Unworthy Republic

by Claudio Saunt

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What historical factors in Unworthy Republic led to the 1830s Native American displacement?

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According to Claudio Saunt, author of Unworthy Republic, racialized capitalism and carefully crafted propaganda were significant historical factors that led to the forced mass displacement of Native Americans in the 1830s.

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In Unworthy Republic, Claudio Saunt examines and describes the domestic and international forces that contributed to the horrific, genocidal mass displacement of Indigenous peoples in the 1830s from their homelands in the American South. While Saunt takes aim at the slave economy and white supremacist ideology and propaganda machine that dominated the South as a significant factor for the mass removal of Indigenous people, he also correctly and unabashedly implicates the economic interests of the North as well as the English elite.

While many historians have written about and discussed the mass displacement of 80,000 Indigenous people from the South that left at least 25,000 Indigenous people dead, Saunt brings a critical analysis of how a rising capitalist economy based in the Atlantic Slave Trade and plantation slavery played a pivotal role in the removal.

Prior to Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830, the US was certainly engaged in displacing indigenous people, but relied heavily upon settler violence and patch-work battles. As the South became more crowded and the plantation economy grew, there was a vested interest from less wealthy white farmers as well as white plantation owners to forcibly take ownership of the extremely fertile land upon which many Southern Indigenous tribes lived.

As described by Saunt, additionally, many wealthy businessmen of the North and England with greedy eyes upon indigenous land and profits from being hired to assist with this mass displacement (many profited from the logistical and man-power cost of the removal), also strongly petitioned for and supported a mass removal effort. Since the US's economy largely depended upon the textiles produced by plantation slave labor, the federal government as a whole, led by Andrew Jackson, supported these genocidal interests and initiated a massive military campaign of removal against the Southern tribes.

Saunt also describes how paternalistic propaganda was used to sway white settlers who were not immediately in support of the removal based upon economic interests or racialized hate. Many newspapers published falsehoods such as claims that the indigenous tribes of the South were declining in population and that the kindest action to take would be to send the tribes to the less populated Midwest and West. This myth was repeated over and over until it became a dominant narrative that was largely accepted by paternalistic settlers.

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