Monday, June 30, 2008

Washington's Indian Policy: the Ideal

At our country’s founding, the most pressing military problem facing the first administration of our “more prefect union” was not the imperialistic Europeans across the ocean but the aboriginal tribes forming the Indian nations west of the Appalachians. Henry Knox, our first Secretary of War, was the major architect of our Indian policy. In which was to be considered a controversial policy, he brought Indian affairs under the umbrella of the federal government by regarding Indian nations as foreign entities.

Considering our Indian policy as a foreign policy, Knox and Washington embarked on a course of action that was anything but isolationist, as many conservatives and libertarians want to imagine. One can go even further and argue that our very first President embarked on a foreign policy of nations-building that has overtones of Wilsonian idealism and undertaken with the utmost stoic posture of upright principle.

Joseph J. Ellis, in his recent book, “American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic,” describes the transformation of Washington’s Indian policy. At first, according to Ellis “The American Revolution, as Washington saw it, was a continuation of the French and Indian War for control of the eastern third of North America. The Peace of Paris (1763) had eliminated France from contention. Now the Treaty of Paris (1783) had eliminated Great Britain.” [p87] American colonists sought to settle the land from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River. With the aid of aboriginal populations, first the French and then the British sought to limit westward expansion by the colonists. The Declaration of Independence lodges the follow charges against the King of England:

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

Fully aware of the fate of aboriginal tribes along the Atlantic cost, Washington knew that the primitive hunter-gatherer cultures were no match for a expanding civilization rooted in the cultivation of the soil, able to sustain a population several order of magnitudes greater than the primitive means native to the North American continent. As noted at the time: “As our settlements approach their country … they … must, from scarcity of game, retire further back, and dispose of their lands, until they dwindle comparatively to nothing, as all savages have done … when compelled to live in the vicinity of civilized people.” [p132]

Washington’s outlook was radically influenced by Henry Knox, his Secretary of War. According to Ellis, Knox advocated regarding Indian tribes as sovereign states. The federal government could and would use its constitutional powers to make treaties with foreign powers. However, the viability of these sovereign territories would require a cultural transformation and modernization. Ellis says [p139]:

“All treaties would also contain a provision whereby the tribes would be provided with tools and instruction in husbandry so that they could make a gradual transition from hunting and gathering to agricultural economies, which would simultaneously allow Indian culture to evolve from a savage to a more civilized status and reduce the size of the territory necessary for Indian survival.”

“What Knox and Washington envisioned as the outcome of the new policy was a series of Indian enclaves or homelands east of the Mississippi whose political and geographic integrity would be protected by federal law. The wave of white settlements would be required to bypass these Indian enclaves, leaving several Indian territories east of the Mississippi that would eventually, over the course of the next century, be assimilated as new states.”

The spirit of the Washington administration is summed up as follows: [p161] “Knox and Washington, with an assist from Jefferson, chose to defy the odds and transform American policy toward the Native Americans. They did not do so because it was politically expedient, quite the opposite. They did so because the revolutionary fires still burned inside them and they knew, deep down, that Indian removal was incompatible with the republican values they cherished. … For, make no mistake, a referendum among the white citizenry would have produced an overwhelming majority for Indian removal.”

The problem was apparent almost immediately.

Alexander McGillivray was the head of the Creek nation. An educated man with a command of several ancient and modern languages, he was an accepted member of the Creeks by his tribal ancestry through his mother’s mother. For Ellis, he is the equivalent of an autocratic third world dictator playing one super power against the other. His rule was symptomatic of the corrupt leadership that rises in oppressive collectivist social systems.

The Creek nation encompassed present day Alabama and an equal-sized area from surrounding states. Homesteaders were expanding into Creek territory in western Georgia alarming McGillivray; uprooting farm communities once established is nearly impossible. To stop the expansion, McGillivray came to our nation's capital, New York, to sign the monumental treaty between the Creek nation and the federal government. “What became known as the Treaty of New York passed the Senate on August 7, 1790, by a vote of 15-4. Both Georgia senators voted in the negative …” [p156]

The treaty was unenforceable. What McGillivray wanted most was an end to the ‘illegal immigration’ into the Creek nation. It is the responsibility of a sovereign nation to secure its own borders; something beyond the ability of the Creeks. America had an open border policy welcoming immigrants to settle, work the land, and provide for their family. It certainly wouldn’t have an emigration policy restricting a person’s exit like a modern totalitarian state. Yet McGillivray had hoped the treaty would bring federal force against those seeking to settle in the Creek territory.

