity. Jackson showed true grit when he refused to clean a British officer’s boots. The officer lashed out at him with his sword and slashed a scar across Jasckson’s left hand and head. The brothers contracted smallpox during this incarceration. Andrew lived though it but Robert died just a few days after thier mother secured thier release in April of 1781. Elisabeth Jackson died in November of the same year of cholera after volunteering to nurse prisoners of war on ships in Charleston harbor. All of this left Jackson not only with an intense hatred of the British but with an undeniable fierce temperament.
Later, Jackson became a school teacher and studied law in Salisbury, North Carolina. He was admitted to the bar and moved to Jonesborough in 1787 where he became a country lawyer on the frontier. Most of his cases were disputed land claims and assult and battery.
In a few short years, Jackson was appointed a prosecutor for the Western District and for territories south of the Ohio River. By 1796, Jackson was elected delagate to the constitutional convention. When Tennessee achieved statehood , Jackson was elected State Representative. The very next year he was elected U.S. Senator but resigned that post within the year and took a position as a judge of the Tennessee Supreme Court and served there until 1804.
Jackson was not only a political figure. He was a planter of cotton (as many as 1,050 acres). a slave owner (and may have owned as many as 300 slaves) , and a merchant (he built the first general store in Gallatin, Tennessee). It is important to note that Jackson, a major speculator of land in West Tennessee, later negotiated the sale of land from the Chickasaw Nation in 1818 (often referred to as the Jackson Purchase) He also was one of the three founders of Memphis in 1819, within a year of this purchase.
In 1801, Jackson was appointed a commanding Colonel of the Tennessee militia. Then in 1802 was promoted to Major General. Wars were looming.
During the war of 1812, many Indian tribes joined the British, at the urging of the great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, in the fight against the “new” American revolutionists in order to stave off expansion of white settlement into Indian territories. The Indians were promised by the British that their lands would be protected. So many fought alongside the British. The battles proved to be some of the bloodiest and most vicious in our history.
Tecumseh and the “Red Stick” Creeks of Alabama and Georgia began attacking white settlements. Tecumseh also encouraged tribes in the northwest to do the same. Four hundred settlers were massacred at Fort Mims. In the resulting Creek War, Jackson commanded the American forces which included Tennessee militia, U.S. Regular Army, along with Cherokee, Choctaw, and the Lower Creek Indians. Jackson and his army defeated the Red Sticks at the battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. The battle had killed 800 of the Red Sticks but Jackson spared thier Chief Red Eagle because he was a man of mixed race whose common name was William Weatherford. Notables such as Sam Houston and David Crockett were soldiers under Jackson in this war. After the war, the Treaty of Fort Jackson secured twenty million acres of land in present-day Georgia and Alabama from the Creek for European-American settlement and Jackson was appointed Major General of the U.S. Army.
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend elevated the military status of Jackson but it was the Battle of New Orleans that pole-vaulted him to greatness. As a military leader, Jackson gained respect. He was ferocious and popular. His troops called him “Old Hickory” due to being “tough as hickory wood” on the battlefield. No other battle earned him that name more than in New Orleans when he defeated the British on January 8,1815. In the end, the British had 2,037 casualties, 291 dead including three generals, 1,262 wounded, and 484 caputered or missing. The Americans had only 71 casualties, 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing. Jackson was an American hero who recieved a gold metal by Congress. It was the beginning of his rise to the Presidency.
The Battle of New Orleans was far from the end of Jackson’s military career. Jackson was summoned by, then President, James Monroe in December 1817 to lead once again in Georgia in a battle against the Seminole and Creek Indians who had been ravaging settlers villages. In this First Seminole War, Jackson drove the Indians south to squelch the violence but did not stop there. Jackson continued the battle into Florida with the intention to seize Florida as a means to prevent Florida from continuing as a refuge for runaway slaves. This became an international conflict as Florida was owned by Spain and, at that time, the Americans were not at war with Spain. During this war, Jackson found letters of proof that the Spainish and British were secretly aiding the Indians against the Americans, therefore, his actions against Spanish Florida were to him just a means of American self-defense. Jackson’s capture of Pensacola and deposition of the Spanish Govenor struck fear into the Seminoles and they called him “Sharp Knife”. Some in Congress felt that Jackson’s actions in Florida were excessive and unlawful and called for a censure but the Sectretary of State, John Quincy Adams, defended Jackson. Adams believed in Manifest Destiny and stated that Spain must either put sufficient forces in Florida to protect her or cede Florida to the United States. The conquest of Jackson and the weakness of Spain resulted in a the Adams-Onis Treaty in which Florida became part of the United States. Jackson was consequently appointed Florida’s military governor.
In 1822, the Tennessee legislature nominated Jackson for President. Then, by 1824, he was elected once again to the U.S. Senate. The only national functioning party at that time was the Democratic-Republican Party. Informal caucuses like the Tennessee legislature were at that time nominating candidates for president but this was unpopular with Congress who boycotted such caucuses. The nomination of 1824 instead went to William H. Crawford as President and Albert Gallatin as Vice President. A Pennsyvanian Convention nominated Jackson stating that the irregular caucus ignored the “voice of the people”. Gallatin criticized Jackson saying he was merely an idol of military glory and due to his incapacity, military habits and habitual disregard for laws, he was unfit for the office. Other candidates, Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams and House Speaker Henry Clay were also nominated. Jackson had the most popular vote but not the majority as four states did not have a popular vote. He did not have a plurality so the election was decided by the House of Representatives and they chose Adams. Jackson’s supporters called “foul play” on this decision because Clay gave his states support to Adams who in return made him Secretary of State. Clay was critized by states who gave Jackson the popular vote saying Clay violated the will of the people for personal political gain. These states remained angry as they felt “the man of the people” had been robbed by the “corrupt aritoctrats of the East”.
In the election of 1828, after a revival of the Old Republican Party, now re-named as the Democratic Party, Jackson handily defeated Adams.During this election many opponents called Jackson “jackass”. Jackson liked the the name and made the jackass a symbol of the party. It later died out but became the symbol once again when it was popularized by the cartoonist Thomas Nash and has remained the symbol for the Democratic Party since. Jackson was the first president to invite the public to the inaugural ball. Many poor people came and the crowd became so large that guards could not keep them out of the White House. The crowd became wild with punch and were eventually lured back outside when attendants placed tubs of punch on the White House lawn. Jackson once again gained a nickname from this incident as “King Mob”. Despite all of the controversies and past opinions of Jackson, he easily won re-election in 1832.
The single most important thing that Jackson administered in his first term was the arguement for Indian removal. It was said by some that Jackson had compassion for the natives but he was more so an opportunist and had already made a great deal of money with Indian removal. It is believed that government officials were often involved in cover-up schemes to rid the lands of Indians for profit. Jackson’s policies towards the Indians have come to be known as one of disrespect for thier land and titles and disrespect for their rights as fellow Americans. His intentions for Indian removal was based on “false regard” for thier welfare stating that removal was the only logical solution for preserving thier culture and language. White expansion would surely destroy for good thier heritage and white expansion would bring them to extinction. Therefore, Indian removal is the only measure the United States had left to preserve American Indian legacies.
Part 4 of this series will discuss of the intricacies of the Indian Removal Act, how it affected the Native Americans both across the United States and in our own South Bend area, and the actual removal of Indians on what became known as the Trail of Tears.