“Differences” between Native & White Americans in Jackson’s Message to Congress ‘On Indian Removal’ (1830)

In his address to Congress, Jackson portrays the white-American Republic as an “interesting, civilized, and Christian community…studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms embellished…and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization and religion.” He calls the Cherokee Nation just the opposite: “savage” and unsettled. Of course, this was a wildly inaccurate depiction. With that said, it is much more interesting (and worthwhile) to look at the misnomer of  Jackson’s definition of “white” society. During the 1820s, a large degree of acculturation took place in the Cherokee Nation:

  • In 1821, Sequoyah completed his 86-character syllabary of the Cherokee language. This made it possible to both read and write in Cherokee. The importance placed on preservation through the written/printed words is, in many ways, a western invention. Nevertheless, the syllabary was quickly adopted. It provided Christian missionaries a means of written communication with the Cherokee through books, pamphlets, Bibles, and educational materials.
  • During this period, New Echota (in Georgia) was the seat of Cherokee Government. It was there that a Constitution of the Cherokee Nation was formed in 1827 by a convention of delegates. This Constitution was heavily adapted from the Constitution of the United States (1789). Its purpose was to “establish justice, ensure tranquility, promote our common welfare, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty.” It created a system of government structured exactly like that of the U.S. (with a Legislative,  Executive, and Judicial department). It also guaranteed the right to trial by jury, the right to face one’s accuser in court, protection against unreasonable search and seizure of property, and the free exercise of religion (though “no person who denies the being of a God… shall hold any office in the civil department”). Finally, it states that “religion, morality and knowledge” are “necessary to good government, the preservation of liberty, and the happiness of mankind.” Therefore, it continues, “education shall forever be encouraged.”
  • In 1828, the Cherokee Phoenix printed its first issue (in English and Cherokee). It published: laws, public documents,  news, and articles intended to encourage the adoption of Christianity. It encouraged literacy by offering free subscriptions to anyone who could read the Cherokee syllabary.

Many Cherokees became prosperous businessmen, farmers, slave owners, teachers, and tribal statesmen. It is difficult to understand how Jackson was unable—or why he was unwilling—to see the similarities between the Cherokee Nation and the “white” society he was describing. Though the Cherokee Nation had many of its own customs, it also incorporated every aspect of “civilization” which Jackson described.

The full text can be found here.

2 thoughts on ““Differences” between Native & White Americans in Jackson’s Message to Congress ‘On Indian Removal’ (1830)

  1. I do not see how its difficult to understand why Jackson would evict the Cherokee.
    Jackson was notoriously xenophobic, even toward white peoples of other civilized societies such as the British (he was a well-known Anglophobe), Spanish (seizure of Florida), and the French (almost went to war with 1831). Jackson epitomized the notion of an American nationalist, especially during a time where ‘American’ was ill-defined. He would only complied with other nations if it was in the US’s interest, i.e. he undoubtedly would have loved to evict the British from Canada, but he could not. I think it’ll be interesting to contrast Jackson’s character with a American liberal such as Jefferson, who was less consistent with his xenophobia, but I would argue would’ve been less harsh toward the Native Americans.
    That being said its also likely that Jackson was racist and psychopathic.

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