Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham on the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's moral principles and political leadership -- and what the era of Lincoln can teach us about the state of our democracy today.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Andrew Jackson was a well-known, decorated war hero who rose from humble beginnings to become America’s seventh president. Less well-known, however, was Cherokee Indian Chief John Ross, who clashed with Jackson for two decades over Indian land rights. Jackson was determined that Indians give up their land to make way for white settlers in America’s Deep South. Ross and his people resisted, drafting their own constitution and starting a successful newspaper. But in the end, Jackson prevailed and thousands of Indians were forced from their native lands in what became the infamous “Trail of Tears.” Guest host Susan Page talks with NPR’s Steve Inkseep about Andrew Jackson, a Cherokee Indian chief and an epic land battle that set the stage for the U.S. Civil War.
- Steve Inskeep Co-host, Morning Edition, NPR
From JACKSONLAND: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and the Great American Land Grab by Steve Inskeep. Reprinted by arrangement of Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Random House Inc. Copyright (c) 2015 by Steve Inskeep.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. For years, President Andrew Jackson was locked in a battle with the Cherokee Indian chief over land rights in the American South. The clash in the early 19th century ended with the Indians' removal, the infamous Trail of Tears left thousands of Native Americans dead.
MS. SUSAN PAGEIn a new book, NPR's Steve Inskeep recounts the little known rivalry between Andrew Jackson and the Cherokee chief and how it set the stage for the Civil War. His new book is titled, "Jacksonland," and he joins me in the studio. Welcome, Steve Inskeep.
MR. STEVE INSKEEPIt's an honor to be here. Thanks very much.
PAGEYou are, of course, a familiar voice to our listeners as the co-host of "Morning Edition." I know that many in our audience would like to join this conversation. They can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. So Andrew Jackson. Why Andrew Jackson?
INSKEEPIt's a story that appealed to me first because they're two men who are opposed to each other. There's drama here, as you mentioned, John Ross and Andrew Jackson. They're battling over real estate, which is always interesting, and they're fighting within the Democratic system of the United States in this moment in the 1830s, when it was just beginning to assume the form that we know today. So, for me, Susan, even though it's a story of the past, it's actually, for me, a story about now.
INSKEEPIt grows out of my modern day reporting, actually.
PAGEIt really shows John Ross trying to use the tools of democracy that we later saw used in the women's movement or in the civil rights movement.
INSKEEPOh, there are a lot of similarities and I'm planning to write a little bit more about this and try to draw that out a little bit. You have this man who was an imperfect human being, to be certain. There are no heroes really in this story or no saints anyway. But he faced a situation where the Cherokee nation, it had been an independent nation, had land still in the Appalachians. They were being overwhelmed by white settlers. They were massively outnumbered by the rest of the United States, but they wanted a place in it.
INSKEEPThey wanted their share of the United States and they needed to build support in a Democratic society. And so, yes, you're exactly right. They started their own newspaper, as civil rights leaders later did. They fought in Congress. They fought in the court of public opinion. They fought in the United States Supreme Court even. They sued twice and won once. John Marshall, perhaps the greatest chief justice, ruled in their favor, as a matter of fact.
PAGESo let's talk for a moment about the more familiar story in this rivalry and that's Andrew Jackson. I remember, in college, I was assigned to read "The Age Of Jackson," the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Arthur Schlesinger, which portrayed Jackson as a man of the people, a hero of democracy, made hardly a mention of the Indians.
INSKEEPI'm glad you brought that up. I love that book for its writing and its style and its energy. But in my reading, there was on passing phrase in which Indian removal, which is what this is called, was mentioned. Schlesinger was a great historian, but unapologetically a political historian. And he wrote this book in the 1940s and he kind of made Andrew Jackson into a sort of an FDR, Franklin Roosevelt kind of figure.
INSKEEPAnd that, for me, underlines the incredible number of ways that Jackson's era has been portrayed in American history. Jackson has been a hero. Jackson has been a villain. This has been an age of democracy. It's been an age of slavery and oppression. And it really was all of those things all at once and it's a question of what you try to emphasize. What I'm trying to do with this book, that I would like to think is new if I did my job right, is bring all that together and tell the story in, I hope, a ruthlessly honest, but also impartial, way, which is why it's about Jackson and Ross.
