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By Steve Inskeep
Jacksonland is an American story, a tragedy. It is about greed, white man’s destiny, struggle and death. It is a story not well known and one everyone should hear.
As the title suggests, Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” writes about the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Yet the book is more than your traditional presidential biography.
Jacksonland is a narrative about the plight of the Native American. It is a story focused on the Cherokee Tribe and how the American government purloined Cherokee lands and removed the tribal citizens westward en masse. Jacksonland is a story of how one population was forcefully cordoned off from the American Democracy experiment.
Inskeep begins this American story with the friendship between war hero, General Andrew Jackson, and his military compatriot and Cherokee chief, John Ross. These wartime comrades soon become enemies.
After winning a contentious election for the presidency of the United States in 1829, Jackson began to implement his initiative to expel Native Americans from Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. He intended to relocate them in the western territories, grabbing their land for white settlers.
Jackson promised his compatriot John Ross, a mixed-race Cherokee politician, that the indigenous populations would receive all the benefits afforded countrymen if only the tribes adopted the “civilized ways” of white Americans.
In keeping with politics, it was a promise not kept.
The Cherokee were instead commanded to voluntarily leave their farms and communities, which had been their homes for generations. John Ross took the Cherokee’s battle to the United States Supreme Court and won!
However, President Jackson chose to ignore the court’s decision. Native Americans in Tennessee and Georgia were forcibly removed from their homes at gunpoint, crowded into internment camps before being loaded into train boxcars and barges for involuntarily transport to the undeveloped wilderness.
A missionary, who lived among the Cherokees, described them as “prisoners who had been hurled from comfortable circumstances into abject poverty.” Many were forced to walk hundreds of miles. The internment camps were death traps and thousands died there from starvation. Thousands more died during the march westward from epidemic diseases. It was America’s Holocaust.
While this tragedy contemporaneously unfolded during the time of slavery, the country was rather immune to the plight of the Native American and their relocation. There were some parallel movements to abolition movement that sought to protect the Native American, but their violent and forceful relocation does not receive the same coverage and condemnation in American history books.
Jacksonland provides an in-depth look at the oft overlooked and forgotten plight of Native Americans in the United States. If you are a history buff and concerned about the stories not told publicly, then Inskeep’s Jacksonland is for you.