- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

By Robert V. Remini
Viking, $26.95, 317 pages, illus.

The great migrations in history have always come about at the price of those who have been in the way of the migratory tidal wave. The victims have generally been annihilated or absorbed by the larger, more vigorous, or militarily more competent newcomers. In the case of the American Indians some combination of all three options occurred at some time in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the American Southeast, a policy of deliberate removal culminated in the forcible relocation of the five great "civilized tribes" of the region to land west of the Mississippi River.
M>*d0*p(0,10,0,9.5,0,0,G)>The process of this relocation almost exactly coincided with the life of Andrew Jackson. It would be Jackson as president who crafted the policy that turned the ad hoc process of Indian relocation into the federal policy which would ultimately lead to the tragic "trail of tears" that effectively cleansed the Indians from the southeastern states. Although Jackson had left office by the time the trail of tears occurred, he remained its primary architect.
Jackson wore many hats during his life. At one time or another he was a soldier, a senator, a judge, a land speculator, and eventually a two term U.S. president. However, Jackson's primary reputation would be made by his success as an Indian fighter. His dislike of the Indians was deep and personal some have claimed it bordered on pathological. In "Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars," noted Jacksonian scholar Robert V. Remini gives us a balanced but critical look at Jackson's complicated relationship with the American Indians.
Andrew Jackson began fighting the Indians and their British allies at the age of 14. With only a few brief breaks he would fight the Indians through a combination of military and diplomatic means for the rest of his life. To be fair, he didn't like the British much better than he did the Indians. From the enlisted ranks in the Revolutionary War militia to command of all federal military forces in the Southeast during the War of 1812 and its related Indian campaigns, he fought skillfully with half-trained troops against a wily and skillful foe.
Mr. Remini points out that Jackson probably blamed his antipathy on the untimely deaths of his mother and older brother during the Revolution. However, the author makes the point that Jackson understood a fundamental truth. The vibrant nature of European-descended civilization at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution was simply incompatible with the rustic, pre-agrarian society of the Indians. Someone had to give and Jackson was determined that it would be the Indians. Although there was an undeniable element of racism in Jackson's outlook, he firmly believed that removal was a better and more humane option than annihilation or cultural absorption. This didn't prevent him from being unfailingly condescending to the Indians in his dealings with them. He truly viewed himself as the great white father and the Indians as willful and occasionally treacherous children.
A noted scholar, Mr. Remini has written extensively on Jackson. This account of Jackson's relations with the Indians is an offshoot of his research. It is readable if sometimes uneven. Mr. Remini is at the top of his game describing Jackson's military leadership and campaigns against the Indians. The book slows down when chronicling the negotiations with the Indians and the depressing litany of breaches of treaties by white settlers greedy for Indian land and the inept attempts by federal and state officials to stop such violations. Mr. Remini is clearly not a member of the "Indians had it coming to them" school of U.S. history; he gives a largely balanced account of Jackson's motives. He is also critical of Indian leadership which proved to be divided and sometimes unrealistic in its evauation of an increasingly serious situation.
The tragic circumstances surrounding the trail of tears and the removal of the Cherokee nation to the newly designated Indian Territory beyond the Mississippi River is a true black mark upon American history. No matter how benign the intentions, the execution was savage and dehumanizing. However, even here, Mr. Remini is balanced in pointing out that the removal probably saved the Cherokee as a nation. The book will not be well received by dedicated Indian rights activists, due to the even-handed nature of its approach, but it will by no means be tarred with the brush of being an apology for Jackson's actions.
This book may well become an interesting case study with modern applicability beyond pure history. We in the 21st century already are witnessing a world where people are on the move again. Asians and Africans are moving again into Western Europe and Hispanics are pushing into the United States from the south. Mr. Remini's work will not be a blueprint on how to confront these issues, but it does examine how the issues of migration manifest themselves in military, political, and social conflict.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer who frequently contributes to the book pages.

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