INSKEEPIt's not one perspective or the other. It's both of them going back and forth and trying to get a stereo view of what happened.
PAGEAnd one of the things that is so interesting about your book and so unusual -- I'm not gonna say unprecedented because I don't know that, but rare at least -- is that there is a Native American perspective that you explore on events that are familiar to us from the white man's perspective.
INSKEEPWell, thank you. I do want to say that there have been many scholars who have written extensively and brilliantly on the Native American perspective, generally on specific nations and tribes. There's a lot of scholarship over the years on this. But I would agree with your broad statement in big histories of the era. It is really common that even when there is a focus on Indian removal, it's a story about white people, white people who were in favor of pushing the Indians west of the Mississippi and white people who were opposed and believed that was immoral or dishonorable.
INSKEEPAnd the Native characters are sort of unfortunate minor characters, doomed minor characters or large groups of people or in many cases, illiterate chiefs whose words come to us translated through white observers. In this case, it was fortunate to have John Ross, who was a guy who was literate in English and wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters which have been preserved.
INSKEEPAnd so you have his own perspective, his own words, his own view of events.
PAGEWhere did you find his letters?
INSKEEPWell, they are easy to find because they are in the Library of Congress. You can go and look in a couple of volumes and find tons of them. The Gilcrease Museum in Oklahoma, which I did not have an opportunity to visit, has his original papers, but they can be found here in Washington D.C. because that is such an extraordinary institution. You can go into the Library of Congress -- I did some traveling in the South where this story takes place, but you can go into the Library of Congress and find original letters written by Andrew Jackson to his wife or an angry letter written -- he wrote a lot of angry letters -- and angry letter written to one of his political supporters.
INSKEEPAnd you can also find volumes full of letters by John Ross. There is tremendous scholarship on each of these two individuals and the challenge is to bring out the character of each and to put it in perspective.
PAGENow, the title of your book is "Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross and a Great American Land Grab." What do you mean by Jacksonland?
INSKEEPOkay. That is my word for land that Andrew Jackson obtained over the course of his career by winning wars, negotiating treaties, bullying people into treaties, paying bribes and finally signing treaties and doing other things as president of the United States. And it is broadly speaking, the region we now think of as the Deep South. States like Alabama did not exist at the beginning of this period.
INSKEEPIt starts around the War of 1812 and part or all of about half a dozen states I define as Jacksonland, immense, immense territories, territories the size of European nations were captured in one or another by Andrew Jackson. The original occupants or the previous occupants were shoved out and white settlers moved in, often bringing along black slaves.
PAGEAnd why was Andrew Jackson so focused on expanding the territory?
INSKEEPIt was the grand project of the age, Susan. This is a time when the United States was expanding. It was a new country, an incredibly dynamic and energetic and, in many ways, democratic country. The population was exploding. The median age was around 18. Think about that for a moment. We still have a growing country today, but the median age is in the mid-30s somewhere.
INSKEEPIncredibly large families, and people as the population expanded were rapidly moving west, they wanted land and they had different motivations for that. You had poor white farmers who just wanted a place to call their own, who had come from Scotland or Ireland or the north of England and were looking for a place to be, a place to live and would find some Appalachian valley.
INSKEEPYou also had entrepreneurs, let us call them, who owned slaves or wanted to own slaves and they were looking for fresh land to turn into cotton plantations and looking for places to dispose of their surplus slaves from older states like Virginia and what was then called the American southwest. And we're talking about Mississippi, Alabama, West Tennessee, those regions were seen as available if only the Indians who had the legal right to the land could be displaced.
PAGEAnd when Jackson became president, you found evidence that he identified, he wrote that Indian removal was his first priority. It was the first thing he wanted to do.
INSKEEPYes, that is absolutely true. Martin Van Buren who was his close advisor, the man who helped him to found the Democratic party, his secretary of state, his vice president, later his successor, I mean, a close advisor of Andrew Jackson, wrote in his memoirs that there were a handful of priorities that Andrew Jackson had when he went into office and the first thing on the list is getting the Indians to move west of the Mississippi.
INSKEEPNow, there was a different view of that, an argument to be made which Jackson made, that it was a humane way to deal with Indians who were in the way of white settlement, who were being destroyed and if they would only move out West, separate, but not quite equal, they could restore their own civilizations way out in what now is Oklahoma.
