Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson's American Indian Policies

It is difficult to gauge the truth and biases in Anthony J.C. Wallace’s statements about Thomas Jefferson, but one does not have to look far into the depths of Jefferson’s Indian policy to recognize its goal. Wallace summarizes Jeffersonian politics in the sentences, “Those residents who could not participate fully in the civilized republic, either because of gender…..or cultural incompatibility (as in the case of Native Americans who remained in the ‘hunter state’), were excluded or marginalized.” (Jefferson and the Indians, p 18)  According to him the Jeffersonian state was ethnically exclusive.  He described Jefferson as ruthless in his dealings with the native Indians, aiming to dispossess them of their land. 

The ultimate area of conflict Thomas Jefferson raised between the native Indians and whites was ‘civilization.’  He proposed the Indians as ‘savages’ due to their love for hunting, uncontrollable drinking and promiscuous sexual activity.  Jefferson wanted to establish an agrarian society formed by a commonwealth of small white farmers, the yeomen. (Jefferson and the Indians, p. 46)  These were the men he claimed were close to nature, working close the earth which brought out natural sentiments and uplifted the human spirit.  Yet he excluded the Indians, the oldest and closest inhabitants of the America, from this image.  Hence, the egalitarian, democratic, individual yeomen powers he spoke of were for white settlers.  Many historians argue that the equality amongst white settlers came from obtaining cheap vast lands which were federally claimed by the ethnical deprecation of the Indians. (lecture).  This would seem evident in Jefferson’s Policy of civilization and assimilation in which he encourages Indians to pursue an agrarian society because “this will enable them to live on much smaller portions of land….While they are learning to do better on less land, our increasing numbers will be calling for more land, and thus a coincidence of interests will be produced.” (Jefferson and the Indians, p. 223)  His statement reflects how his insistence of civility and agrarianism roots from the desire to benefit white settlers.

Jefferson was a great spokesperson because he was able to placate his opponents.  His use of the words ‘coincidence of interests’ makes it seem as though there were no controversy underlying this exchange of land.  He appraised the Indians in his writings and statements, once writing to a European general, “I believe the Indian to be in body and mind equal to the white man.”(Jefferson and the Indians, p. 77)  Later in his policy of civilization and assimilation he wrote, “In truth, the ultimate point of rest and happiness for them is to let our settlements and theirs meet and blend together, to intermix, and become one people.” (Jefferson and the Indians, p. 223)  It seemed as though Jefferson was convinced that the Indians and white settlers could co-exist within the U.S. and so one questions what brought Wallace to conclude that “The Jeffersonian vision of the destiny of the Americas had no place for Indians as Indians.” (Jefferson and the Indians, p. 11)  Jefferson was a skilled politician; along with encouragement for civilization he also held dialogues, such as the in response to Logan’s Lament, in which he indirectly stated that “attainment of civilization may never be the Indian’s fate, despite their aspirations to it.” (Jefferson and the Indians, p. 11)  If civility was the criterion and it was unattainable then so was the coexistence of Indians and whites.

Jefferson’s Indian Policy was solely aimed at ceding Indian land.  One method stated was to put the Indians into so much whiskey debt that they would have to sell land to pay it off, another was to encircle the Indians into an ever-shrinking enclave forcing them to adapt to agrarian society and rely on European-style knowledge for which they would have to sell off land, while another way was to remove un-cooperating Indians to the Louisiana purchase which was to be the next native enclave. (Jefferson and the Indians, p. 251) However, the most popular of method incorporated involved a four-step procedure.  The succession of steps began, firstly with, white encroachment on Indian land, followed by a bloody Indian retaliation, in response to which the military forces would move in, and lastly at a disadvantage, the cession of Indian lands as the price for peace.  The removal of the Sacs and Fox tribe is a prime example of this last means by which land was obtained from the Indians.  Approximately 200,000 sq miles of Indian Territory was ceded during Jeffersonian rule. (Jefferson and the Indians, p. 239) A British commander reported frontier whites claiming that “they will never find a Man guilty of Murder, for killing an Indian.” (Jefferson and the Indians, p193)  The numbers slaughtered left the Indians untrusting and angry.  One native Indian, Buckongehelas, warned, “They will say to an Indian; ‘My friend, my brother.’ They will take him by the hand, and at the same moment destroy him.” (Jefferson and the Indians, p232).

