While going to a program at the Yale University Art Gallery auditorium I came across a wall full of pictures of cancelled Andrew Jackson stamps. They had been blown up to five or six inches square, but a few were around a foot square. They were very heavily cancelled. Ha, I thought, a political statement about “Old Hickory”.
But I was wrong. The artist had come across a collection of a student’s stamps and was fascinated with the variety of cancellation marks. At least that was what I was told at the information desk.
I prefer my fantasy, that Yale was featuring an exhibit showing disrespect for Andrew Jackson—slaveholder, imperialist, constitution defiler, Indian killer and seventh U.S. president. That would be the perfect kick off to a campaign to get Jackson’s face off the $20 bill. Who should replace him? Sequoia, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Tecumseh? We could start with a petition campaign …
That should happen, but that’s a long-term project. In the short run why not concentrate on how he is presented in U.S. school textbooks? I’m a semi-retired middle school teacher and I’ve got a copy of the 8th grade book The Story of the American Nation (James West Davidson – Michael B. Stoff, 2005) that is used in my old school.
In terms of Indian nations, the book starts off talking about Jackson by saying “He also defeated the Creek Indians and forced them to give up vast amounts of land in Georgia and Alabama.” Later it says about the Creeks, “After defeating them in battle during the War of 1812, Jackson threatened to kill their leaders if they did not give up land guaranteed them by earlier treaties.” Kind of negative, but really very sanitized. As Amargi wrote, “Jackson recommended that troops systematically kill Indian women and children after massacres in order to complete the extermination.”
A Rutgers website talks about Jackson’s campaign as “total war” with an estimated 15 percent of the Creek population being killed. The Creek were forced to give up 22 million acres of land. That’s about an area the size of Maine.
The school textbook has a two-page section called “Tragedy for Native Americans.” A section reads “At Jackson’s urging, the government set aside lands beyond the Mississippi River and then persuaded or forced Indians to move there. Jackson believed that this policy would provide land for white settlers as well as protect Native Americans from destruction.” Nice guy. Give the whites the fertile southeast and stick the Indians in the “Great American Desert”.
The book does explain that “few Indians wanted to move” and gives the now standard bow to the Cherokee for changing their “customs” to be more like the whites and a “profile” box to Sequoyah for inventing a Cherokee alphabet.
It then gets into the legal battle over Cherokee rights and explains that “Jackson refused to enforce the Court’s decision,” the decision being that the Cherokee had national rights.
This would have been a great place to explain that the Supreme Court ruled that Indian peoples were “nations” and go on to talk about the meaning of treaties between nations, which are supposed to be solemn obligations.
It should have been a place to use the word “racism” to explain why whites thought they could just tear up treaties with “savages,” but it doesn’t get into that. It mentions the “Trail of Tears” and explains how “thousands perished,” but doesn’t dare to wonder whether Jackson should have been thrown out of office for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Its treatment of the “Seminole Wars” is just a few factual sentences ending with “The government forced the Seminole leaders and most of their people to leave Florida.” The book could have talked about Jackson executing 18-year-old soldier John Woods for refusing an officer’s order to pick up trash.
It could have talked about the motives for President James Monroe’s order to have Jackson invade the Spanish colony of Florida in 1817, chief among them attempts to capture runaway slaves who were living among Seminole bands.
It could have told, as ICTMN did in 2012, that Jackson executed two British citizens for the “crime” of living among the Seminoles and writing letters saying they had rights to land.
It might have mentioned that after the war and Spain’s agreement to give Florida to the U.S., an official treaty gave the Seminole a reservation in central Florida. Or it could have mentioned that in 1835, when the Seminole resisted Jackson’s ethnic cleansing by way of the Indian Removal Act black ex-slave warriors stood alongside Osceola’s Seminoles in defending their homeland. That would have helped explain why the U.S. fought a nine-year war inside Florida at a total cost higher than the 1836 federal budget. The southern slaveholders were determined to obliterate any possible refuge for runaways.
Jackson is summed up by the textbook as a “man of many qualities”, a “complex” person who “dealt with his enemies harshly.” Why not instead, “Many consider Jackson a brutal racist and war criminal whose actions were imitated by government authorities for generations”? Too much?
I seriously suggest that readers go to school boards and ask for copies of social studies textbooks, and read over how Jackson (and Indian matters generally) are presented. You probably won’t be able to get new textbooks (if there even are textbooks that are fair-minded on Indian matters). However, you can ask for supplementary lessons, non-racist books and films in libraries, outside speakers, special programs, teacher training and other measures to bring light to this subject and help cancel the effects of the many “Andrew Jacksons” infected with the mental illness of prejudice.
Stanley Heller is host of “The Struggle” a weekly TV news magazine, and is executive director of the Middle East Crisis Committee. He writes for EconomicUprising.com and TheStruggle.org. He’s a semi-retired school teacher in Connecticut. He can be reached at info@TheStruggle.org.