INSKEEPBut in any case, they wanted them out of the way so that there would be room for this settlement.
PAGEAnd he faced this formidable opponent, John Ross, who identified himself as a Cherokee, but, in fact, he was very multiracial.
INSKEEPYes, yes. If we were talking about percentages, he had more white blood than Indian blood. He was the son and grandson of Scottish traders who had come over from Britain in colonial times, who had married Cherokee women and who had remained there for several generations. And he was able, because of the way that he looked, to pass as white.
INSKEEPI record a number of occasions where it appears very clear that he did pass as a white man. He was eloquent. He was well-spoken. He spoke English. It's not clear that he even spoke very much Cherokee. So he could have blended into white society and gone on and probably done just fine, but he gradually, instead, strengthened his attachment to this group of people who were smaller and weaker, as a group, and seemingly destined to lose.
PAGEWe're talking to Steve Inskeep, the co-host of "Morning Edition" here on NPR, the most widely heard radio news program in the United States. This is his second book. His first was titled, "Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi." This new book is called, "Jacksonland." We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll go to the phones and take some of your calls and questions.
PAGEOur phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email to email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio is Steve Inskeep. His new book is called "Jacksonland." President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross and a great American land grab. Let's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. We'll go first to Tulsa, Okla., and talk to Charlotte. Charlotte, hi, you're on the air.
CHARLOTTEThank you. I had studied in college Oklahoma history, the fact that Jackson had persuaded the tribes, the Chickasaw and the Choctaw, that he would not force them out of their land if they would assist him in driving the British away from New Orleans and that he broke his promise. And it always made a -- left a bad taste of that era following Lincoln's assassination.
PAGEYeah, Charlotte, interesting question. Steve?
INSKEEPYeah, I didn't too specifically research the two nations that you mentioned. But broadly speaking, you are absolutely correct. There were Native Americans who assisted Andrew Jackson when he was a general in defending New Orleans during the War of 1812. It was his greatest military victory, one of the greatest military victories in American history. It was done with a multi-racial army. There were African Americans in that army. There were Indians in that army. There were white frontiersmen in that army. They won.
INSKEEPAnd you're right that they were -- among the Indians, Cherokees also fought in the War of 1812 on the U.S. side -- Indians who felt that their military service would lead to respect for their rights later. And they were all wrong.
PAGEWell, Charlotte, thanks so much for your call. Here's an email from Jim, who writes, "Is it accurate to say Jackson was a racist? Or is that too simplistic? Was it just a matter of the Native Americans being in the way of his expansionist goals?"
INSKEEPOh, sure, he was a racist. I mean, he was a slave owner. It's kind of hard to get around that. With that said, I think that all labels tend to oversimplify people. And I agree with the other part of the question that Jackson was a very complicated person. I just mentioned Cherokees fighting in the War of 1812. John Ross was one of them. He was part of a unit called the Cherokee Regiment. It fought under the command of General Andrew Jackson at a great battle called the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Jackson promised the Cherokees -- this is in 1814 -- Jackson promised these Indians equal pay and benefits to white soldiers.
INSKEEPAnd when he discovered after the war that they had not gotten it, that Cherokee widows were not getting their proper death benefits, he went to bat for them and wrote a letter and said, I believe it is just that they receive what I promised them. This was a man who was able to be fair, to call on his instinct for fairness when his financial interest was not involved. When his financial interest was involved -- when he could make money off of a plantation, when he could make money off of land -- he wouldn't let anything stand in his way.
PAGEWell, you write about this relationship between Andrew Jackson and John Ross, who met and talked with each other. And I wonder if you would read us a passage from your book that talks about the two of them and carrying one another. Set it up for us. Tell us what's happening.
INSKEEPAbsolutely. This is a dramatic moment. It's a little bit later in the story. They were in the same army in the War of 1812. We don't have a record that they met but it was a small army. They probably encountered each other. Then they became antagonists after the war. They had battled off and on for a couple of decades by 1834, which is the year I'm about to read from. And this -- at this moment, Andrew Jackson is the President of the United States, an extremely powerful president who has already signed something called the Indian Removal Act, which is just as awful as it sounds.