Jefferson took interest in native Indian culture and practices, regretting the loss of much of it, yet he viewed the oncoming extinction of Indians as predestined and unavoidable.  In his ‘notes’ he often referred to the native Indians as the ‘doomed race’ whose historical origins he was trying to preserve.  However, his deprecation of Indian monuments and earthworks and elaboration of the Indians as the ‘dying’ race was seen by many as a means of attracting European investment.  He wanted the Indians to be submissive foremost as he warned, “We have learnt that some tribes are already expressing intentions hostile to the United States. …In war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them.” (Jefferson and the Indians, p313) In these words, there is no concern for the survival of the Indian culture; there is sheer dominance of numbers.  The land acquired by Jefferson’s land policy far exceeded the immediate needs of white settlers.  Jefferson once wrote to Jackson, “In keeping agents among the Indians, two objects are principally in view: 1)The preservation of peace; 2. The obtaining of lands.” (Jefferson and the Indians, p221)  His interest in the Indians seemed to be purely for political and economic advantage.  The concept of ethnic diversity and unification is far from these words. 

Jackson wrote on Jefferson’s Indian policy for ‘civilization’ with disdain, stating that in “professing a desire to civilize and settle them [the Indians], we have, at the same time, lost no opportunity to purchase their lands, and thrust them further into the wilderness.” (History 40B reader, p 11) Jackson, like Jefferson, believed in a natural market and environment with limited federal government intervention. (American Promise, p246) He wanted to expand the country and promote rapid settlement.  Unlike Jefferson, Jackson had established a character as an Indian-hater and fighter, killing almost 800-900 creeks in his greatest moment.  He was the hero of the common man, willing to dispossess the Indians of their land at the urges of land hungry whites and increasing demands for cotton by the British.  He also portrayed the Indians as ‘savages’ like Jefferson and played greed, revenge and guilt into the Indian Removal Act of 1830 allotting $500,000 to relocate all Indians to the west of the Mississippi River. 

Jackson justified this vigorous policy as a “moral imperative to save the Indians from extinction.” (History 40B reader, p7)  The forced movement of Indians he argued was no different from the voluntary migration of Europeans to the United States, leaving behind their family and homes.  Jackson played with words, like Jefferson, referring to the movement in his State of the Union Address with pride as he described that “the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation.” (History 40B Reader, p11) However this was surely not the case with the bigger southern tribes, the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles.  Twice the Cherokees approached the Supreme Court demanding the United States to respect their sovereignty by which hundreds of treaties had been signed in the past.  They argued that it was the responsibility of the United States to protect the Indian nation according to those treaties and that by removing them the Americans are destroying the government and civilization which they had preached to the Indians to pursue.   

Jackson was determined to not let any power alter the course of the policy.  In 1832, the Worcester v. Georgia case was filed at the Supreme Court and the verdict came in favor of the Indians recognizing the Cherokees as a “distinct community, occupying its own territory, in which the laws of Georgia have no control.” (American Promise, p256)  Jackson responded in full presidential power, ignoring the court ruling, warning the remaining tribes that their only options were assimilation, extinction or expulsion.  In 1938, the obstinate southern tribes were moved under military control and low funding.  As many as a quarter of the Cherokees died en route and the move became known as the ‘Trail of Tears.’ (American Promise, p 255)  Jackson was resilient, still claiming that the move was for the good of Indians without which their ‘degradation and destruction’ would have been rapidly hastened. (History 40B reader, p7) The supreme courts ruling and the many writings in favor of Indian sovereignty, one of which became known as the famous ‘Masterpiece of Propaganda’ by William Penn could not prevent the fate of the Cherokee.  Jackson was the first to exercise and set the standard of presidential power over judiciary. 

Hence, Jefferson and Jackson shared the same dream, of a unified white agrarian society of self-reliant yeomen farmers and both dreams required same accomplishments, the purchase of land and the removal of the Indians.  Both understood and relied heavily on increasing numbers of white settlers to indicate that the native Indians could and would be diminished.  Jefferson, however, held the belief that some of the native Indians could be ‘civilized’ and become acculturate to the American ways. Whether he thought they would loose their sovereign identity is unclear.  Jackson proved to keep the Indian and the white settler separate.