HomeArticlesJacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab
Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab
August 9, 2019
>>David Ferriero: Good afternoon. I’m David
Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States. It’s a pleasure to welcome you here to the
William G. McGowan at the National Archives. And a special welcome to those of you who
are joining us on our YouTube Channel. Today’s program takes us back to the Jacksonian
period when the President of the United States in one of his first actions ordered the expulsion
of NativeAmericans from their lands in the American South to lands west of the Mississippi
in a journey westward known as the Trail of Tears. We’ll learn more about the fight against
Jackson’s order from today’s guests but first I’d like to tell you about two upcoming programs
in the McGowan Theater. Tomorrow night at 7:00 PM we will present the 9th
Annual Charles Guggenheim tribute program Monument to the Dream. This film is Charles
Guggenheim’s Oscar nominated short documentary on the building of the St. Louis memorial
arch which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Recently digitally restored, the
film will soon play at a new museum and visitors center being built on the site. A discussion
will follow the screening. And as you leave the auditorium, if you’ve never noticed it
before, there is one of Charles Guggenheim’s Oscars in a case outside.
Thursday at noon we will host Senator Mike Lee of Utah who will discuss his book “Our
Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document.” In it Senator
Lee explains why some of today’s issues are the direct result of minimizing or ignoring
what he considers the most important provisions of the Constitution. A book signing will follow
the program. If you want to know more about these and other
upcoming programs, refer to our monthly Calendar of Events. There are copies in the lobby as
well as a signup sheet where you can receive it in the mail or email. Another way to get
more involved in the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives
Foundation which supports our education and outreach activities. There are applications
for membership also in the lobby. Our guest today is Steve Inskeep, host of
NPR’s “Morning Edition,” the most widely heard radio program in the United States. Inskeep
joined NPR in 1996 and his first fulltime assignment was the 1996 presidential primary
in New Hampshire. He has also covered the Pentagon, Senate, and the 2000 presidential
campaign of George W. Bush. After the September 11, 2001, attack he covered the War in Afghanistan,
turmoil in Pakistan, and the War in Iraq. In 2003, he received a National Headliner
Award for investigating a military raid gone wrong in Afghanistan. He has twice been part
of the NPR news teams that received the Alfred I. DuPont Columbia University Silver Baton
for Coverage of Iraq. During the 2008 presidential campaign he and NPR’s Michele Norris conducted
the New York Project, ground breaking conversations about race which also received an Alfred I.
DuPont Columbia University Silver Baton for Excellence Award.
Inskeep is the author of “Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi, a 2011 book on one of
the world’s great megacities. The book he will discuss today is “Jacksonland” a forthcoming
history of President Andrew Jackson’s longrunning conflict with John Ross, a Cherokee chief
who resisted the Jackson order to remove the Indians from the eastern United States in
the 1830’s. And “The Washington Post” review of the book, David Treuer wrote the story
of the Cherokee removal has been told many times but never before given us such a sense
of how it happened and what it meant not only for Indians but also for the future and soul
of America. Please join me in welcoming Steve Inskeep.
[Applause]>>Steve Inskeep: Thank you very much. Thank
you. Good afternoon. It’s an honor to be here. I’m glad you came out and joined us on your
lunch hour. I’m really looking forward to this discussion, especially in this location.
David kindly mentioned that I’ve covered a lot of things in the world. I look at my job
essentially as covering democracy. That’s the story we’re telling on NPR. It’s like
a giant miniseries with too many characters, very badly plotted, lots of plot twists. Democracy,
that’s what we do. And this story, “Jacksonland” is, in my mind, the back story of democracy,
the back story of the politics that I cover every day here in the United States.
I know that it will surprise you that when you cover political issues every day, that
sometimes it’s a tiny bit frustrating. Three or four years ago it got exceptionally frustrating
for me and I had to go in some direction. I decided to go back into history, to go back
to our beginnings to try to get a better sense of how things became as they are.
Now, the first thing that I discovered in going back into the 19th Century, particularly,
was alcohol, whiskey, rye whiskey, which America was pretty much drunk on for the entire 19th
Century. When you hear this story or any other story about the 19th Century, you should keep
in mind that a large percentage of the characters, whether the author notes it or not, are probably
ripped a good percentage of the time. So I thought a lot about whiskey. I even bought
a little rye whiskey, became a bit of a connoisseur. But that only takes you so far. So I ended
up with this other story, this story that enters on the 1830’s, though it begins a little
bit before. It’s a story of how our democracy came to take shape.
One of the reasons that I’m excited to talk about it here at the National Archives is
because some of the research for this book was done here at the National Archives. We’re
looking on the screen at a petition. This is a petition from the early 1830s. It’s been
preserved in a metal box here at the Archives. You will notice that the names signed on this
petition, many of them are written in a nonEnglish script. It’s Cherokee. Cherokees in the early
19th Century had developed and spread their own written version of their language, the
first Indian nation to do so. They had the status of an independent nation though they
accepted, in effect, the dominion of the United States. And they were petitioning for their
rights. They made petition after petition. They were sent to Congress and preserved here
at the National Archives. Here’s another one. These names are in English.