INSKEEPBut Ross has refused to acknowledge this. He's sued before the Supreme Court. He's actually won a judgment before the Supreme Court, even though it seems to have done him no good. And so he continues negotiating with the federal government. And he goes in early 1834 to Washington, as he often did, and sends a note asking to see the president, as you regularly would if you were an Indian leader going to Washington. Word came back that Jackson would see them at noon on February 5.
INSKEEPThe Executive Mansion, that's the White House, was near enough for Ross to walk there on the appointed day about 10 blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue through the unfinished city with the green-domed Capitol at his back. There was a little green dome on the Capitol at that time. The free and full conversation he had requested 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 66-year-old president scribbled that he was quite unwell with pain in my left breast and shoulder, the places he had been shot in a duel in 1806 and a gunfight in 1813.
INSKEEPJackson went on to complain that Andrew Junior was failing to keep him informed about The Hermitage cotton crop. The Hermitage was his main farm, his plantation outside Nashville. Amid such personal annoyances, the Cherokees arrived in his office. These were men who had spurned his offer by this time of $2.5 million to give up their land in 1833 and here they were back again. If the conversation followed the same lines as the letters of the participants that they sent each other in the days that followed, then the Cherokees spent that meeting searching for any solution that would satisfy Jackson, short of removal.
INSKEEPJackson said that only removal would do. The Cherokees appealed for protection from Georgia's oppression. The State of Georgia was particularly insistent on enforcing their laws on Cherokee land. Jackson replied that he was powerless, which is what he would say in that situation when he actually approved of what the Georgians were doing. And he bade the Cherokee delegation a polite goodbye. Ross returned to a hotel called the Indian Queen, which just underlines for me how much Indian symbolism is shot through America and shot through this era -- the Indian Queen.
INSKEEPIn keeping with custom, additional negotiations would take place in writing slowly over the period of weeks. Left with time to think, he realized that he had been dealing with Andrew Jackson for two decades now. Twenty years earlier, he had received a summons to rejoin the Cherokee Regiment for the march toward Horseshoe Bend. Some of the years since then had been times of steady gains for Ross and for his people. But since Ross' election as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1828, the props had been steadily knocked out from under his world.
INSKEEPRoss at this moment went on to write a letter, Susan. It's -- I describe it as the most remarkable letter he ever wrote. And he essentially says, would you let us stay a little longer? If you'll do that, we'll give up some of our land. And we will even look forward to a time when we will become citizens of the United States, which most Cherokees were not. That would be a moment when the Cherokees would cease to exist, it appears, as an independent nation. He was saying, just let us stay on our real estate and we will give you some of it. And we will even look forward to a time that we are citizens.
INSKEEPThis is a man who had, at various times, thrown out the notion that the Cherokee Nation could become a United States Territory or State. There are ways you could imagine that happening. But given the racism of the day, it was impossible. And in any case, Jackson turned down this offer. A subordinate sent a note indicating that only removal, complete removal would do.
PAGEWell, one remarkable part of this story is that they -- the Cherokee and John Ross turned to the Supreme Court for help. The Court ruled for them and it did them no good. How is that possible?
INSKEEPOh, my goodness. Well, John Marshall, perhaps the greatest chief justice, was still, in the 1830s, the Chief Justice of the United States. And I discovered, looking through the records here, that Marshall involved himself in the case. He actually communicated with Cherokee allies, made it clear that he was sympathetic to their cause. And if they would only get the right case before the Supreme Court, he might rule in their favor. The Cherokees sued once. Marshall didn't like the legal reasoning and ruled against them. The Cherokees sued again and this time he ruled in favor of the Cherokees, against the State of Georgia.
INSKEEPBut the State of Georgia refused to recognize the authority of the court, had never even sent a lawyer to argue before the court, refused to say anything about the decision afterward. And Andrew Jackson, according to all accounts, was simply mad and did nothing for a long time and eventually engaged in some political machinations to make the case go away. I was talking about this just last night at the excellent Washington bookstore, Politics and Prose.
INSKEEPAnd there was a question from the audience from a gentleman who came up to me afterward and said, I went to law school and the first thing one of my law professors had me do was read John Marshall's extraordinary ruling in which he says, obviously the Cherokees have the right to their land. They were here before white settlement. They have the right to their land. That's what the ruling said. This man said that in law school he was told to read this excellent ruling and then reminded that it had no effect whatever. And the lesson the professor was giving was that the law only goes so far and, after that, it's whoever has the most guns.
