SAN JOSE, Calif., Nov. 6, 2015 — While a majority of Americans could care little or even know that the month of November had been proclaimed American Indian Heritage Month, such a simple gesture of recognition of the value of the American Indian or all Native Americans is important. In no way can such an official designation compensate for the treatment of the American Indians by the U.S. government or some American citizens. However, simple respect for a once mighty people is the very least that American citizens today can offer as the past has passed and it cannot be altered, no matter how many want to reopen the the wounds of pain and suffering.
One of the worst episodes in U.S. history is the serious clash between American citizens and American Indians. It is extremely important to clearly understand the past and the origins of such conflicts in light of the very bold and dramatic change in U.S. governmental policy regarding the American Indians initiated by Andrew Jackson and his newly formed Democratic Party. In 1830, Jackson ushered through Congress one of the most controversial bills at the time: the Indian Removal Act. The long history of intense conflict between the U.S. government and American Indians became much more pronounced from this pivotal point in American history.
Unfortunately, the contemporary narrative provides only a partial and sometimes biased view of this history. Certainly today, a more complete or balanced history is not taught clearly in the American public school system. There are huge gaps in the history of the relations between the American Indians and the European descendants and American citizens, a fact that is not viewed as abnormal by a majority of contemporary academics, and that in itself is appalling. It has been “forgotten” that significant contributions were made by the American Indians during the establishment and growth of the U.S.
One significant contribution from American Indians that has been “forgotten” occurred when the United States of America was born, and two tribes from the powerful Iroquois Confederation aided the colonists in their fight against Great Britain. In reality, for one of the few times in the history of the Iroquois Confederation, the tribes did not require any unanimous consent for all tribes to act in a unified manner. Of the six tribes belonging to the Confederation, four maintained their alliance with the British and two sided with the upstart Americans. This alone serves as one of the reasons why citizens today should recognize and remember American Indian Heritage Month.
It has also been forgotten that the Continental Congress, acting under of the Articles of Confederation, passed the Northwest Ordinance, which declared that the land of the Indians belonged to the Indians! This narrative does not readily fit with the normal progressive-revisionist historian’s portrayal of the Founding Fathers as not caring for the American Indians.
Additionally, it has been forgotten that of three major political policy objectives George Washington had as he became president under the new U.S. Constitution was the focus on establishing peace treaties with the Indian nations. Additionally, the nation’s first president thought through and advocated an informal policy of assimilating the various Indian peoples into the nation via education and the teaching of Christian values and the cultural heritage of the European descendants. However, despite some very substantial success with such efforts in the first six presidential administrations, such efforts were abruptly reversed by Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party.
Downplayed as it may be in the study of American history, the founder and great-granddaddy of the Democratic Party, Andrew Jackson, destroyed the precedent established under the first six presidents, from Washington to John Quincy Adams, and reversed the view that honored Indian sovereignty on their homelands. In 1830, Andrew Jackson made sure that Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which essentially stole the ancestral lands of the five “civilized tribes” of the southeast region of the United States; it was land that the Indians had lived on for centuries, long before Columbus sailed across the Atlantic.
The Indian Removal Act became quite controversial at the time and remains controversial even today. Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee, the state where Jackson had been senator on his way to the presidency, spoke out strongly against such divisive legislation, as did New Jersey Sen. Theodore Frelinghuysen. Nevertheless, despite significant opposition to Democratic efforts in Congress, it eventually passed. The president and his party had gotten away with a very blatant and brutal redistribution of land ownership, about 100 million acres of traditional Indian lands, prime real estate throughout the southeastern U.S.
Although many Christians and missionaries protested against that legislation, it didn’t matter. The Christian missionaries living among the Cherokee were the ones who advised talking their case through the U.S. legal system, and the case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Native American tribes were sovereign nations and that state law had no jurisdiction over tribal lands, essentially that President Jackson’s efforts were unconstitutional: “The several Indian nations were distinct political communities having territorial boundaries within which their authority is exclusive, and having rights to all land within those boundaries, which is not only acknowledged, but guaranteed by the United States.”
Jackson ignored the legal precedents established by the Northwest Ordinance, the Constitution and the six previous presidents. He ignored the Supreme Court ruling and is reputed to have said, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.” To Jackson it was a simple transaction and a win-win for him and those who elected him. Democratic supporters got their greedy hands on the land, and old Andrew Jackson was elected president of the United States – twice.
Look for Part II – coming soon!