Andrew Jackson's Presidency

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How did President Andrew Jackson justify Indian Removal?

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President Andrew Jackson's personal background, military career, political considerations, and assertive character all shaped his view of Native Americans. Moreover, he was—like most white Americans—racist in his attitude toward Indians.

Jackson's personal experience on America's frontier helped shape his hostile view of Indians. On the frontier, the Indians were viewed as a perpetual menace. They also occupied land that settlers wanted to develop, so the Indians stood in the way of progress.

As a distinguished battlefield commander, Jackson won some of his most impressive victories against the Indians. He annihilated the Creeks at the battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. His triumphal experience on the battlefield contributed to his view of Indians as vanquished enemies.

As a president, Jackson's support was strongest in the west, and frontiersmen were belligerent to the Indians. Southeastern states were determined to deny Indians their rights and move them west of the Mississippi River. The Cherokee tribe challenged Georgia in court; Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in favor of the Indians in a 1831 Supreme Court decision.

Jackson viewed Marshall's ruling as a personal affront and ignored it. Although the Seminoles resisted in Florida for many years, the Indian tribes were doomed as they were forced to relocate west of the Mississippi on the Trail of Tears.

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Jackson claimed that Indian Removal would be good for the Native-American tribes, but, in reality, the policy was designed purely for the benefit of white settlers. Many of these settlers came from Southern states such as Alabama and Mississippi, which just two years before had overwhelmingly endorsed Jackson in his presidential election victory. In some ways, the policy of Indian Removal was part of the so-called spoils system whereby Jackson sought to reward his loyal supporters.

At the same time, Jackson could try and justify Indian Removal on ideological grounds, although he would never have used such an expression. Jacksonian democracy was predicated on the existence of a large body of stout, reliable small farmers and landholders. Opening up tribal lands for their cultivation and control would help to strengthen and consolidate the Jacksonian ideal.

Jackson attempted to sugar the pill for Native Americans by promising them compensation for their land. In reality, however, such compensation wasn't always paid in full, and, in any case, proved woefully inadequate even when it was. Indian Removal was supposed to allow tribes to govern themselves peacefully. In actual fact, it led to large numbers of Native Americans being herded onto unproductive land far away from their ancestral homes. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 caused incalculable damage to Native American culture and heritage and led directly to the appalling man-made tragedy of the Trail of Tears.

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President Andrew Jackson justified Indian removal by pointing out the benefits that would result for both parties. In his speech on Indian removal, Jackson pointed to the urgent need of freeing up more land for development purposes. He believed the Indians were incapable of pursuing or achieving the same progressive agenda as the white settlers. Thus, it was imperative for the Indians to cede their lands to pave way for progress and development of the States. By removing the Indians, the whites would have access to more land for economic expansion and settlement.

Jackson argued that removal of the Indians would benefit them because they would be allowed to govern themselves under their native laws. He affirmed that American laws would present serious challenges to the Indian system. In addition, Indians would also get an opportunity to conserve their culture and tradition far from white interference. The Jackson administration also offered the Indians protection and financial assistance in their new settlements.

I beg of you to say to them, that their interest happiness peace & prosperity depends upon their removal beyond the jurisdiction of the laws of the State of Mississippi. - Andrew Jackson to John Pitchlynn

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As can be seen in the nps.gov link below, President Jackson gave many arguments for Indian Removal.  However, the gist of these arguments can be summarized in two reasons.  Jackson said that Indian Removal was good for the white settlers (and the country as a whole) and good for the Indians.

Jackson emphasized that clearing the Indians out would be good for white settlers whose actions would, in turn, be good for the country.  White settlers would come in and densely populate an area that had previously been sparsely populated by Indians.  They would bring more economic activity to the area and make the country richer.  This, clearly, would be good for the country and the settlers.

However, Jackson also argued that the Indians would benefit.  He argued that it would be good for them to be removed from contact with whites.  He said that it would allow them to avoid being annihilated.  He said that it would allow them to preserve their native culture.  He said that it would allow them to perhaps become civilized at their own pace.

In these ways, Jackson argued that Indian Removal would be good for everyone.

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