PAGEIt was Jackson's obligation, was it not, as president, to enforce, to make sure that this court decision was followed or not? Is it no one's obligation?
INSKEEPIt is complicated. It would have been his obligation. There was a long process still to go through. Had the process gone to fruition, however, that would have been his obligation, absolutely. Send a federal marshal down there. There were a couple of missionaries, white missionaries who were supportive of the Cherokees who had been jailed. It would have been his obligation to go down to Georgia and get them out of jail and to send troops or do something if he had to do it. Jackson did not want to do any of those things. He sent plenty of signals at the time. He did not agree with the ruling.
INSKEEPHe gave no indication to Georgia that they should back down. Now think about the comparison to modern times, Susan. Think about 1954, Brown versus Board of Education, very famous Supreme Court ruling desegregating American schools. That was a situation where the president at the time, Dwight Eisenhower -- it's also said that he may not have been totally happy with the timing of the decision, but he agree with it and he sent federal troops ultimately to enforce it. Imagine if President Eisenhower, in the 1950s, had somehow blown off the United States Supreme Court or sent signals that he didn't feel like enforcing the ruling of the Supreme Court.
INSKEEPWe might have had a totally different Civil Rights Movement than what we ultimately had.
PAGEAnd at the time of the court decision, did John Ross and the Cherokees think, this is fantastic? We have won in court, we've been saved. And then...
INSKEEPYes. Absolutely. There were celebrations in the Cherokee Nation in Georgia and the surrounding states. And then letters began arriving from Washington indicating that even one of the Supreme Court Justices who had ruled in their favor took aside some Cherokees and said, listen, it was our duty to rule in your favor. That's what the law is. But it's going to do you no good.
PAGEI think there's a famous quote that's attributed to Marshall, isn't it? I mean, it's a quote attributed to Jackson saying: Let Marshall enforce his ruling.
INSKEEPYeah, yeah. The quote is supposedly that Jackson said something to the effect of, Justice Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it. Historians over the generations have noted that the sourcing of that quote is a little bit dubious. Jackson may not have said exactly that. But scholars have also found four or five contemporaneous statements that are pretty reliable that had the same effect. He more or less said that. And that was the import of what he did. Although the reality is, he knew that he had this deep embarrassment on his hands. He couldn't defy the Supreme Court forever.
INSKEEPSo he figured out a way through a back-door channel to kind of make the basis for the case go away.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listing to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Pam. She's calling us from North Carolina. Pam, what -- where are you calling from?
PAMHi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm calling from Waxhaw, N.C., which is...
PAMYeah, have you been down here yet?
INSKEEPNo, I haven't. But you should explain to people why I'm excited to hear from you. Go ahead.
PAMWell -- well, I'm excited you did this book. I literally yelled out when I heard the topic. I was like, thank you, Lord. I live in Waxhaw, N.C., which is right on the border with South Carolina. And Waxhaw is the birthplace -- or supposed birthplace of Andrew Jackson. And it's kind of funny because the plaque in downtown Waxhaw, it says, Andrew Jackson, basically around about this area. It's hilarious. I'll send you a picture of it. But it cracks me up. Because like one thing led to another. There is a debate on exactly where he was born.
PAMBut he was born in this area. And I really wasn't the greatest student in school. And when my kids, who went through the school system here in Waxhaw, they came home with, you know, information on Andrew Jackson. And I was like, oh we have the Museum of the Waxhaws and all about Andrew Jackson this. And I actually live in the subdivision called Hermitage Place. And I was like, what is Hermitage? It sounds like a disease, you know?
PAMAnd then they -- then we were reading in their books about what Hermitage was and all that stuff, so I was like, oh, that's interesting. And then we got a little more information. And I was like, he's the Trail of Tears guy? And then I started reading more and more. And I was like, so when I do my little exercise through downtown Waxhaw, it just bugged the fire out of me. I'm sitting here reading these, what a great guy he was. And I was -- so I think we need to get another plaque for Ross up there to counter it on the other side. But...
