Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab
“The story of the Cherokee removal has been told many times, but never before has a single book given us such a sense of how it happened and what it meant, not only for Indians, but also for the future and soul of America.” —The Washington Post
Five decades after the Revolutionary War, the United States approached a constitutional crisis. At its center stood two former military comrades locked in a struggle that tested the boundaries of our fledgling democracy.
One man we recognize: Andrew Jackson—war hero, populist, and exemplar of the expanding South—whose first major initiative as president instigated the massive expulsion of Native Americans known as the Trail of Tears. The other is a half-forgotten figure: John Ross—a mixed-race Cherokee politician and diplomat—who used the United States’ own legal system and democratic ideals to oppose Jackson. Representing one of the Five Civilized Tribes who had adopted the ways of white settlers, Ross championed the tribes’ cause all the way to the Supreme Court, gaining allies like Senator Henry Clay, Chief Justice John Marshall, and even Davy Crockett. Ross and his allies made their case in the media, committed civil disobedience, and benefited from the first mass political action by American women. Their struggle contained ominous overtures of later events like the Civil War and defined the political culture for much that followed.
Jacksonland is the work of renowned journalist Steve Inskeep, cohost of NPR’s Morning Edition, who offers a heart-stopping narrative masterpiece, a tragedy of American history that feels ripped from the headlines in its immediacy, drama, and relevance to our lives. Jacksonland is the story of America at a moment of transition, when the fate of states and nations was decided by the actions of two heroic yet tragically opposed men.
purchasing remote tracts in hopes Moulton, John Ross, Cherokee Chief, pp. 21–22, 202. “My grandfather, father and Auntie were bought by John Ross” Miles, Ties That Bind, p. 85. Ross wasn’t a true Indian, they charged The state of Georgia study investigated Ross’s ancestry in 1831 and made this allegation. Moulton, John Ross, Cherokee Chief, pp. 46–47. Ross himself was granted 640 acres The treaty of 1819 ceded substantial land to the federal government, but allowed some Cherokee residents to
Seminole War, pp. 75–76. descendants of generations of migrants, survivors, and refugees The origins of the Seminoles are discussed in detail in ibid., chap. 1, and Wright, Creeks and Seminoles. Thompson’s scalp was cut into pieces Mahon, History of the Second Seminole War, p. 104. the Seminoles opened fire The attack on Dade’s force is described in Roberts, “The Dade Massacre,” pp. 123–28. The number of U.S. military deaths Mahon, History of the Second Seminole War, p. 325. Based on the
map, facing tens of thousands of square miles of Creek territory where virgin forest reached toward the sky and wet leaves carpeted the hillsides. The main signs of civilization near Fort Strother were Creek towns and plantations, and many of those were lifeless piles of ashes, since Jackson’s troops had been ranging out to burn them. At the fort most of the men lived in tents, arranged beside parade grounds like the one where General Jackson’s letter would soon be read aloud to John Wood. The
newspaper so highly that when its subsidy seemed insufficient in later years, he paid bills from his own pocket. Having grown up in a home stocked with the latest newspaper editions, and having spent time in Washington, he intuitively grasped the link between the media and power in a democracy. Cherokees needed the newspaper in order to play their emerging role as part of the American body politic. Since their agreements with the federal government could no longer be backed by force, they must
for Major Ridge; possibly the company of a white man would make it easier for the Cherokee chief to be taken as white and left unmolested. It took nearly a week in early winter to reach the capital of Milledgeville, a town of a few thousand dominated by its state capitol building, with its churchlike windows and crenellated roofline. Ross and Lavender rode into town on the day after Christmas and had the governor served with papers in the morning. If Governor Gilmer greeted Ross at all when the