The Long, Bitter Trail

Looking at the policies of the United States toward various ethnic and minority groups through the eyes of those most directly (and adversely) affected by the government’s decisions has become fashionable among historians in recent years. For that reason, there is no surprise in the appearance of Anthony Wallace’s brief investigation of one influential decision involving the Five Civilized Tribes of Native Americans residing in the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee during the decades following the institution of the American Republic. Unlike many revisionist historians, however, Wallace attempts an evenhanded examination of the causes for the growing dissatisfaction of white inhabitants in these states with their Native American neighbors, and the systematic program launched by land speculators to oust these people from their homelands and move them to sites west of the Mississippi River.

Central to the movement were the efforts of Andrew Jackson, a longtime Indian fighter and landgrabber in the region, who as president in 1830 signed the Act authorizing the eviction of the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Seminoles. Wallace examines Jackson’s personal involvement in Native American affairs, first as a military officer, then as military governor of Florida. He also describes the roles played by proponents of the Removal policy, especially Lewis Cass of Michigan, and the equally vociferous efforts of both Native American leaders and sympathetic whites to allow the tribes to remain in the Southeast.

Wallace tells this tale of usurpation and betrayal with clarity and dispassion. Some scholars may lament the absence of notes and references, as well as the paucity of primary documents cited in the Note on Sources. Nevertheless, general readers will find Wallace’s study informative, clearly organized, and full of insight into the principal characters who participated in what can only be judged a tragedy in American internal policy.