PAGEPam, that's just a great idea. And you mention the Trail of Tears, a terrible episode in American History. Steve, tell us a little bit about the Trail of Tears.
INSKEEPPeople -- this is what people do learn in school. If you learn a little bit about this, you might learn a paragraph or have a day or a unit in school about the Trail of Tears. That's the end of the story. My book is essentially the back story to that, the incredible democratic tale of what led up to that. The Trail of Tears happened in 1838. The Cherokees continued to resist. But some small faction of Cherokees signed a treaty with the United States. It was outside Cherokee law but the United States government accepted it. Andrew Jackson signed it. It said that they would leave their land within two years.
INSKEEPSo there was a deadline. It is to me a really remarkable story, what actually happened. The Cherokees remained. They insisted on their legal rights. John Ross told them to remain and to do nothing to suggest that they were willing to live up to this treaty. There were mass meetings at which Cherokees voted overwhelmingly against the idea of going along with this treaty that they considered illegal. Finally, U.S. soldiers had to be sent. General Winfield Scott, one of the great American generals in history, was sent to organize an army of local white men essentially to go in and move the Cherokees out house by house.
INSKEEPEven as preparations were going on, in the spring of 1838, word came back to Washington that Cherokees were planting corn crops, as if they expected still to be there in the fall. It was, in my mind, a kind of massive passive resistance. The Cherokees were refusing to go along with something they considered unjust and insisting that if this was going to happen at all, that it was going to be entirely on the government of the United States to use force. It actually was such a horrifying prospect to the U.S. government -- Jackson was out of office by now, Martin Van Buren was the president -- that they softened their position slightly.
INSKEEPThey wouldn't let the Cherokees stay but they paid them more money than they otherwise would have for the land. The Cherokees were paid something north of $6 million for their land, probably a fraction of what it was worth but millions of dollars, quite a bit of money at the time. And they were allowed to take charge of their own immigration to the West, which nevertheless was a disaster. Soldiers did, at the beginning, before this deal was made, round up people into camps. It appears that many people died in these camps. You concentrate lots of people together without proper sanitation and equipment, people die.
INSKEEPThen more people went on the road and suffered greatly. Most records of the time suggest that hundreds of people died on the Trail of Tears itself. And if you look at the broader period of being rounded up in the camps and shipped out to what is now Oklahoma, thousands of people died. And there are different estimates on just how many but it was a terrible toll and a terrible psychic toll. It's one of the great stains of American history. It also, in my learning, was a kind of suspense tale because it almost turned out differently.
PAGEWe're going to talk about how it might have come out differently after we take a short break. And we're going to go back to the phones and take more of your calls, read more of your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And Steve Inskeep is in the studio with me. He's the co-host, of course, of Morning Edition on NPR. He's also the author of a new book. It's titled, "Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross and a Great American Land Grab." And just before the break, we were talking about the terrible episode known as the Trail of Tears. You were saying it was possible that could have been avoided.
INSKEEPIt could have been avoided some -- let me rephrase that. The trail was going to happen. Some of the atrocities of it could have been avoided. The most tragic moment, the moment that sticks with us, the moment that you learn about in elementary school or junior high school that sticks with you is the specter of soldiers, American soldiers going into peoples' homes and dragging them out and shoving them out on the road. A deal was reached in Washington to avert that. Ross, finally conceding defeat and getting some concessions from the government said, okay, okay, okay, we'll go.
INSKEEPBut pay us a lot of money and let us organize our own departure. That deal was reached on the very day of the deadline to depart, but it was going to take two weeks for word to get to the Cherokee nation of this, so the roundups began, even though a deal to avert it had been reached. It was even more tragic than it had to be.
PAGEHere's a tweet we received. It says, did the author research the African-Americans on the Trail of Tears? Some Cherokees owned slaves. My ancestors were on the Trail of Tears from Georgia to Oklahoma.
INSKEEPI find that very believable. There absolutely were African-Americans who were enslaved by the Cherokees. This is a nation that had adopted every possible way of its white neighbors. The leaders, at least. The elites had changed their clothes, changed their ways of doing business, their ways of agriculture, they had adopted literacy, of course, many of them in English, some of them in Cherokee. The alphabet invented by Sequoia. And they took up slave owning. They were in the south. And there were Cherokee slaves. And the elites absolutely did take their slaves, this portable form of human property, west with them to Oklahoma.
