Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars

by Robert V. Remini

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In the introduction to Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars, Remini writes that

it is not my intention to excuse or exonerate Andrew Jackson for the role he played in the removal of Native Americans west of the Mississippi River.

Rather, he says he wants to "explain what happened and why." Along with Arthur Schlesinger, Remini is Jackson's most influential biographer, having written several important books on the seventh president. With this quote, he claims that his purpose is to explain Jackson's actions in their broader historical context rather than to rehabilitate Jackson's reputation, which has sunk to abysmal depths among historians over the last thirty years. Of course, Remini's work very much leaves him open to the criticism that he is justifying as much as explaining Indian Removal, especially in light of the final quote highlighted in this response.

Remini describes the Indian Removal Act passed in 1830:

[The act] was harsh, arrogant, racist—and inevitable.

Historians are inclined to bristle at claims that anything is inevitable. While larger forces were certainly at work in the Southeast, Jackson accelerated these forces and used them to his political advantage. It is also true that by choosing to characterize the event as inevitable, Remini opens himself to accusations that he is doing exactly what he professed not to be his purpose in the first quote: justifying Jackson's actions. Finally, this quote is an interesting departure from the approach of many political historians, who tend to focus on the effects of a politician's actions rather than their intent.

The following quote is the most controversial of the book:

He [Jackson] saved the Five Civilized Nations from probable extinction.

Remini argues that, in context, Jackson's actions, however regrettable their motives, shielded the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole peoples from total destruction at the hands of rapacious white settlers who eagerly sought their lands. In other words, Remini sees Jackson more as a representative of the larger forces that were brought to bear on Native peoples in the South than as an actual agent of destruction himself. Modern scholars tend not to accept Jackson's professed paternalism toward Natives at face value, but Remini argues that, in effect, the Removal ensured their survival.

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