Cherokees were petitioning their allies as well as their opponents within the larger
white population of the United States at that time were also sending their petitions and
making their arguments to Congress. This was a great democratic battle.
Now, we learn a tiny bit about this in school, elementary school or junior high school. You
learn about something called the Trail of Tears. There are many people who were deeply
into this history. Other people get just a little bit. You’ve heard about the Trail of
Tears. Haven’t you? You’ve heard that phrase. There is a lot more to the story, I discovered,
than that. Essentially what we’re talking about here is real estate. This is a story
of democracy. It’s a story of politics. It’s a story of diversity in America but at the
end what we’re looking at is a battle over the control of real estate. This is a little
bit of the real estate in question. This is outside Florence, Alabama. What you see in
the background behind the lovely horse are the ruins of a plantation house that was built
in the 1820s by a friend of Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson, this man, James Jackson, no
relation, and a number of other friends had captured a vast amount of real estate which
is today referred to as Northern Alabama or the Tennessee River Valley. They had colonized
a large part of that real estate. They had managed to obtain large amounts of that real
estate, tens of thousands of acres for themselves. And some of them established plantation and
moved in and these plantations were run by African slaves.
What we’re learning about here is the creation of the American South which happened in the
early 19th Century. This is a prequel to the Civil War. It’s also a prequel to the democratic
debates of our time, the debates that I have to cover every day, because our democratic
system was being worked out and many of our modern democratic institutions were being
put into place. There are two vital characters in this story.
The first is a man who has come down to us as the hero of early American democracy, Andrew
Jackson, seen here in 1815. This is a great painting, my favorite painting of Andrew Jackson,
because of the details of it, because he’s not idealized in any way. This is a man who
has just become a national hero because he was the victor of the Battle of New Orleans
against the British and also the Battle of Horseshoe bend against a rebellious band of
Creek Indians. You see here a man in his late 40s. He’s
got some wrinkles around the eyes. He doesn’t look that pleasant or happy to be there. You
can even notice, if you look closely, he looks awfully thin in that uniform. This is a man
who was terribly unhealthy most of his adult life, who suffered from horrible stomach pains
during the War of 1812 so bad that the only way he could get relief while on the march
was sometimes he would have an aid cut down a sapling, a tree, and he would drape himself
over the tree in a particular position where he would have temporary relief from the pain.
And yet this man went ahead, drove his ramshackle improvised Armies to victory, became a national
hero and ultimately president of the United States and ended up on the $20 bill where
he remains today although his image has become immensely more complex to say the least, much
darker because of changing views of the story that I want to tell.
That story involves another main character. This man is an Indian, a Cherokee. His name
is John Ross. He’s pictured here I think in the 1820s. You can see a number of interesting
things about John Ross. He’s wearing white man’s clothes and in that he was representative
of the Cherokee Nation at that time. From the earliest days of the United States, Cherokees
who had long been a powerful and influential nation in the Southern Appalachians, had decided
to adopt the ways of white civilization, as it was then phrased. They changed their clothing.
They also changed their economy. They adopted what we would consider more modern forms of
agriculture, for example. They changed their government in time. And John Ross was central
in that. Ultimately in the 1820s, the Cherokees adopted a constitution that in many ways was
modeled on the Constitution of the United States, which you can see here in this building,
of course. And John Ross was central to that change.
The Cherokees were so assiduous in adopting the ways of their white neighbors, they even
picked up the white man’s practice of owning slaves. And they owned several thousand slaves
at the time of this story. John Ross himself was a slave owner. Both of my main characters
were slave owners. No one is a saint in this story. They were active in a time when the
United States looked very different than it does today. And I’d like to give you a sense
of that simply by describing, if I might, a boat ride that John Ross took at the end
of 1812. He got in a boat with three other men goodness.
I just dropped my thing there. We’ll just put this down here or I’ll clip it back on.
Doesn’t look good on YouTube, guys. He got on a boat with three other men. They
prepared to travel down the Tennessee River. They started what is today Chattanooga, Tennessee.
There was a very small settlement there at that time. The boat was loaded with trade goods.
They were heading through what white men would then call wilderness. It was actually a secession
of Indian nations heading down the Tennessee River toward the Ohio. They briefly beyond
the Ohio, then down the Mississippi, then cross the Mississippi and head west. They
wanted to trade with a band of Cherokees there. Anyone covertly studying the boat would have
seen four men on board. John Ross was blackhaired, browneyed, slight but handsome. Each of his
three companions could be described in a phrase, a Cherokee interpreter, an older Cherokee
man named Kalsatee and a servant who was likely a slave. But Ross was harder to categorize.
He was the son of a Scottish trader whose family lived among Cherokees for generations
in their homeland in the Southern Appalachians. Ross was an aspiring trader himself yet he
also had a solid claim to his identity as an Indian, a man of mixed race. He had grown
up among Cherokee children and in keeping with Cherokee custom received a new name at
adulthood, Koo-wi-s-gu-wi. It was said to be a species of bird.