INSKEEPAnd there's an ongoing story there, because there have been questions in more recent years as to whether the African-American members, now free, of these Indian nations, get to be counted as Indian nations. And get their share of Indian governance and Indian wealth, American Indian wealth.
PAGEAnd do they?
INSKEEPThere have been different rulings and different controversies. There have been controversies inside the Cherokee nation, where there have been votes to exclude African-Americans, and then votes to bring them back in.
PAGEWe've gotten several queries from listeners about the use of the term "Indians" and the term "Native Americans," which we've been using interchangeably.
INSKEEPYeah, which I would like to suggest is fair, and there's even a third way to talk about it. There was a survey done in the 1990s, which I had a look at, in which, perhaps surprisingly, the -- to those who try to be as politically correct as they can, the term American Indian was preferred by more people of native descent than the term Native American. And, of course, just the simple Indian is commonly used in common parlance. And so, if you go to the people themselves, and survey them, there are quite a few who will just go with Indian.
INSKEEPThere, however, is a better way, which I've heard a number of native people speak of, which is simply to speak of the tribe or nation. To say Cherokee, to say Creek, to say Seminole. And there was a moment, as I was writing and editing this book, when it hit me, actually, how many, I don't know, hundreds of times, that I'd said Indian, and I got to really not liking that very much. We all understand why that's such a strange term. It's held on to because of tradition. It's fine. We all understand what it means. But it's actually a geographic mistake from colonial times.
INSKEEPIt's better when you can, with clear meaning, just say Cherokees. And that's what I went through the book, actually, and did. There are references to Indians in there, when it seems appropriate. I'm not banning any particular word, but I went with the tribe or nation when it made sense.
PAGELet's talk to Lauren. She's calling us from Mico, Texas. Lauren, thanks for joining us on The Diane Rehm Show.
LAURENGood morning and thank you so much. And Steve, I wish you obtain an autographed copy of your book and I'll explain why.
LAURENI am currently researching a book on my third great grandfather, (unintelligible) Washburn, who was called the Apostle to the Cherokees. He and some other visionaries established the first missions west of the Mississippi River for the Cherokee Indians. And in my research, I'm learning what a critically important chapter this is in our history and our heritage and to learn what people will do for gold. I consider John Ross and Andrew Jackson both to be failed leaders. They were both rich, they were both slave owners. And they both were looking to benefit, to enhance their lives on the backs of the Indians.
LAURENAnd they would boast of their greed and their unethical actions was basically genocide. So thank you so much for doing this book. I look forward to reading it.
INSKEEPThanks for that, and I hope I do get a chance to get you an autographed copy. And I'm flattered that you would ask for one. I don't entirely disagree with your description of anybody there or anything there. The central characters in this book are not saints. They are far from it. They are imperfect, flawed human beings, with deeply flawed records. And slave owning, in each case, is perhaps the very worst thing on each man's personal record. That, however, is part of what interests me about their story.
INSKEEPWe are all imperfect. We are all flawed in some way. And we all fight it out in a democratic system, just as Jackson and Ross did. And we would like to hope that over time, as we thrash against each other, we are at least thrashing toward the light and toward a better place and a better way.
PAGENow, Lauren mentioned gold. Here's an email from Barbara who asked, do you address the 1820s gold rush in the Appalachians from North Carolina down to Georgia? This was one of the early motivations to get the Cherokees off land that happened to have gold deposits.
INSKEEPI do address that. There was a gold rush. It was before the California gold rush. It happened in and around Cherokee country in North Georgia and there were thousands of people who went wildly there, digging for gold. It was part of the movement of white settlers to the area. It had a destabilizing effect. But as best I could determine, from the research available to me, it's not actually the reason the Cherokee land was taken. Georgia was demanding Cherokee land something more than 20 years before that gold rush began.
INSKEEPThe actual gold here was land. Was the real estate. The real estate was worth more than the gold ever was.
PAGEAnd here's an email from Will who wants to know, why do you focus so much on John Ross rather than on all the other Indian leaders?
