The Trail of Tears as a Turning Point
The story of the Trail of Tears (1838-1839) continues to command attention and remain relevant because, from a variety of perspectives, its represents a turning point in history.
Viewed as an event on the world stage, the Trail of Tears supplies one example of the ongoing phenomenon of ethnic cleansing.
The Trail of Tears was a watershed national event for the United States in two key ways. First, removal signaled a radical departure from previous U.S. policy towards American Indians. Second, the Trail of Tears marked a somewhat uneasy transition in U.S. political thought from Jeffersonianism to Jacksonianism.
Obviously the Trail of Tears marked a turning point for the Cherokee Nation, as it meant the loss of Cherokee lands and many Cherokee lives, and the challenge of creating a new existence and constitution in Indian Territory. But removal also meant political upheaval for the Cherokees, as violent change underscored the conflicts between preexisting factions and their differing conceptions of Cherokee civilization.
FYI, I discuss these issues and others in my new intellectual history of removal, out this week with Greenwood: The Trail of Tears and Indian Removal.
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Amy H. Sturgis - 11/29/2006
Yes, and Cherokees such as Principal Chief John Ross and Cherokee Phoenix Editor Elias Boudinot used Jefferson's own writings in their protests of Jackson's position.
It seems as if The Trail of Tears, and the imperial presidency it reflected, brought some of the most obvious contradictions of Jackson's own thought into high relief, so that leaders of "Jacksonian" movements such as Catherine Beecher and Ralph Waldo Emerson – pioneers who championed individual rights and condemned unjust and unaccountable use of force – rose up and bitterly protested Jackson's policy. The children of the Jacksonian moment, it seemed, were disappointed with their father.
Kenneth R. Gregg - 11/29/2006
Excellent point Amy. Jefferson respected indian populations and expected Indians to intermarry with the American citizens and eventually merge into American civilization through integration. Much different attitude than his toward African slaves.
As I recall, he was most concerned with their attitudes toward the Indian women--forced abortions, being treated worse than slaves, etc., etc., and believed that bringing a respect for women would help the entry process.
Some of the Jacksonians, such as George Henry Evans, supported Indian rights, but the Jacksonian legacy is much different.
Just a thought.
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