The federal government could not restrict travel across the Creek border; its army was minuscule during a period when the union relied on state militias. It had little desire to use the federal troops to confront one of its constituent states. Even John Quincy Adams, several decades later, would refuse to use federal troops to force Georgia to abide by the terms of federal treaties. Let’s remember that this was the late 18th and early 19th century. Eisenhower’s use of federal power in “Little Rock” would be more than a century away. The Creeks had more under arms than the federal government but the size of the border was too great. McGillivray turned to the Spanish for help but they had no manpower or desire to do what was virtually impossible.

A primitive hunter-gather nation of a few ten thousand could not protect a communal tribal enclave nor conceivably secure the borders of a nation twice the size of Alabama next to a country of four million, and doubling every 25 years. The dynamic of an expanding agricultural society that empowered and enfranchised the individual family overwhelms more primitive social orders. As settlers streamed into uncultivated lands seeking to “mix their labor with the soil” and provide for their families, a new social order was spreading west. Even without federal or state government interference, the influx would be overwhelming. Especially without federal interference!

Washington understood the ultimate clash with civilization and supplemented his foreign policy of recognizing sovereign rule with an outreach program to help transform these tribes into modern civilized entities by providing the tribes “with tools and instruction in husbandry so that they could make a gradual transition from hunting and gathering to agricultural economies” and thus transition “from a savage to a more civilized status.”

Instead of annihilation, nations-building was the policy. The creation of viable neighboring states, under the rule of law, living peacefully, and interacting profitably was the goal. This was an extremely ambitious program—and it failed. What went wrong?

(to be continued ...)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Remember Fort Mims!

Two hundred years ago we responded to savage attacks on civilization in a very different way. It is worth looking at the war on terrorism during the early days of our republic and the nation's response to the 9/11 of its day. Below I describe the Fort Mims Massacre and our immediate response. I'll continue to describe the changes in policy that followed in future articles.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Andrew Jackson and the Creek War

When Andrew Jackson arrived in Nashville in October of 1788 it was a frontier town with a few stores, several taverns, two churches and a distillery. Warring among Creeks, Shawnee, and Choctaws, had left this fertile land uninhabited until arrival of settlers a decade before. Now a small town of a few hundred inhabitants it was continually terrorized by Indians. The settlements “lost a man, woman, or child about every ten days, sometimes in the most ghastly fashion” in its first 15 years. [p61]

Jackson’s existential insecurity didn't revolve around the threat from aboriginal savages; his overriding concern and focus was the imperial threat of colonial European powers, Spain and England. The nation wasn’t secure on its southern border. It was not in control of the land, did not maintain adequate forts, and faced hostile Indian tribes that usually sided with the British. Jackson believed the war with Britain wasn’t settled. Since his appointment as commander of the Tennessee militia in 1802, he prepared for the inevitable.

The British continued to fund aboriginal proxies who were eager to wage war on the settlers. None was as eager, driven, and capable as the Shawnee chief Tecumseh. Together with his brother Tenskwatawa, called “the Prophet”, he called for the total annihilation of the whites from the North American continent. Fuelled by a religious mysticism creed, Tecumseh's call for a holy war, a jihad if you will, inflamed the souls of Indian tribes in the Western lands between the Mississippi and the Appalachians.

In the south, one group of Indians to heed Techumseh’s to annihilate the whites was the Red Stick Creeks. The British and their Spanish allies supplied the Red Sticks with munitions in Florida but the Indians were intercepted upon their return. Remini describes what follows:

“At noon on August 30, 1813, the Red Sticks, led by a new recruit, William Weatherford (Chief Red Eagle), counterattacked. They entered through an open gate, slaughtered the defenders, and burned the fort. It was one of the most appalling massacres in frontier history. ‘The fearful shrieks of women and children put to death in ways as horrible as Indian barbarity could invent’ echoed around the fort. The victims were ‘butchered in the quickest manner, and blood and brains bespattered the whole earth. The children were seized by the legs, and killed by batting their heads against the stockading. The women were scalped, and those who were pregnant were opened, while they were alive and the embryo infants let out of the womb.’ Red Eagle tried to stop this savagery, but many red clubs were raised over his head and he was forced to withdraw to save his own life. Between 250 and 275 white settlers, friendly Indians, and mixed-bloods were killed; between twenty and forty escaped.”