Whether he was a white man or an Indian became a matter of life and death. On December 28,
1812, in Kentucky, as Ross later recorded in a letter, “We was hailed by a party of
white men.” The men on the river bank called for the men to come closer. Ross asked what
they wanted. “Give us the news!” One of them called back. Something about Ross bothered
the men. “I told them we had no news worth their attention.” Now the white men revealed
their true purpose. One shouted that they had orders from a Garrison of soldiers nearby
to stop every boat descending the river to examine if any Indians was onboard as they
were not permitted to come about that place. “Come to us,” the men concluded, “or we’ll
come to you.” Ross didn’t come. “Damn my soul if those two are not Indians!” One of the
men shouted, referring to two of Ross’ crew. The man added that he would gather a company
of men to pursue and kill them. Ross came up with an answer. “Those two men are Spaniards,”
he said. The white men demanded the Spaniards prove their identity by speaking Spanish.
Peter, the servant, actually could but the white men still insisted it was an Indian
boat and mounded their horses and galloped off.
Ross had to assume the white men were serious. The United States had declared war on Britain
that year. And some native nations adjoined the British side killing white settlers, fighting
alongside British troops, and throwing the frontier into turmoil. The white horsemen
would not pause to find out that Ross’ Cherokees were loyal to the United States. The Cherokees
could travel in only one direction and would have little chance to escape if the men on
horseback arranged an unpleasant reception downstream.
Ross decided on a precaution. He whitened the boat. He had told the horsemen there were
no Indians onboard. And the best chance of safety was to make this claim appear true.
He modified the racial composition of his crew leaving only those who could pass as
nonIndian. Ross could pass as could the Cherokee interpreter who, like Ross, was an English
speaker and a mixed blood, parlance for part white, part Indians. The servant, who may
have been a black man, would be ignored. Only old Kalsatee was a fullblood Cherokee with
no chance to fool anybody. His mere presence might even cause the others to be perceived
as Indians. This apparently was Ross’ thinking because as he confided later, “We concluded
it was good policy to let Kalsatee out of the boat.” The old man would have to set off
over land and meet the craft later. The remaining crew put their poles in the water and shoved
toward whatever lay ahead. John Ross spent two anxious days on the water.
And Kalsatee had a disagreeable walk of about 30 miles, probably along the bank opposite
from where they had seen the horsemen. Finally the old man rejoined the boat downstream and
they all floated to a safe haven, Fort Massac, on the Ohio River, manned by professional
soldiers who could tell friend from foe. The horsemen never reappeared.
Reflecting on this afterward, Ross said he was convinced that the independent manner
in which he answered the horsemen had confounded their apprehension of it being an Indian boat.
Indians were supposed to be children of the woods, in a common phrase of the era, dangerous
but not too bright and expected to address white men respectfully as elder brothers.
Ross had talked back to the men in clear and defiant English. The future leader of the
Cherokee Nation had passed as white. You can begin to sense there what is so appealing
about this story. It feels very modern, doesn’t it? We’re talking about a man of mixed race
in a very diverse America where there are many different kinds of people trying to figure
out the rules under which they’re going to live together and still fit sought together
as one country. You hear about a man passing as one race or another. You hear about stories
of racial conflict. It all sounds familiar and yet strangely different for many reasons,
one of them being that the map of the United States was different. I mentioned that this
is about many things but at heart about real estate. Let’s look at some real estate.
This is a map of the United States as it looks at the beginning our story in 1812. You can
see that along the Eastern Seaboard things look rather familiar. As you head further
west, things begin to get rather sketchy. But many things are recognizable there. You
can see states like Tennessee where Andrew Jackson moved as a young man from the Carolinas.
You can see the state of Georgia. Looks just the same on that particular map. You can see
Mississippi Territory which is about to become two states, Mississippi and Alabama. You can
see Louisiana. Florida is there. It’s still owned by Spain but the United States is confident
it’s going to get that pretty soon. The further west you go, though, the more blank the map
becomes. Now, you notice I didn’t label it a map of
the United States although that’s what it is. I labeled it the White Man’s Map. That’s
because there were two different mutually exclusive maps of the same territory. There
was a White Man s Map and an Indian Map. We’ve zoomed in a little bit here. We’re now looking
at what we would think of as the southern United States but this time we’ve looked we’ve
added in boundaries of land that was legally owned by independent or semi independent Indiana
nations, sovereign Indian nations. The Cherokees, the Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws. The Seminoles
are in Spanish Florida. You see the map looks very different. Georgia
is just this small enclave, relatively small enclave, along the ocean. Tennessee doesn’t
look anything like it does. Mississippi Territory doesn’t even exist. Even North Carolina is
a little bit different shaped. South Carolina is a little bit different shaped there in
1812. Kentucky as well. This was the legal reality of that moment.
Europeans had come. They had won by treaty or conquest the right to own the land to the
east and to the north. But they had also, by treaty, confirmed and the United States,
its new government, had gone on to confirm the rights of the Indian nations to this land.
