What is the major theme in chapter 7?
Of all the oppressed people that Zinn has highlighted prior to the nineteenth century, he argues that Native Americans could be dealt with by pure force (along with temporary paternalism) because they were the most "foreign" and "exterior." Yet he argues that their oppression was central to the growth of the United States as a nation. American growth and expansion went hand in hand with the annihilation of Native Americans. It "cleared the land" Zinn writes, for American economic and territorial development:
...for white occupancy in the Appalachians and the Mississippi, cleared it for cotton in the South and grain in the North, for expansion, immigrations, canals, railroads, new cities, and the building of a huge continental empire west to the Pacific Ocean.
This chapter goes on to highlight example after example of this tragic process. The American Revolution paved the way for expropriation of Indian lands in the eastern states and along the frontier. The War of 1812 led to the defeat of Native resistance in the Old Northwest and the Old Southwest (the modern Southeast). Andrew Jackson instituted a process of Indian Removal in the Southeast that we would call ethnic cleansing today. Zion points out that Jackson's actions were even decried as racist and unjust at the time. Crucially, he argues that the forces behind Indian removal were not the settlers and small farmers who wanted frontier land –– the so-called "common man" that Jackson appealed to as President –– but in fact wealthy speculators and industrialists who stood to profit from the acquisition of what historian Frederick Jackson Turner called "free land." The tragedy of Indian removal was especially acute in what the Cherokee remembered as the "Trail of Tears," the forced march from their homeland to Indian Territory in modern Oklahoma. Thousands died on this march of disease, exposure, and exhaustion. So the central theme of Chapter Seven is the same explored throughout A People's History –– oppression based on race and class is not tangential to American history, but central to it.
The basic theme of oppression as part of the narrative in American History comes out in chapter 7. Zinn opens in discussing how women in the time period represented the most "interior" form of oppression, and how the most "exterior" form of repression and silencing voices came in the form of Native Americans. Zinn argues that the Westward Expansion that was dominant in 19th Century American politics and in its historical development came at a particular price paid by the Native Americans. The theme of oppression is illuminated with how there was a systematic marginalization of Native Americans in terms that represented both interior and exterior control. Native Americans were demonized by the American government and their forced relocation represented a way in which White society and government drove the Native Americans away from view. In this, silencing of voices operated on both interior and exterior levels because the subjugation of an entire group of people was done on a level in which privacy was eviscerated in the name of control. The repression of which Zinn speaks was one in which the forceable movement of Native Americans represented the dominant theme of oppression on both interior and exterior levels. This theme is only highlighted by the death of an estimated 4,000 Native Americans on the Trail of Tears. Detailing the oppression on both levels becomes the main theme of chapter 7.
The major theme of Chapter 7 is the white American oppression of Native Americans--what Zinn calls "the most exterior" of all the subjugated groups in American history. Indian Removal made way for American manufacturing and agriculture and caused unmeasurable suffering among Native Americans, but Zinn states that the process of Indian Removal has been overlooked in most history books.
Indian Removal made the American definition of progress possible, and it also created heroes out of Indian fighters such as Andrew Jackson, whose massacre of the Creek paved the way for the extension of the slave-based cotton kingdom into what was then the southwest of the United States. However, history books largely omit any discussion of Jackson's war on, and extermination of, different Native American tribes. The American policy of Indian Removal can be summarized in the words of Lewis Cass, a former Secretary of War who Zinn cites: "A principle of progressive improvement seems almost inherent in human nature...But there is little of this in the constitution of our savages." White Americans did not recognize the connectedness of Native Americans to their land. When the Native Americans resisted removal west, they were subject to state laws (given approval by the federal government under Jackson), used to force the Cherokees west in the 1830s.