The American Nation
Andrew Jackson: Second Annual Message


   The settling of the southern United States did not really begin in earnest until the start of the nineteenth century; at that point, the United States government had to deal with the Native American nations of the southern United States as separate nations. This was something new for the young republic; though the conquest of North America had been taking place for over two hundred years, the United States government was a new entity in the game. Congress decided to proceed as legally and fairly as possible with these southern nations, and therein lay the problem. The American negotiators were very calm and deliberate in their negotiations, providing generous provisions and allowing various heads of tribes to remain on individually owned plots of land (as opposed to collectively owned plots of land). Even though a great deal of land was ceded by the major Native American nations of the south-eastern United States--the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees--they still retained vast tracks of land which pretty soon white settlers wished to own. All four of these tribes thrived among white settlers, especially the Choctaws and the Cherokees. They fairly enthusiastically adopted European culture: they converted to Christianity, they built schools, and, the Cherokees in particular, became pretty capitalist merchants.

   But the pressure on these lands led the United States government to find ways to remove the Native Americans. The policy of removal was first articulated by Thomas Jefferson, but there had never been occasion to remove entire nations. Spurred by this pressure to open up lands, President Andrew Jackson, one of the most powerful presidents in history who substantially remade the structure of executive government, pushed through Congress the Removal Act. The Removal Act allowed the government to renegotiate treaties with the Native American nations, pay them for their lands, relocate them west of the Mississippi, and materially support the tribes for one year after their removal. Your first selection, Jackson's second annual message to Congress, is an explanation of the rationale behind this Removal Act. Now Andrew Jackson was a perfervid hater of Native Americans; in his second annual message to Congress he outlines the ideology behind removal, but he bases his entire argument on the inevitability of the extinction of Native Americans. What are the central arguments? Does Jackson, you think, really believe that this is a humane and "philanthropic" policy? What do you make of his comparison of Native Americans to Europeans? Is this a reasonable argument?

   The Choctaws were the first to renegotiate with the United States, but their removal was tragic. The migration was badly planned and even more badly carried out; enormous numbers of people died in the removal. But the Cherokees, who had integrated so well into European culture and European cultural models, absolutely refused. The Supreme Court was upholding the provisions of treaties in the face of American attempts to break them, so it didn't look like the United States could just walk in and take the land. Also, along with the abolitionist movement in the north grew a concern over the fate of Native Americans. In general, northern Americans opposed the removal of Native American tribes (Jackson is referring to these in the first part of your selection). So the United States had to get around the treaty somehow. The Cherokee nation was not a unified nation, but an amalgamation of several tribes, so the United States met with a group of Cherokee who were not representatives of the nation and who were unhappy with the Cherokee nation. Declaring them legitimate representatives, the United States negotiated a treaty which called for the removal of the Cherokee. The Cherokee nation bitterly protested this egregious breach of justice; they formally presented this protest to the United States Congress in 1836, which is your second selection. Here are some questions: what is different in this protest from the other Native American selections you've read (the Iroquois creation and the Iroquois constitution)? Are they using Enlightenment terms? Why? What do you make of the fact that they refer to the United States as a "guardian"? How would you relate this to the Declaration of Independence?

   Despite this protest, the Congress voted to remove the Cherokee and the United States army forcibly evicted them from their lands, locking them in cramped quarters in a series of stockades and then marching them across the western frontier. Thousands of Cherokees were murdered or starved or died of illness during this captivity and forced march.

   Your text is taken from


andrew jackson
second annual message

   Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country, and Philanthropy has been long busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth. To follow to the tomb the last of his race and to tread on the graves of extinct nations excite melancholy reflections. But true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another. In the monuments and fortresses of an unknown people, spread over the extensive regions of the West, we behold the memorials of a once powerful race, which was exterminated or has disappeared to make room for the existing savage tribes. Nor is there anything in this which, upon a comprehensive view of the general interests of the human race, is to be regretted. Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?

   The present policy of the Government is but a continuation of the same progressive change by a milder process. The tribes which occupied the countries now constituting the Eastern States were annihilated or have melted away to make room for the whites. The waves of population and civilization are rolling to the westward, and we now propose to acquire the countries occupied by the red men of the South and West by a fair exchange, and, at the expense of the United States, to send them to a land where their existence may be prolonged and perhaps made perpetual. Doubtless it will be painful to leave the graves of their fathers; but what do they more than our ancestors did or our children are now doing? To better their condition in an unknown land our forefathers left all that was dear in earthly objects. Our children by thousands yearly leave the land of their birth to seek new homes in distant regions. Does Humanity weep at these painful separations from everything, animate and inanimate, with which the young heart has become entwined? Far from it. It is rather a source of joy that our country affords scope where our young population may range unconstrained in body or in mind, developing the power and faculties of man in their highest perfection. These remove hundreds and almost thousands of miles at their own expense, purchase the lands they occupy, and support themselves at their new homes from the moment of their arrival. Can it be cruel in this Government when, by events which it can not control the Indian is made discontented in his ancient home to purchase his lands, to give him a new and extensive territory, to pay the expense of his removal, and support him a year in his new abode? How many thousands of our own people would gladly embrace the opportunity of removing to the West on such conditions! If the offers made to the Indians were extended to them, they would be hailed with gratitude and joy.

   And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home, and proposes to pay the whole expense of his removal and settlement.

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1995, Richard Hooker
Updated 2-13-97