Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab
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“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.
undersized and undertrained forces on grandiose missions, such as invading British Canada, with predictable results. A progression of disasters (with some heroic interruptions) would continue right up to August 1814, when British forces strolled into Washington and set the president’s house and the Capitol on fire. That Jackson would be ordered to disband his force in the middle of such a war was no worse than might be expected. Jackson’s response to this order proved him to be very much like the
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murderous fire of the Americans behind their barricade, the British assault force lost 291 redcoats killed, and more than 1,300 others wounded or captured. The Americans suffered 13 dead and a few dozen wounded or captured. The surviving British boarded ships and sailed away. It was true that the battle took place after the War of 1812 was over—news had yet to arrive of a peace treaty signed two weeks earlier—but only the sourest critic could dismiss New Orleans as a needless fight. The triumph
them both.” In the following days she took a close look at the French hero: “He wears a wig, and is a little inclined to corpulency. He is very healthy, eats hearty, goes to every party, and that is every night.” Her husband was not healthy or hearty, and not attending many parties; Mrs. Jackson, deeply religious, regarded parties and the theater as temptations to resist. The Jacksons did go to functions hosted by President Monroe’s wife, Elizabeth, in the Executive Mansion. Ushered into the
Pennsylvania Avenue through the unfinished city, with the green-domed Capitol at his back. The “free and full conversation” with the president could not have been entirely cordial. Jackson was unhealthy and distracted—in a letter that day to his son in Tennessee, the sixty-six-year-old president scribbled that he was “quite unwell, with pain in my left breast & shoulder,” the places he had been shot in the duel in 1806 and the gunfight in 1813; he went on to complain that Andrew Jr. was failing