Monday, June 23, 2008

And the Expansion South

Jackson’s racked-up victory after victory: Talladega, Horseshoe Bend, Pensacola, Mobile, and finally New Orleans in 1815, where the spectacular defeat of the British is a legendary triumph in American military history. Even though it technically occurred after the Treaty of Ghent, it was a morale boost for the nation and career boost for Jackson.

With hindsight, one can argue that the War of 1812, once and for all, secured our independence from European imperial domination. Churchill held this opinion. Jackson didn’t and couldn’t. In his view the country was far from secure. Jackson saw continual foreign intrigue, especially by the British. His Anglophobia—some use the word paranoia—went so far as to lead him to cheer Napoleon’s return from exile in 1815. [P306]

Florida, under Spanish jurisdiction, remained a springboard for Indian attacks on Americans living on the southern border. “Behind the Seminoles, behind the Spanish, Jackson saw the specter of Britain in Florida. So long as Florida remained beyond American control, it was a potential base for British adventurism.” [P307] Jackson invaded Florida without President Monroe’s clear consent. With the aide of Creek allies, he fought the Seminoles and remnants of the Red Stick Creek faction; and captured two British agents--both were quickly sentence to death by a military tribunal.

Jackson had no animus towards the Spanish for being too weak to establish law and order. He proclaimed that he came “not as the enemy, but as the friend of Spain.” [P329] In his view Spain’s failure to establish lawful rule was a justification of the invasion based on self-defense. “The Government of the United States is bound to protect her citizens, but weak would be her efforts and ineffectual the best advised measures if the Floridas are to be free to every enemy.”

The General's actions inflamed the administrations critics; even some within the administration, such as Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, expressed outrage in private . Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, defended Jackson. As for President Monroe, he excused Jackson for “exceeding orders” and praised his initiative as a “field commander” given the circumstances. [P341]

Traditional accounts of history also praise Jackson. Writing in 1901, John William Burgess, in The Middle Period, 1817-1858, writes that "Spain could claim the rights of neutrality for Florida only when she discharged these duties of neutrality. The general principles of international custom required that of her ... Spain had pledged herself in a specific agreement with the United States to do these very things, and that Florida, nevertheless, was actually a free zone, over which no civilized state had any efficient control, then it certainly appears that the right of the United States to pursue its enemy into Florida was clearly in keeping with the recognized law of nations." [Pp29-30]

"The results of the Seminole War [in Florida] raised General Jackson to a still higher plane of popularity than he possessed as the hero of the War of 1812." [P33] After negotiation with Spain, Florida became an American possession in 1819 with Jackson as its first territorial governor.

Jackson's policy towards the Indians mirrors his policy towards the Spanish in an important respect. It was about law and order, and security for our nation. H. W. Brands writes: "Unlike many of his white contemporaries, who asserted a higher claim to the land on grounds that they were civilized Christians, Jackson rarely addressed the cosmic morality of the land question. Instead he asked whether a particular arrangement would make the Union more secure of less." [P310] Remini, in his hostile polemic against Jackson's Indian policy, concedes "For General Jackson it was never his paramount wish to take the land from the Indians because of its intrinsic economic value ... National security was always his primary concern." [P113]

Jackson imposed a harsh punishment on the Creeks "for failing to keep order within the Creek nation and for thereby allowing the Red Sticks to commit their depredations against the whites." [P233] He "pointed out that under the treaty with General Washington that Big Warrior cited, the Creeks were obliged to hand over enemies of the United States, including the likes of Tecumseh. They hadn't." Like the Spanish, they allowed their land to become a staging ground for the enemies of the Unites States. That many Creeks joined Jackson to remedy the situation wasn't good enough. Ongoing security required successful self-government, which clearly wasn't sustainable under Indian rule.

Jackson like most Americans saw the Indian way of life doomed by the spread of civilization. "The game being destroyed, they can no longer exist by their bows and arrows and guns. ... As long as they are permitted to roam over vast limits in pursuit of game, so long will they retain their savage manners and customs. ... Circumscribe their bounds, put into their hands the utensils of husbandry, yield them protection, and enforce obedience to those just laws provided for their benefit, and in a short time they will be civilized."

The loss of wildlife and the increased desire for the goods of civilization led to the sale of the only valuable object in Indian possession: land. "As in the past, land was frequently transferred to settle debts owed by the tribes to trading companies or to the government-operated stores or factories. The Indians usually purchased more than they could afford and were then obliged to cede their land to pay what they owed. From 1791 to 1819 the Cherokees signed twenty-five treaties with the federal government to cancel debts, and the Creeks and Chickasaws signed almost as many." [P49] It was clear that Jackson was right about the viability of the traditional Indian way of life.

As President he demanded and signed the Indian Removal Act. "... as far as Jackson was concerned, the Indians could refuse to remove and stay where they were; but if they stayed, they had to recognize that they were subject to state law and jurisdiction. No longer could they live under their own laws and practices." [P237] He knew most would reject that alternative and provided for their resettlement west of the Mississippi in unsettled territory.

During the time of this policy, one tribe began a major transformation that suggested it was the exception to the rule. The Cherokees became a model of a peaceful mini-state with a reasonable constitution. But it was too late to see the cession of Georgia state land to facilitate the creation of a Cherokee state, as Georgia had ceded land for the creation of Alabama and Mississippi and North Carolina had ceded land for the creation of Tennessee. Jackson urged the Cherokee to accept state law; his successor, Martin van Buren, ordered their removal. (... to be continued ...)