The barbarity of this attack outraged the nation. Calls for vengeance, considered a most righteous response, were loud and unequivocal. There were no apologists to argue that we brought it on ourselves; that Tenskwatawa practiced a peaceful religion hijacked by an evil one; or that liberation will reform these poor deprived souls. “Everyone knew what Tecumseh had been preaching. The Fort Mims attack showed that the sermon was being taken to heart. One didn’t have to be an alarmist to fear that the aboriginal war against all the whites had begun.” [p196] (Also, Willard p290-291.)

Jackson responded with all due haste but he knew the Indians were divided. He formed tactical alliances with Creeks who had been fighting the Red Sticks and with the Cherokees; and he drilled his own troops with a degree of discipline that earned him the nickname “Old Hickory.” The coalition defeated the Red Sticks in the battle of Horseshoe Bend. It remains the single greatest slaughter of Indians in American history. [p219]

In the core were a young Davy Crockett and Samuel Houston. Together with their fighting brothers they would put their training and experience to the test in an even greater challenge: the Battle of New Orleans. It was his stunning victory fighting the British in New Orleans that made Jackson the nation's enduring hero and ultimately propelled him to the White House.

His opposition to sovereign Indian nations in the American south continued undeterred and undiminished. (to be continued …)

Ref: H. W. Brands, Andrew Jackson, His Life and Times

Friday, June 27, 2008

Jackson’s Indian Policy

To understand Andrew Jackson’s Indian policy it is necessary to understand his view of the proper role of the federal government, the constitution, and the rights of the states. Jackson’s self-proclaimed political philosophy was anti-federalist in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson. He was a strict constitutionalist, as the term is currently used. He was an ardent defender of the Union as the only means of defending the sovereignty of the states from foreign threats. It was his belief that George Washington’s policy of recognizing Indian sovereignty was a violation of the constitution’s prohibition against removing land from existing states for the creation of new political entities.

The above summary is not without controversy in Jackson’s day or today. Let’s examine some of the evidence.

Andrew Jackson ran against John Quincy Adams in the 1824 and 1828 elections. Jackson had a plurality of electoral and popular votes in the first election but lacking a clear majority, the House of Representatives decided the election. Henry Clay, the third runner up, threw his support to Adams creating a popular uproar against what was viewed as an affront to democracy. Lacking a clear mandate for his big-government programs, Adams’ single term as President was severely hampered. “For all of his setbacks and suffering, John Quincy Adams had never abandoned his moral vision of energetic government and national uplift. Protective tariffs, federal road and canal projects, and the other mundane features of the American System were always, to him, a means to that larger end.” [p307]

Adams’ policies and programs, in Jackson’s opinion, violated the bounds of the constitution and invited the corruption of special privilege. In addition to protective tariffs and federal public works projects, Adams was a supporter of the Second Bank of the United States and Indian treaties going back to Washington. When the state of Georgia defied federal rulings on Cherokee boundaries, Adams rejected this early example of nullification but failed to take action against Georgia given his lack of political support.

After Jackson took over the White House, he systematically opposed the policies of his predecessors. He abolished the Second Bank of the United States, opposed a tariff to protect sectional interests, paid off the debt for the first and last time in American history, opposed the nullification of federal laws by the individual states, and completely discarded Washington’s Indian policy. Above all, he cited the constitution as the authority for his policies.

The extent of his policy of strict constitutionalism can be seen in this early example of First Amendment absolutism: When asked for a religious statement during an epidemic of cholera he said “Whilst I concur with the synod in the efficacy of prayer and in the hope that our country may be preserved from the attack of pestilence … I am constrained to decline the appointment of any period or mode as proper for the public manifestation of this reliance. I could not do otherwise without transcending those limits which are prescribed by the Constitution for the President, and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion now enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.” [p451]

In each case, however, he saw the locus of decision-making in the states and not the individual. His opposition to a federal bank led to the use of state banks, corrupted by special granting of privilege on the state level. His opposition to federal civil engineering projects didn’t extend to state funding. Even as he opposed federal displays of religious sentiment he did not encourage similar restraint by the state Governments.

