Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars.

AuthorLove, Christopher A.

"Burn their dwellings-destroy their stock-slay their wives and children, that the very breed may perish." (1)

Shawnee Chief Tecumseh to the Creek Indians, 1811

"[I] think myself justified in laying waste their villages, burning their homes, killing their warriors and leading into Captivity their wives and Children." (2)

Andrew Jackson to Tennessee Governor Blount, 1812

The collision of cultures which spawned such rhetoric by American Indians and government officials in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries fueled more than heated passions. It sustained the longest series of wars in our nation's history. Over the course of a generation, between 1789 and 1818, those wars reached a fevered pitch. Their cumulative effects almost extinguished all Native American tribes east of the Mississippi River. Those that did not fall to the musket or the sword were forcibly relocated to the western territories (3) under an official government policy, innocuously termed "Removal."

In his most recent ode to Andrew Jackson, Professor Robert Remini in the book, Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars, challenges his reader to view the process of Indian Removal as a Nineteenth-century American. He convincingly argues that Removal was a visceral response of both the populace and their leadership to an ever-present Indian threat. Excusing neither the policy nor the means by which it was implemented, Remini paints Removal with a realist's brush, much as Jackson did throughout his public life. In so doing, Remini offers an honest, meticulously researched, and well-written account of a controversial period of American history.

In Chapter One, Remini graphically portrays the Indian threat by recounting Tecumseh's impassioned speech to the Creek tribal nation at the annual tribal grand council of 1811. (4) The viciousness to which the Indians had been pushed by white settler encroachment is palpable in the words of Tecumseh to the assembled Creeks, "Let the white race perish.... Back whence they came, upon a trail of blood, they must be driven!" (5) To maximize the impact of such statements, Remini injects them directly into his narrative text, without introduction or paraphrasing. Although occasionally awkward, this technique of jumping into the first person without notice, grabs the reader's attention and imagination. The reader can almost envision Remini as the narrator of a documentary film in which each character comes to life in a separate voice. Of course, the most frequent voice is Andrew Jackson's.

Remini traces Jackson's perspective on Indian relations from the arrival of his parents in America from Ireland in 1765. Indeed, Remini notes that the Jacksons arrived during a wave of immigration that followed the removal of the Catawba Indians from most of the South Carolina Piedmont (6) in 1761. (7) Notwithstanding the relative safety that was experienced in the area by the white population because of its increasingly large size, owing mainly to the arrival of more immigrants from Europe, Remini explains that Indian attacks from areas west or north of the Piedmont remained a constant source of fear for the new immigrants. Indeed, he cites a contemporary neighbor's characterization of the Jacksons as "inveterate haters of the Indians" after the murder of one of their "kinsmen." (8)

Having established a direct nexus of fear and mistrust between Andrew Jackson and the Indians, Remini embarks on a brief journey through the early years of the future U.S. president's life, from action in the Revolutionary War, to admission to the North Carolina Bar, to appointment as a state prosecutor in the territory that would later become Tennessee. His subsequent appointment as Judge Advocate for the Davidson county militia in 1792 solidified his position within the most important political circles of the burgeoning territory. (9) Notwithstanding its political importance, (10) the position has been described by another historian as not prominent, conferred chiefly because Jackson was a lawyer; but it identified him with a calling for which he was by nature eminently fitted. (11) Although it served as his entree to the military establishment, Jackson's tenure as a judge advocate was apparently short-lived. (12)

In the treacherous American Frontier environment, Jackson often took responsibility for protecting groups of settlers traveling between enclaves of safety throughout the territory. (13) According to Remini, Jackson not only assumed, but actively pursued this role. (14) More significant to Jackson than isolated skirmishes with bands of Indians, however, was what he called the "triple headed menace," the looming presence of English, Spanish, and Indian belligerents along the American border. (15) Jackson considered this presence the greatest threat facing the American Frontier and the nation. (16)

England and Spain engaged in covert war against the United States during the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries by providing frontier Indians with firearms. (17) Indeed, a key element of the British battle plan for the invasion of New Orleans involved the creation...

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