Was Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal policy benevolent? Was this a kind and humane gesture ?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the issue of Native Americans having rights underneath the Constitution is a unique one.  The Native Americans were not specifically mentioned in the Constitution as a group that had specific rights.  I think that one get caught in a myriad of challenges within such a notion.  Initially, if the Constitution was intended to protect the rights of citizens, would not the Native Americans count as a "natural born citizens," for they were inhabiting the land before any of the framers were?  At the same time, if the Constitution does apply only to citizens, does this mean that non- citizens are subjected to every action which is antithetical to the Constitution?  Does citizenship mandate Constitutionality and Constitutional decency while the lack of it means that "all bets are off"?  Certainly, there is a sphere of negative freedom which is implicit in both the First Amendment and the entire framework of the Constitution.  This simply means that there is a sphere of action that cannot be impinged upon by external forces.  Even if one concedes that Native Americans are not covered by the Constitution, then would they not be worthy of being represented by the negative freedom which is in the Constitution, the right to be left alone?  I think that these are powerful questions in whose answers are much about the nature and understanding of the nation and its relationship with Native Americans.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In reference to the third question, it's important to understand the Constitution relative to the historical era in which it was written.  Doing so gives an appreciation of how well the Founders had established the governance of these United States.  However, it was and is still not perfect. Before the additional amendments during the latter part of the 1800's, Native Americans, like slaves, did not have rights, were not considered men, and were excluded from any implicit protection or governance through the Constitution. Although that may seem reprehensible to us, this was the thinking during that time.  So legally, Jackson acted appropriately; morally, well, that's a different issue.

It's helpful to understand Jackson as well in the context of his times -- having fought in the American Revolution as a young teenager, he had also fought Natives in his youth on the frontier during the endless conflicts between White and Red men.  This undoubtedly had some effect on how he treated them when President.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of course, most people would look at Indian Removal as something immoral and certainly not benevolent.  The US violated treaties it had made for no better reason than because it disliked the Indians and because it had the power to do whatever it wanted to them.

You can, however, argue that it was benevolent and humane, at least in its intent (the Trail of Tears march was not humane).  If the Indians had been allowed to stay in the Southeast, there's a good chance they would have soon been killed by white settlers.

So in that sense, you could say it was humane, if you were trying to make that argument.

fernandezc | Student

1) Andrew Jacksons Indian Removal Policy was by no means benevolent. It is understandable that the this was a time of westward expansion, but ignoring a supreme court and taking matters into his own hands by relocation thousands of Native Americans is non-justifaible.

2) I do believe that in Andrew Jacksons mind he honestly though he was doing the right thing. It is my opinion based on his actions that he thought of Native Americans as out siders or enemies that did not belong in American Lands. Any time that you use brute force to move people out of a territory and force them to another specific area killing many in the process is inhumane.

3) Yes the government should have been forced to honor its own previous treaties with the native americans. But President Jackson being the comander and chief had complete control of the armed forces at that time to do as he pleased.

4) Did native American have rights under the constitution? Yes Native Americans had rights under the constitution but like African Americans those rights in many places were not followed or believed in.

5) In todays world no. The government can not forcefully remove all of the Indians from their territories but back then they could. In 1834 Congress created the Indian Territory ( present day Oklahoma) because of southward and westward expansion and settlers wanting the federal government to move the Native Americans from the South East to the land west of the Mississppi.  

The Cherokee Nation obviously refused to give up their land, but an President Jacksons army gave them no choice but to leave causing many deaths along the way due to weather, rough conditions, and health. This journey was eventually called the trail of tears.

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