This then leads us to consider Jackson’s Indian policy. It was a simple issue of state sovereignty under Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution. The creation of Indian nations within states of the Union was a clear violation of the constitution. There are two logical alternatives that exhaust the possibilities: either Indians comprise sovereign states or they are subject to the laws of existing states of the Union. The Supreme Court saw a third option by declaring, in 1831, that Indian nations are not foreign nations that can sue state governments but merely “domestic dependent nations.” In the next year, the Court decided to uphold federal treaties with these types of nations! [p488]

Woodrow Wilson, then Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, writes in his textbook on 19th century American history [1]:

“Jackson had, it should be remembered, in his message of December, 1829, taken his stand upon the Constitution in regard to this question. Those who would judge for themselves between Georgia and the Cherokees must resolve this point of law: if the power of the federal executive to negotiate treaties be added to the power of Congress to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes, do they together furnish a sanction for the erection of a permanent independent state within the territory of one of the members of the Union, and so override that other provision of the Constitution which declares that 'no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State' without the express consent of the Legislature of that State and of Congress? Judgment was passed upon the law of the case by the Supreme Court, and Jackson should unquestionably have yielded obedience to that judgment; but the point of law is a nice one.”

Jackson’s response was simple: if the Court was going to legislate from the bench they would have to enforce their own laws. He refused to act against Georgia, on principle, just as Adams had previously refused to act, albeit from weakness.

This then is Jackson’s outlook of the federal government’s proper role, the President’s power, his literalism in constitutional matters, and his imperial manner—all in the name of the will of the people—in conducting the dissolution of Indian nations east of the Mississippi. (… to be continued …)

[1] Woodrow Wilson, Epochs of American History: Division and Reunion 1829-1889, New York and London: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1898, p38

Update 4/6/09 My article above was based an analysis of several sources, all having major flaws in their approach. I now recommend the website of the University of Virginia for its brief but highly accurate treatment of Jackson's policies and motivation.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Original Trail of Tears

Jackson’s life spanned the early years of our nation's history from a loose association of rebellious colonies that hugged the Atlantic coast, to the emergence of a major continental power about to extend its reach to the Pacific. He lived to see the election of James Polk (“Young Hickory”) but not Polk's incorporation of Oregon, California, and the vast South West. Physically the nation matured but in its aspirations for a liberal order it faced formidable challenges.

Jackson saw strength in Union: it brought independence, gave us the ability to maintain that independence in the face of hostile enemies, and the power to liberate vast lands from imperial and autocratic rule. After the Revolution, however, union was all but certain. Indeed, it seemed highly unlikely. The early days of our nation were one of constant turmoil.

In the post-Revolutionary period, Loyalists were continuously subjected to intimidation and violence. From 1783 to 1785 about 100,000 Loyalists, approximately 3% of the population, were driven from our nation. Our Founding Fathers condemned the vigilante vengeance, at times at the risk of their own safety. “Hamilton was roundly abused, and his conduct was attributed to unworthy motives. But he face the people as boldly as he had faced the court … setting forth in the clearest light the injustice and impolicy of extreme measures against the Tories.” [p128] Our statesmen opposed mob violence that might have resulted in a Reign of Terror.

Friction between the States led to a tariff and trade war that strangled commerce. The issuance of paper money to absolve debt led to a general economic upheaval. Massachusetts faced Shay's rebellious mob. In Rhode Island, the advocates of paper money gained control of the legislature and instituted legal tender laws to force merchants to accept these worthless bills. “The merchants in the cities thereupon shut up their shops. During the summer of 1786 all business was at a standstill in Newport and Providence, except in the bar-rooms.” [p173] (See Federalist #10 and #44.)

Territory was in dispute. New York and New Hampshire both laid claimed to the district of Vermont. “New York sent troops to the threatened frontier, New Hampshire prepared to do like wise, and for a moment war seemed inevitable. But here, as in so many other instances, Washington appeared as peacemaker …” [p152] (See Federalist #7 and #28.)

