March 15th. A seemingly uneventful day for most of us, but on this day in 1767 our 7th president was born. Andrew Jackson was an America statesman, soldier, and politician who is most well known as being a president for the common man. Before becoming president, Jackson led quite the interesting life: he was kidnapped by British soldiers at the age of 13; he was educated as a lawyer and served on the Tennessee Supreme Court; he served in the U.S. Army during the War of 1912 and became a national war hero after a decisive victory at the Battle of New Orleans; and was (briefly) Florida’s governor.
In honor of his birthday, we have decided to give a sneak peek of our biography: People That Changed the Course of History: The Story of Andrew Jackson. This excerpt focuses on one of the most controversial and well-known actions that Jackson took while in office, The Trail of Tears.
Although Jackson had defeated the Creeks and Seminoles, it didn’t put an end to battles between settlers and Native Americans. One of the most controversial acts of the Presidency was the decision to deal with the constant clashes between Indians and Americans in the South. To make matters worse, gold was discovered in Cherokee territory in the state of Georgia. Governor George Gilmer complained to Washington that he had no authority to give rights or protection to the either the Cherokee or the trespassing minors. Something had to be done.
The people demanded action, and in May, Congress passed The Indian Removal Act. This law gave the federal government the right to meet with tribal chiefs for negotiations to move the tribes further west into territory that is a part of Oklahoma today. In reality, it demanded the Indians give up their homes and lands to the United States and pushed them out of the way.
A Virginia newspaper defended the law. It claimed that the Indians would not be forced to go and that they would be given money for expenses and their first year of life in the new land. In Washington, the President stated it would “separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; [and] enable them to pursue happiness in their own way, and under their own crude institutions” (Globe, 1830).
Those who spoke out against The Indian Removal Act included Davy Crockett and Abraham Lincoln. It made no difference. President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1830. It gave him the right to grant the Indians lands in the West as a trade for the Union taking over the lands of their ancestors.
Although the Indians had the right to meet for negotiations, there would be little choice in the matter in the long run. They would have to move. The pressure to submit to the will of the Republic fell on the Indians. Many of the tribes hesitated. They saw no reason or right for them to be kicked off their lands. When the Indian fighter, Andrew Jackson, won the White House election again two years later, most of the leaders finally agreed to go.
The majority of the tribes went peacefully, but not all of them. They sent delegations and petitions to Washington. They even took their case to the Supreme Court. Loss after loss doing things the white man’s way left many frustrated and depressed.
As a treaty was drawn up that gave the United States the right to take Indian lands in exchange for western territory, supplies, and money, a small group of Cherokee Indians received permission to meet with President Jackson in person. They called him the “Great Father.” He had already met with some of their greatest lawyers and defenders but turned them away. The Indians must have felt this would be their last hope.
The president continued, telling the representatives they were now subject to the same laws and consequences of white settlers. He scolded them for their violence as well as growing problems with alcohol. They didn’t do much to farm or modernize their lands the way whites thought it should be done. He warned them they would eventually disappear like the Indian nations before them if they didn’t learn the white man’s ways.
He eventually closed with what he considered wise counsel. “You have but one remedy within your reach. And that is to remove to the West and join your countrymen, who are already established there. The choice is yours.May the great spirit teach you how to choose.”
Eventually, the Cherokees submitted to a Senate-approved final treaty when it was sent to their own National Council in New Echota, Georgia. They were forced to surrender all of their lands east of the Mississippi for $5 million. Along with the new territory granted to them in the West, they would receive regular shipments of supplies like blankets, kettles, and rifles.
In the winter of 1838, the last of some stubborn Cherokee tribes were lined up and walked out by force. Thousands of them died along the way, earning the march the name The Trail of Tears.
If this piqued your interest and you want to learn more about Andrew Jackson and the early years of American history, be sure to buy our book here.