And yet this different map of this same territory was imagined at the same time. And that’s
the fundamental conflict of this book, an effort to make these two conflicting maps
into one. That battle would be fought out in our democratic
system. And this is something that I did not fully realize before beginning my research
on this book, before coming to the Library of Congress, before coming here to the National
Archives, before taking road trips through the South and elsewhere and discovering many
documents, discovering how vital it was to our early democracy this battle and how central
the Indians themselves were to the fight. You do learn in school about Cherokees being
forced along the Trail of Tears. It is right that that is now taught in school. I just
don’t think it’s the whole story. I don’t even need to tell you that I don’t think that.
The documents do not show that to be the whole story. The whole story is that Cherokees engaged
themselves actively in their own defense. One of the reasons you saw John Ross in white
man’s clothes was that he was of mixed race. But another reason was the Cherokees were
changing and adapting their culture in order to preserve their place in the Southern Appalachians
and to have a role for themselves within this new dynamic and rapidly growing country. That
was a distinct political choice. The Cherokees, I came to think of them as almost as immigrants,
assimilating to a new country except, of course, that the new country was coming to them, to
their ancient homelands. Some of the Indian nations and leaders within the Indian nations
wished to remain fully independent from the United States.
That was not John Ross’ strategy as this young man became increasingly identified with the
Cherokee side of his identify and ultimately became the principle chief, the leader of
the Cherokee Nation. He wanted Cherokees to have a role within the United States. There’s
a letter from I believe 1816 in which John Ross writes, “We consider ourselves to be
a part of the great family of the republic of the United States.” Some Indians wanted
out of this new country. The Cherokees wanted in. They fought in many ways. They worked
to assimilate. When that did not appear to be enough, they worked to negotiate. And when
they realized they needed a stronger government, John Ross and other Cherokees were among the
leaders who established a new constitution which was designed to strengthen their ability
to hang on to their land. They fought with white allies. And there was not as great a
convulsion as there would soon be over slavery in the United States but there was a significant
political convulsion which peaked just as our other main character, Andrew Jackson,
was elected President of the United States in 1828.
Jackson was a slightly impatient man and a determined man. He in many ways did come to
symbolize the pattern of Western settlement that led to this tremendous conflict over
the maps. He was born on the border between North and South Carolina. He was orphaned
at a young age. His father died before he was born. His mother died when he was quite
young, during the Revolutionary War, died of cholera. He moved West with nothing or
next to nothing. He may have had a small inheritance. He became a lawyer, largely selfeducated lawyer,
and a brawler and a drinker and a fighter and also tried to make himself into an early
version of a Southern gentleman. Quite early in his life he purchased his first slave,
a young woman. Controversy followed the politician with the
wiry hair. Although his ownership of slaves was unremarkable in Tennessee, he sometimes
engaged in slave dealing, a business that even slave owners considered disreputable.
He also endured criticism for his continuing tendency to challenge other men to duels a
practice that remained common but illegal. In 1806 Jackson led an exchange of insults
with a Nashville man, escalated into a duel, and resolved to kill his opponent. Jackson
let the other man shoot first, took a lead ball near his heart that would remain in his
body for the rest of his life and yet remained standing. He took time to be sure of his aim
before firing a fatal shot in return. Unfortunately for Jackson, his antagonist
was a popular young man whose death stained Jackson’s reputation. And that reputation
was already colored by scandal. It was widely known that he had been together with Rachel,
his wife, for years before she completed her divorce from an abusive husband. Rachel and
Andrew lived as husband and wife from 1790 or `91 onward even though the formal decree
ending her previous marriage did not arrive until 1793. They had to be remarried in 1794
to clear up doubts about their status. But having married, they cultivated a conventional
family life. With no children of their own, they adopted their son Andrew Jr. from Rachel’s
relatives. When Jackson traveled, his miserable wife wrote him letters urging him to hurry
home. He wrote back tenderly to express regret that he could not.
The muddled circumstances of his marriage proved to be characteristic of Jackson. He
took counsel of what he wanted, what his friends desired, and what he felt to be right. He
was guided less by the norms of society than by what he considered just as he wrote in
his letters, often capitalizing the word. For his marriage to Rachel, the most romantic
act of his life, he was willing to endure decades of whispers and insults. A darker
manifestation of this characteristic came out in Jackson’s slave trading. The social
convention that it was acceptable to own human beings as property but that only lowdown characters
would engage in slave trade would have been just as sort of elaborate hypocrisy by which
Jackson refused to be governed. Modern readers could wish he resolved by rejecting both practices.
Instead he embraced them both when it suited his interests.
His approach to slavery foreshadowed his approach to federal Indian policy. He would reject
what he saw as its false piety and rewrite the policy in the way that suited people like
himself. Until the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, until his service in that war, the
record of Jackson’s career suggests a talented man thrashing about in the dark, trying to
locate a ladder that no man in his backgroundclimbed. His speeches made an impression in the House
of Representatives but he left his seat. He served briefly in the Senate but resigned
and went home, becoming a justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court. He won election in 1802 as
a Major General in command of the Tennessee Militia but for years found no wars to fight.