Perhaps the most painful story was the fight over Wyoming Valley on the Susquehanna River just south of present-day Scranton, Pennsylvania. John Fiske describes what can be called the original trail of tears:

“The chronic quarrel between Connecticut and Pennsylvania over the valley of Wyoming was decided in the autumn of 1782 by a special federal court, appointed in accordance with the articles of confederation. The prize was adjudged to Pennsylvania, and the government of Connecticut submitted as gracefully as possible. But new troubles were in store for the inhabitants of that beautiful region. …

The people were starving with cold and hunger, and President Dickinson urged the legislature to send prompt relief to the sufferers. But the hearts of the members were as flint, and their talk was incredibly wicked. Not a penny would they give to help the accursed Yankees. … But the cruelty of the Pennsylvania legislature was not confined to words. A scheme was devised for driving out the settlers and partitioning their lands among a company of speculators. A force of militia was sent to Wyoming, commanded by a truculent creature named Patterson. … Patterson sent a letter to President Dickinson, accusing the farmers of sedition, and hinting that extreme measures were necessary. Having thus, as he thought, prepared the way, he attacked the settlement, turned some five hundred people out-of-doors, and burned their houses to the ground. The wretched victims, many of them tender women, or infirm old men, or little children, were driven into the wilderness at the point of the bayonet, and told to find their way to Connecticut without further delay. Heart-rending scenes ensued. Many died of exhaustion, or furnished food for wolves.” (See Federalist #7.)

It was the anarchy and gathering threat of war that prompted the Founding Fathers to assemble in Philadelphia to "form a more perfect union." Their leadership brought a fractious confederacy from the brink of war to forge a great nation--the United States of America--united to insure liberty, security, and peaceful coexistence. It was not at all obvious that this could succeed. The founders knew of few examples in history that could serve as an model for success on such a large scale. They knew the immensity of this task.

With all the commonalty of values and with a history of a common struggle, the peace and mutual respect among the colonies still required a long and hard struggle. Peace between the colonies and Indian tribes had far less of a foundation for success. (… to be continued …)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

From Washington to Jackson: the Expansion West

Washington and Jackson viewed westward expansion as necessary to the growth of the country. Both knew the frontier firsthand where the expansion of civilization was challenged by the savagery of the aboriginal inhabitants. When Washington was President and Jackson a young man the frontier lay beyond the Allegany and included the western parts of the great states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. The frontier culture created a divide between the west and east greater than that between the north and the south.

Thomas P. Slaughter, in “The Whiskey Rebellion” writes “During the 1780s many, if not most, Americans believed that the nation would inevitably divide in two. As a foreign traveler remarked in 1781, the possibility of ‘a separation of the federal union into two parts, at no distant day … was a matter of frequent discussion … and seemed to be an opinion that was daily gaining ground.” [Pp29-30] “As early as 1783 George Mason was predicting that continued neglect of the westerners’ needs would ‘occasion another war in less than seven years.’” [P30]

Indian attacks between the years 1783 and 1790 “killed, wounded, or took prisoner an estimated 1,500 whites … Massacres were widely reported in the East to the goriest last detail. Seldom did a week pass without some account of horror in the West. Massacres of peaceful Indians were no less brutal and were also repulsive to easterners.” [P94]

The settlers on the western frontier were constantly besieged by aboriginal terrorists with little help from the Continental Congress to establish order and security. The continuous butchery by the these savages was reported in a steady stream of horrific stories; the attacks had the intended effect of scaring away prospective settlers … but only the most genteel of early Americans. As a consequence, the frontiersmen were rugged and self-reliant but when they took the law into their own hands their vigilante actions could become ugly and indiscriminate.

Washington observed frontier culture firsthand during his long life. In 1748, at sixteen, George Washington journeyed west with a team of surveyors and formed his first impressions of the frontier. It was a dismal place of “the worst road that was ever trod by man of beast” and frontier settlers “amongst a parcel of barbarians and an uncouth set of people” that were “as ignorant a set of people as the Indians.” [P79]

In the 1780s eastern writers would report equally appalling conditions. “… all sorts of wickedness was carried on to excess, and there was no appearance of morality or regular order.” “Drunkenness almost universal...” “Men lived “beyond the arm of government and freed from the restraining influence of religion …” “… a parcel of abandoned wretches … [who lived] like so many pigs in a sty.” And this was just the western counties of Pennsylvania!

