One of the most enduring legacies of the Jacksonian presidency is Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. This piece of legislation guaranteed Indians would receive lands west of the Mississippi River if they were willing to give up their holdings in the east. However, Jackson really used this as...
One of the most enduring legacies of the Jacksonian presidency is Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. This piece of legislation guaranteed Indians would receive lands west of the Mississippi River if they were willing to give up their holdings in the east. However, Jackson really used this as a pretext to kick Native Americans out of the United States for good. From 1820-1840, various eastern Indian tribes, from the Seminoles in Florida, the Creek in Alabama, the Cherokee in Georgia, to the Chickasaw and Choctaw in Mississippi and the Fox in the Iowa territory, were relocated to Indian lands further west, across the Red and Arkansas Rivers, which were granted to them via federal statute.
Many of these migrants were forced as far as Oklahoma at gunpoint. Jackson demonstrated a measured indifference to the suffering Indians elicited by his infamous “Trail of Tears,” a forced exile in which tens of thousands of Cherokee and other indigenous peoples were forced out of their homelands. This exile bolstered Jackson’s fundamental commitment to small government, the dissolution of the national bank, and the strengthening of the independent, yeoman class of farmers. Jackson believed above all else in supporting small farmers and strengthening the ability of local producers to contribute to the economy without interference by the government. The opening of the lands formerly belonging to Indian tribes by their forced relocation westward played into these long-term goals.
But Jackson was also fundamentally driven by impulses of white-supremacy and no-nonsense, business-first ethics. Historians of Andrew Jackson himself have pointed to his gruff, proletarian demeanor. He was a hard man. And as a hard man, he had no patience for the rights or dignity of Indian tribes, especially if their continuation came at the expense of small business. Thus, I would not say that his policies were genocidal, in the sense that Jackson willfully engaged in policies of ethnic cleansing based on racist ideologies. But they were certainly not compromising, and in achieving his practical, white-supremacist goals, he was willing to use extreme forms of violence.