Like many a Westerner– and this was considered the West, by the way. Tennessee was the West.
That was the frontier. Like many a Westerner, he speculated in land. He bought and sold
the rights to tens of thousands of acres, including land alongside the Mississippi River
that eventually became Memphis. It was common for speculators to buy the rights to Indian
land and then press their politicians to clear it of Indians, pressure that Jackson, as a
politician himself, was well connected to apply. But he made the mistake of dealing
with men more dreamyeyed than he was. And when one of his land sales unraveled, Jackson
struggled to avoid bankruptcy and the risk of debtor’s prison. That was long before the
War of 1812. When his military and diplomatic triumphs opened new horizons for a man with
a real estate background and business connections of during that war he was a general in command
of an Army. When it was over, he applied his relentless
energy to the conquest of acreage. Jackson, according to the documents that I found, obtained
with his friends some 45,000 acres in what is now North Alabama with different names
on the titles at different times, turned them into a variety of plantations, created what
is still a very vibrant world, a vibrant area of the Tennessee River Valley. And that was
just one of his conquests which he managed while serving both as a public official and
a private real estate developer. Donald Trump. I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that. There’s
a conflict of interest, actually. It doesn’t actually apply to Donald Trump, come to think
of it. He’s one man, very open about everything. This was a time when a man could be a public
official, have private business interests. The notions of ethics were different. The
notions of ethics were very different. And somewhat in secret but partly in the open
he and his friends were colonizing this new world and they were changing the map.
This battle would extend to become a great national controversy after his election as
president in 1828. His election was momentous because no man from such humble beginnings
had ever risen so far. It was a significant watershed in American history. It was part
of a process that unleashed tremendous energy in the country. And Jackson also took care,
took advantage, rather, of this process new and creative ways. He was an avid newspaper
reader. He subscribed to as many as 17 newspapers at a time. And he would save articles, clip
them out, and send them to people later to offer information to smite an enemy or to
encourage people to move along. As his political faction became what is now
known as the Democratic Party, there would be more and more newspapers that were Jacksonian
newspapers. There was an ideology being spread through this new media, a rapidly growing
population, was redefining what it meant to be an American, redefining the government
of the United States and what it was to stand for, emphasizing the idea of democracy which
as many of you well know, many of the founding fathers had been quite skeptical of. They
did not set up a system with the United States Constitution of pure democracy. The system
would become more democratic in the age of Jackson but it was an explicitly white democracy
and that became ever more explicit in this same period, which is why also this feels
to me like a profoundly modern story because what we had at that moment was people in a
very diverse country trying to figure out how to make sure that everyone’s rights were
protected but that the country still held together as a single nation. You can appreciate
the challenge that they faced and still fiercely criticize the answers, the solutions they
came up with. Another map will show that solution in one
way. We’ve seen the White Man’s Map of 1812. We’ve seen the Indian Map of 1812. This is
what I call Jacksonland. This is the slightly different twist on the modern map of the United
States. The land that is marked out there is all land that Andrew Jackson was personally
involved in obtaining from Indian nations through wars, through treaty negotiations
as a peacetime general, then as President of the United States. It is part or all of
I believe seven states Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, a bit of
North Carolina. It’s an empire and it was added to the United States in this era between
1812 and 1838 which is the date of the Trail of Tears. It’s to me a vital and incredible
story and it continues to go on. There’s one more thing I want to say about
this region I call Jacksonland before I invite your questions. It’s this. All the Indian
nations were removed from Jacksonland and yet when you travel Jacksonland today, you
find Indians. You can travel to Cherokee, North Carolina, and find the descendants of
a band of Cherokees and were finally allowed to stay in some of the most remote part of
the mountains and still in the far western tip of North Carolina. And Cherokee, North
Carolina, rather than being a place where Cherokees hide is a tourist town with moccasin
shops, a gigantic Harrah’s Casino and really charming people and a lovely museum, the Museum
of the Cherokee Indian. The Cherokee culture is upheld there rather than being driven underground.
You will find groups of people who claim Indian ancestry, large groups of them, in Alabama
and other places who aren’t even recognized by the Cherokee Nation which is now centered
in Oklahoma but people are there and proudly claiming their Indian ancestry.