The new Federal government could not defend the settlers. In 1791, the expedition against the Miami Indians ended in humiliating defeat—the worst defeat by Indians in American history. The frontiersmen believed they had to take the law into their own hands. This and other disappointments with the newly formed Federal government increased the resentments to the tax on whiskey. This tax, requested by Alexander Hamilton, was against the very spirit of the revolution and even Hamilton’s own opposition to internal taxes in Federalist #12: " ...the people will ill brook the inquisitive and peremptory spirit of excise laws ..."

Slaughter writes, “the frontier of every state south of New York experienced unrest … there was little to mark western Pennsylvania as unique. The law was a dead letter in Kentucky, where no one would pay, no one would dare to collect, and no sheriff would try to enforce the excise.” [P118] “The situation was similar in North Carolina.” By contrast, “… little opposition manifested itself in the coastal areas …” [P119]

Western Pennsylvania, the site of the Whiskey Rebellion, was made an example; it was singled out by the Washington administration as the easiest place to fight and suppress the rebellion. This gives an estimate of the limits Federal power to impose law on the settlers on the Western frontier. Barely was it able to inforce Federal law over the settlers. To bring the Indians under federal law was unimaginable. It was in this context that Andrew Jackson moved to Nashville, then part of North Carolina, to establish his career as a lawman.

In Nashville, Jackson continued to practice law, became district attorney, attended the convention to draft a constitution for the new state of Tennessee, and became its first Congressman. In each of these roles he helped to bring law to the frontier. As Congressman he gained support for the Tennessee militia’s response to Cherokee attacks (1793) in the eastern part of the state—after the militia’s expedition.

He was appointed to the Senate, which he found tedious and unfulfilling. After a year, he resigned and accepted a Tennessee judgeship. In 1802, while still judge, he also became Major General of the Tennessee militia. As judge he traveled a circuit dispensing justice in a straightforward decisive clear and common sense manner that won respect for the law in this frontier land. As head of the militia Jackson made his name. (... to be continued ...)

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 ...)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Tocqueville on American Indians

The plight of the Indians in the first third of the 19th century is captured by an astute foreign observer during his study of American culture. Alexis de Tocqueville has an extensive description in chapter 18 of book 1 of his monumental study “Democracy in America.” It is worth considering his description as it differs completely from the highly politicized narratives of the last thirty years.

De Tocqueville describes the duel influence of expanding civilization in reducing Indian economic livelihood while increasing their desire for the products of civilized society. Settlement and cultivation of land diminishes wildlife that is hunted by aboriginal inhabitants for consumption and trade. At the same time manufactured products increase the desire for trade. This economic pressure leads to migrations into territory occupied by other native tribes and subsequent conflict. He writes:

“It is impossible to conceive the frightful sufferings that attend these forced migrations. They are undertaken by a people already exhausted and reduced; and the countries to which the newcomers betake themselves are inhabited by other tribes, which receive them with jealous hostility. Hunger is in the rear, war awaits them, and misery besets them on all sides.”

Despondently de Tocqueville remarks: “These are great evils; and it must be added that they appear to me to be irremediable. I believe that the Indian nations of North America are doomed to perish, and that whenever the Europeans shall be established on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, that race of men will have ceased to exist.” But what of assimilation and adoption of modern civilized ways? It is here that de Tocqueville takes a traditionalist view of cultural anthropology that is worth considering in its entirety:

“It is easy to foresee that the Indians will never civilize themselves, or that it will be too late when they may be inclined to make the experiment.

Civilization is the result of a long social process, which takes place in the same spot and is handed down from one generation to another, each one profiting by the experience of the last. Of all nations, those submit to civilization with the most difficulty who habitually live by the chase. Pastoral tribes, indeed, often change their place of abode; but they follow a regular order in their migrations and often return to their old stations, while the dwelling of the hunter varies with that of the animals he pursues.

