De­mot­ing Jack­son won’t ab­solve our sins

The Buffalo News - - CONTINUED FROM THE VIEWPOINTS COVER - By Michael Leroy Oberg SPE­CIAL TO THE NEWS Michael Leroy Oberg is dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor of history at the State Univer­sity of New York at Ge­ne­seo.

The Trea­sury Depart­ment re­cently an­nounced its de­ci­sion to re­move An­drew Jack­son from the front of the $20 bill, a de­ci­sion jus­ti­fied by Jack­son’s slave­hold­ing and the large role he played in the odi­ous pol­icy known as “In­dian Re­moval.”

Jack­son cer­tainly bears re­spon­si­bil­ity for the re­moval of tens of thou­sands of Na­tive Amer­i­can peo­ple from their homes in the Eastern United States to new homes in the West. He signed the In­dian Re­moval Bill into law in 1830, pre­sented In­di­ans with the Hob­son’s choice of ei­ther leav­ing or sub­ject­ing them­selves to hos­tile state le­gal sys­tems, and ig­nored an im­por­tant Supreme Court de­ci­sion that pro­tected In­dian rights against state ag­gres­sion. Men he ap­pointed ne­go­ti­ated re­moval treaties with Eastern In­di­ans. Thou­sands of Na­tive Amer­i­can men and women died.

But In­dian re­moval was pop­u­lar in many parts of the union. Blam­ing Jack­son for the pol­icy might be emo­tion­ally sat­is­fy­ing, but it over­sim­pli­fies a com­plex past. Mil­lions of white Amer­i­cans sup­ported In­dian re­moval and ben­e­fited eco­nom­i­cally from it. Many still do. In­deed, New York be­came the “Em­pire State” on lands wrested from the state’s na­tive pop­u­la­tion. Mil­lions were guilty, even if Jack­son was guiltier than most.

Re­movals be­gan dur­ing the colo­nial pe­riod, a prod­uct of dis­ease, en­slave­ment, war­fare and dis­pos­ses­sion. It con­tin­ued dur­ing the Revo­lu­tion as the Amer­i­can pa­tri­ots found it eas­ier to burn In­dian towns than to en­gage na­tive forces in the field. Pres­i­dent Thomas Jef­fer­son in 1803 thought the pos­si­bil­ity of re­mov­ing the In­di­ans a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for ac­quir­ing Louisiana from the French. Chero­kees be­gan mov­ing to Arkansas in 1808; Onei­das from cen­tral New York left for Wis­con­sin in the early 1820s, hop­ing in part to avoid en­croach­ments on their lands that state and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties lacked the in­ter­est or the abil­ity to stop.

Re­movals, then, be­gan long be­fore Jack­son be­came pres­i­dent. They con­tin­ued af­ter he left of­fice. The Chero­kee “Trail of Tears” took place in 1838 un­der Jack­son’s suc­ces­sor, Pres­i­dent Martin Van Buren. That same year, Iro­quois in New York were co­erced and de­frauded into sign­ing the most cor­rupt In­dian treaty in all of Amer­i­can history at Buf­falo Creek.

In a cou­ple of years, Jack­son will be gone, “re­moved” to the back of the $20 bill. Good rid­dance. He was a vi­o­lent and an­gry man, whose harsh em­brace of ma­jor­ity rule, what­ever the con­se­quences, ran roughshod over the rights of mi­nori­ties and height­ened sec­tional ten­sions. Though his was a con­se­quen­tial and im­por­tant pres­i­dency, he was a man who thought du­el­ing a rea­son­able way to re­solve con­flicts, and his eco­nomic poli­cies pro­voked a sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial cri­sis. He at­tempted to si­lence the abo­li­tion­ists, and he em­braced and en­dorsed In­dian re­moval.

But that heinous pol­icy was big­ger than one man, and we should not think for a sec­ond that de­mot­ing him does much at all to ex­pi­ate the sins of a very guilty na­tion.

An­drew Jack­son will be moved from the front to the back of the $20 bill.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.