And that leads to another irony which you can see in this photo that I took earlier
this year when I was in Cherokee, North Carolina. This to me is kind of amazing because here
we are going into Jackson County, North Carolina, one of many things in Jacksonland named after
Jackson. There’s a reason there’s a Jackson, Mississippi and a Jacksonville, New York,
and a Jackson County, Alabama, Jackson County, North Carolina, Jacksonville, Alabama, and
a number other places. We’re going into Jackson County, North Carolina. But at the same time
we are going on to the Cherokee Indian Reservation, a chunk of land that has now been reserved
to Cherokees once again. We have arrived more than a century later, century and a half,
closing in on two centuries even, at the world that John Ross, the Cherokee leader, envisioned
in 1816 when he wrote that we consider ourselves a part of the great family of the republic
of the United States. He spoke in later years of getting the Cherokee Nation to obtain territorial
or ultimately state status as an American state. He spoke of Cherokees obtaining American
citizenship, formal American citizenship, and somehow preserving their culture while
remaining part of the wider American life. We could have a long discussion about the
imperfections of what has happened today. Indian reservations by and large are the poorest
places or among the poorest places in the United States, for example. But we now have
the reality today that was envisioned back then of people holding on to bits of their
ancient sovereignty and bits of their ancient culture while still participating in the wider
American life. Let me show one more photograph which suggests
why this is a vital and important story today. It’s also a photo from Cherokee, North Carolina.
It’s a few more signs. I love these signs. If you look over here I have a laser pointer.
This is very exciting. Right there you can see that the Cherokee language is on the street
signs, Lambert Branch Road. You see it in Cherokee underneath. You can see that the
restaurant there, Paul’s Family Restaurant is advertised as Indianowned. And that the
menu includes Indian tacos, which are really good. And you see the Our Lady of Guadalupe
Catholic Church where it says Sunday Mass, 9:00. It also says Mia En Espanol, which represents
another wave of migration coming to this same region adding to it and perhaps transforming
it over time once again. This is the challenge that we all face today
in 2015. How do we create and continually recreate a country in which we respect everyone’s
individual rights and still hold together as one nation? It’s the challenge we face
now. It’s the challenge they faced then. And I believe there is much to learn from this
bit of the past that’s captured in Jacksonland. Thank you very much.
[Applause] Thank you. I will be happy to take questions
either until I get a signal to stop or until this book falls off the perch that it’s on.
There are microphones at the side as you have seen. I would just ask two things: if you
would ask a direct question to keep the conversation going and start by giving me your name so
we get to know each other a little bit. Sir?
>>David Ruffin: David Ruffin. I appreciate your anecdote about John Ross’ near traffic
stop on the boat ride. As a black man, I thought that was quite interesting.
>>Steve Inskeep: Thank you.>>David Ruffin: Can you give us more about
the mechanics of the Indian removal? What were some of the things in terms of actually
pushing them out? How did that happen?>>Steve Inskeep: Amazingly I’ll use air quotes,
voluntarily. And that was the idea, was to be profoundly humane, to push Indians to the
west to Oklahoma for their own good. And there were Indians who believed this as well, by
the way, that they were being destroyed by their contact with white civilization and
that the best thing for them would be segregation. That wasn’t the word used. It was called Indian
removal. And the Indian Removal Act was the first great legislation of Jackson’s presidency.
But it was segregation. Let’s put them off to the side where they won’t be bothered by
white men and they’ll stop drinking so much of the white man’s alcohol. White people were
unbelievably drunk at this time but people were concerned about Indians being drunk.
And they can restore their own cultures and govern themselves and not mess with the sovereignty
of the United States which was the other issue. But it was agreed that natives had rights
and that they should not simply be forced out by war. So there would be treaty negotiations.
And these treaty negotiations would be profoundly unequal. Andrew Jackson was personally involved
in a number as a general and then oversaw a number as president of the United States.
Jackson’s technique was to go to Indians and say I’m your friend, I’m on your side, I think
this is good for you; I want to pay for your land but if you don’t pay, there’s these white
settlers who are coming over and there’s going to be nothing I can do to stop them and you’re
going to be destroyed so what do you say? You can imagine that coercive situation. That
was the pattern of negotiations again and again.
The Indians would fight back. I should mention that John Ross had a very special way to fight
back that to me is profoundly resonant of the African American experience in America.
The Cherokees during the War of 1812 at the moment of Andrew Jackson’s rise were fighting
in the War of 1812 on Andrew Jackson’s side, on the side of the United States, in Andrew
Jackson’s Army. And after the war John Ross, on more than one occasion, reminded people
in the government, hey, we fought for you; now look after our rights. Which is something
that African Americans have tried in war after war after war after war with different levels
of success. John Ross actually did enjoy some temporary
success. So Cherokee and others pushed back. But there were treaty negotiations. The Cherokees
founded a stronger government which more successfully resisted the treaty negotiations. So ultimately
Jackson’s administration signed a treaty with a breakaway faction of Cherokees. And they
were told they had to be out by May 23, 1838. Now, it’s hard to generalize because each
nation’s experience was somewhat different but ultimately the mechanics were a treaty
would be signed, some process of law would be followed, and if that didn’t work and people
refused to leave, the troops would be sent. The Trail of Tears is an incredibly intricate
and dramatic story which in “Jacksonland” turns out I think in subtle but important
ways different than the short version. It did begin with soldiers forcing people out
until they agreed to move voluntarily. The Seminoles had a fullon rebellion and it ended
up being a sevenyear war, roughly the length of U.S. combat involvement in Vietnam, before
they ultimately agreed to leave. It was often quite brutal. But it was always legal which
is a reminder to be careful about what we call legal.