Several attempts have been made to diffuse knowledge among the Indians, leaving unchecked their wandering propensities, by the Jesuits in Canada and by the Puritans in New England; but none of these endeavors have been crowned by any lasting success. Civilization began in the cabin, but soon retired to expire in the woods. The great error of these legislators for the Indians was their failure to understand that in order to succeed in civilizing a people it is first necessary to settle them permanently which cannot be done without inducing them to cultivate the soil; the Indians ought in the first place to have been accustomed to agriculture. But not only are they destitute of this indispensable preliminary to civilization, they would even have great difficulty in acquiring it. Men who have once abandoned themselves to the restless and adventurous life of the hunter feel an insurmountable disgust for the constant and regular labor that tillage requires. We see this proved even in our own societies; but it is far more visible among races whose partiality for the chase is a part of their national character.

Independently of this general difficulty, there is another, which applies peculiarly to the Indians. They consider labor not merely as an evil, but as a disgrace; so that their pride contends against civilization as obstinately as their indolence.

There is no Indian so wretched as not to retain under his hut of bark a lofty idea of his personal worth; he considers the cares of industry as degrading occupations; he compares the plowman to the ox that traces the furrow; and in each of our handicrafts he can see only the labor of slaves. Not that he is devoid of admiration for the power and intellectual greatness of the whites; but although the result of our efforts surprises him, he despises the means by which we obtain it; and while he acknowledges our ascendancy, he still believes in his own superiority.

War and hunting are the only pursuits that appear to him worthy of a man. The Indian, in the dreary solitudes of his woods, cherishes the same ideas, the same opinions, as the noble of the Middle Ages in his castle; and he only needs to become a conqueror to complete the resemblance. Thus, however strange it may seem, it is in the forests of the New World, and not among the Europeans who people its coasts, that the ancient prejudices of Europe still exist.”

Prior to the Indian Removal that climaxed in Jackson’s reign, reformers, usually Christian ministries, argued that the “five civilized tribes” had made great strides warranting a more enlightened treatment. My knowledge is inadequate to assess the details but de Tocqueville’s analysis is worth considering:

“Several of the Southern tribes, considerably numerous, and among others the Cherokees and the Creeks … had not been driven from place to place like their Northern brethren; but they had been gradually shut up within narrow limits, like game driven into an enclosure before the huntsmen plunge among them. The Indians, who were thus placed between civilization and death, found themselves obliged to live ignominiously by labor, like the whites. They took to agriculture and, without entirely forsaking their old habits or manners, sacrificed only as much as was necessary to their existence.

The Cherokees went further; they created a written language, established a permanent form of government, and, as everything proceeds rapidly in the New World, before they all of them had clothes they set up a newspaper.

The success of the Cherokees proves that the Indians are capable of civilization, but it does not prove that they will succeed in it. This difficulty that the Indians find in submitting to civilization proceeds from a general cause, the influence of which it is almost impossible for them to escape.”

De Tocqueville sees assimilation as slow and painful with the lure of the wilderness irresistible. He further faults the state governments for undermining federal policy.

“Although the Cherokees and the Creeks are established upon territory which they in- habited before the arrival of the Europeans, and although the Americans have frequently treated with them as with foreign nations, the surrounding states have not been willing to acknowledge them as an independent people and have undertaken to subject these children of the woods to Anglo-American magistrates, laws, and customs. …

The Creeks and Cherokees, oppressed by the several states, have appealed to the central government, which is by no means insensible to their misfortunes and is sincerely desirous of saving the remnant of the natives and of maintaining them in the free possession of that territory which the Union has guaranteed to them. But when it seeks to carry out this plan, the several states set up a tremendous resistance, and so it makes up its mind not to take the easier way, and to let a few savage tribes perish, since they are already half-decimated, in order not to endanger the safety of the American Union.”

This classic conflict between federalism and states rights jeopardized the union, with the national government backing away from the confrontation.

De Tocqueville, after describing the reformation of savage aboriginal cultures as a near impossibility concludes his review of American Indians with this fascinating paragraph:

“The Spaniards were unable to exterminate the Indian race by those unparalleled atrocities which brand them with indelible shame, nor did they succeed even in wholly depriving it of its rights; but the Americans of the United States have accomplished this twofold purpose with singular felicity, tranquilly, legally, philanthropically, without shedding blood, and without violating a single great principle of morality in the eyes of the world. It is impossible to destroy men with more respect for the laws of humanity.”