I should mention also that this was challenged before the United States Supreme Court by
the Cherokees. John Marshall, the Chief Justice of the United States in the 1830s, ruled in
favor of Cherokees, ruled that the Indian Map was obviously the correct and legal map
of the United States. In short, the administration’s the Jackson
Administration’s response to that ruling was to sidestep it and to find ways to get natives
to sign treaties and sign their land away anyway. You can imagine if after Brown v.
Board of Education in the 1950s the Eisenhower Administration had said I don’t like this
court ruling and done things to undermine it. History would be very, very different.
Let me go over to this side, stir.>>Mark: Mark. You touched on a lot of what
I was going to ask. Let me try to summarize it. Thank you for that.
There were alliances tried but because of battles that were hundreds of years or thousands
of years between tribes, they couldn’t consolidate. I’m curious. Ross had tried to accommodate
the whites and hopefully receive some type of benefit beyond the Trail of Tears but what
did other tribes think of the Cherokees in that regard since their attacks were obviously
different and maybe more successful for them personally?
>>Steve Inskeep: Well, there were rivalries. Sometimes when you look into the history,
you see the Cherokees allied with the Creeks, their neighbors, for example. Ultimately they
went different ways. You make a good point. It was difficult for
these nations to unite even within themselves. They faced challenges in doing that in an
increasingly democratic age. The Cherokees were overwhelmingly behind John Ross, every
bit of evidence shows so. There were occasions in which thousands voted and voted overwhelmingly
for John Ross but they could not get every member of their elite to be on the same side
forever and ultimately a few of the elites went off and signed treaty. The Creeks were
bitterly divided among themselves but ultimately a divide and conquer strategy worked there
as well. There was a man, William McIntosh, who signed the treaty when his leaders would
not. So there was an awful lot of divide and conquer going on.
It’s worth remembering that even if all the Southern Indians who — that Indians were
united, their populations were never that large and they had been devastated by smallpox
and other white man’s diseases, devastated by wars, by other factors. And there were
maybe 50,000 of them against a country that was in the millions and growing by the millions
every decade. They were going to be massively outnumbered no matter what.
The Cherokees genius, I think even though it didn’t work in the end, was to recognize
that they couldn’t say we’re all going to stick together and massively resist. They
couldn’t say we’re going to go and fight a war. They would be outnumbered, would lose.
It was to fight within the emerging democratic system and to make noise within the American
democratic system and attempt to divide the white population somewhat. There were a few
moments when they were near success. Sir?
>>Steven Shore: A wonderful talk. My name is Steven Shore. When it became in those instances
a matter of involvement by the U.S. Army in deportation, were there any instances where
American soldiers refused to participate? And if so, were they disciplined?
>>Steve Inskeep: I cannot cite an exact act of civil disobedience but I would commend
to you, if you choose to buy the book, a chapter about John E. Wool, a general at that time
— I’m sure you could find on your own if you don’t wish to buy the book — commanding
general in charge of overseeing the preparations for a removal. General Wool was willing to
follow orders but increasingly dismayed by the crazy scheme that he had been caught up
in and caught between the Jackson Administration, which said they’re leaving by this date, get
ready to do it, and the Cherokees who said we are not going anywhere, our legal rights
were upheld by the Supreme Court, treaty is bogus, we’re not going anywhere; you’ll just
have to kill us or something. They didn’t say that exactly but they said we are not
going anywhere. And you see Wool increasingly conflicted by the reality of what was being
demanded of him. At one point, he receives an order from the War Department in Washington
saying if there is any officer who refuses to obey orders, you will discipline them severely.
I have not come across in my research records that anyone in particular had to be disciplined
but the very fact that such a warning would have to be made suggests what a close call
it was. It was a very politicized act. It was an increasingly partisan age. It was a
democratic administration. Many of the leading officers turned out to be Whigs, the other
opposition party of that time. So there were signs of discontent but ultimately even Winfield
Scott, the great American general who oversaw the removal. Even though he said this is clearly
an unjust thing to do he followed his orders. Sir?
>>Bruce Guthrie: The times Bruce Guthrie. The times I visited the new site, whether
they tried to figure out, basically good people, they point to the missionaries who always
have this questionable past because they keep trying to undermine Indian culture. They mentioned
John Ross and the Supreme Court. But as you mentioned, John Ross had slaves. Are there
actually any clear good guys in this story?>>Steve Inskeep: Sure. Just like our Congress
>>Steve Inskeep: Politics is pretty brutal. Thank you for bringing up the missionaries.
They are another part of this story. Yes, missionaries lived among the Indians. Missionaries
played a large role in civilizing the Indians. I’ll just say that the way it was used then,
as an obvious good. Today we see it as a more complex thing. Don’t we? But in any case,
missionaries were there. They were assisting and spreading literacy. They set up schools.
They certainly also did not have a lot of respect for the original culture but missionaries
became a vital part of this story. Really one of my favorite parts of the story
because they were sent to bring civilization of the white men to the Cherokees, the Cherokees
flipped the missionaries and ultimately used them as a network that got the messages of
Cherokees out to the broader white community which was essential because it was a democracy.
And if you’re a minority, you’ve got to have friends. You’ve got to have allies. The missionaries
became their friends. Two of them were imprisoned for refusing to follow a law of the State
of Georgia that demanded that they leave Cherokee territory unless they had a proper license
from the state. That actually became the heart of the Supreme Court case that the Cherokees
won. There was a man who was not precisely a missionary
but a sort of editor and evangelist and activist and fundraiser for missionaries named Jeramiah
Evarts who wrote about two dozen newspaper articles that were spread across the United
States in a way that articles rarely ever had been, defending Cherokee rights and doing
so in a straightforward manner acknowledging their equality as human beings and even making
obvious references to the Declaration of Independence in its phrase about all men are created equal.
So I would agree with the suggestion that the missionaries were surely patronizing in
many ways and surely did not have a lot of views that we would necessarily disagree with
today but there are some heroic characters there. And I would argue that even my two
main characters, as terribly flawed as they are, are each in their own way heroic in standing
up for the cause that they stood for and in going through great trials to get as far as
they did. I am so glad that a woman is finally stepping
up to the microphone. Any other women who would like to speak up? We should have every
kind of person here. Please go ahead, ma’am.
>>I wanted to say that the progress of African Americans in the United States took a big
leap when Martin Luther King was smart enough to let put our plight in front of the media
and let the rest of America know what was going on. One of the problems I think that
NativeAmericans have now is that America really does not know the history that is covered
in your book. Do you think that there will ever be a time when Americans will be concerned,
more concerned and educated, about what really happened to the NativeAmericans which will
allow them to perhaps go to court and get some money back from the land that was stole
from them?>>Steve Inskeep: Thanks for the question.
I have what you may read as a somewhat hopeful answer to that. One of the things that is
great about studying this topic is that it’s been written about for almost 200 years. So
you get 200 years of different perspectives about Indian removal. It was a huge controversy
at the time. Another of the Cherokee’s innovations was
to start their own newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, which had articles in Cherokee and
English and distributed to other newspapers across the country. They got the word out
to a large degree at the time, not enough apparently but to a large degree. People heard
their point of view. A couple of centuries almost that followed,
there had been a variety of treatments of this topic. There’s a man named James Parton,
a British biographer of Andrew Jackson, who wrote a threevolume biography of Andrew Jackson.
Indian removal is a couple of pages in which he says I hope by now the 1850s, everyone
agrees it was obviously wise and humane to do this to get the poor Indians out of the
way of advancing civilization and move them to the West where they could at least not
die out. In the 1890s there was a popular history of
the United States in this period which suggested that it was natural that white men would not
want this independent Indian government in their midst and all but excused subverting
the law to get rid of them. The author of that book was Woodrow Wilson. And his book
was still in print when he became president. In 1913 there was a Georgia textbook that
I came across, a school textbook, which describes slave owners as a class, the most moral and
humane men who ever walked the face of the earth. Just made a couple of mistakes along
the way. It goes on to describe Indian removal as a practical necessity. White men needed
land so this is what they did>>Sounds like a Virginia school textbook.
>>Steve Inskeep: Might be. I’m sure there were in other states as well. But that has
changed in time. That’s where I’m going with some sad tale. In the 1930s, the Great Depression,
when you had this period of questioning what’s going on in America, you begin to see these
texts where people write about Indian removal as a thing that’s worth studying. You begin
to find out that there was an ethnologist who lived among the Cherokees in the 1880s
and gathered stories of the oldest people who were still alive then. There was a record
to go on. This was built on further in the 1950s and `60s, `70s, the period of revisionist
history in the United States. You could argue it went too far.
Howard Zinn’s of People’s History of the United States dwells in great length on Andrew Jackson
and on Indian removal; includes, I’m sad to say, facts that I could not verify, that I
couldn’t find in the records that I looked at. I’m not saying he made stuff up. I’m just
saying it’s hard to see where he got some of the claims that he got. And it seems to
me the actual record is devastating enough. I don’t need to come up with unverifiable
things. Modern biographers of Andrew Jackson I think
have done a much better job. H.W. Brands comes to mind, John Meacham. They may like Jackson,
they may dislike Jackson a little bit but they include the devastation that was Indian
removal. In 2009, as you may know, President Obama
signed a formal apology for acts such as the Trail of Tears. It was quietly done and attached
to a defense authorization bill and, to your other point, included language that specifically
said — paraphrasing but specifically said that nothing in this act shall be used as
a basis to file a claim or try to recover land.
So this contrition is only going to go so far. But I would suggest that the debate has
been healthy over time. It’s been a 200year argument. It’s moving in the right direction.
And I would like to think that this story adds to it because we learn here that Cherokees
were more than mere victims on the Trail of Tears. They were people who acted in their
own defense and who in many ways set a heroic example for us today.
>>Thank you.>>Steve Inskeep: I guess that’s a good spot
to end. Thank you very much for coming out. [Applause]