INSKEEPI picked one. There are others that you could choose. John Ross had particular advantages for me, however, because he was literate. And he was literate in English and his letters have survived. That makes him a particular kind of person. If we focused on other leaders of the era, we might have a different story. But it's unfortunate that because many native societies were not literate or not fully literate at that time, you had a lot of leaders who could not read or write.
INSKEEPYou had leaders in the Cherokee nation who could read or write. And consequently, the only way that we have their actions and observations is through the filter of white observers. That doesn't mean that we should ignore them. And there are extraordinary scholars who have done extraordinary work to work through the biases of the available record and try to figure out what native peoples' were doing at that time. But I wanted a character who could tell his story in his own words. That's what I do on the radio, is get peoples' words in front of people so you can think about them for yourself.
INSKEEPAnd I wanted a character in John Ross that you could think about for yourself.
PAGEHere's an email from Wayne who writes us from New Hampshire. He writes, the depth of animosity towards Jackson continues to this day. My ancestors include members of both the Iroquois and Algonquin nations and I am an avid pow-wow attendee. Many native people will not accept 20 dollar bills, which of course have Andrew Jackson's picture on it, will not accept 20 dollar bills as payment for goods as a symbolic gesture, eschewing the use of the bill that has Jackson on it.
INSKEEPHe's absolutely right about the animosity towards Jackson. That's one of the incredible things. It's like this history happened the other day. People feel so closely connected to it. He is a man who stirs strong emotions. And complicated emotions, not entirely negative emotions. People do remember that he won the Battle of New Orleans. That he was, in many ways, a great, if brutal and ruthless military leader. That he was a child from a very poor family who lost his father before he was even born.
INSKEEPWho rose from extremely modest circumstances to become the President of the United States. That as President, he broadened American democracy. There are people who still respect and admire things that Andrew Jackson did, but he was such a strong character, who to our eyes, was so wrong so often, that he stirs, I think, stronger emotions than almost anybody else of his era.
PAGEWe should talk about the 20 dollar bill because you have written, I saw an op-ed piece in the New York Times, I think, where you have a proposal on the 20 dollar bill.
PAGEWhat's your idea?
INSKEEPWell, my proposal is to put John Ross on the 20 dollar bill. Because I think that he was such an interesting character and because he had a powerful influence himself on broadening American democracy by grabbing and using new democratic tools to fight for the rights of a minority in ways that a racial minority had never fought for itself before. Then, I want Andrew Jackson, still on the bill, on the other side, because I think that the two of them together tell a story.
INSKEEPAs I was mentioning before about imperfect people thrashing it out in a democracy and sometimes making horrible mistakes along the way, I would further like it if you paired people on other bills. There is a movement, it's a brilliant movement, I like it very much, to put a woman on the 20. I wouldn't be sad if that happened. I would like it better though if we put two people on every bill, if they were paired up as I just said Jackson and Ross should be. And they are all kinds of people, but different people from the same era.
INSKEEPSo that you get different perspectives. You could have Abraham Lincoln on one side and Frederick Douglas on the other side, the escaped slave who pushed Lincoln to move faster to end slavery. Ulysses S. Grant is on the 50. You could have Grant on one side, the guy who's armies ended the Civil War and you could have Harriet Beatrice Stowe on the other side, the woman whose novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," did a lot to start the Civil War.
PAGEYou say that this struggle, this rivalry helps set the stage for the Civil War. What do you mean when you say that?
INSKEEPWell, one thing that it set was the existence of the South as it came to be by 1861, the start of the Civil War. The Deep South, as we know it, didn't really exist. It was, to use a somewhat pejorative phrase, Indian country. It was -- it was a series of native nations that legally weren't really part of the United States, even though the United States claimed supremacy over them. And what Jackson's Indian removal did and the Indian removals of others did is clear the way for the creation of the Deep South, of a much broader region where slavery was a predominant part of the economy, where there was wealth generated from cotton.
INSKEEPAnd where there was the south as we knew it by the Civil War. That was a huge part of the expansion of the United States that led to conflict between slave and non-slave holding states and set the stage for that conflict, to become a shooting war.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Let's go back to the phones. We'll talk to Brett. He's calling from Hot Springs. Brett, thanks for holding on.
BRETTWell, thank you and it sounds like a great read. I like to go with indigenous people, Steve.
BRETTThat's just my point. Andrew Jackson, he started the Democrat party movement. It's evolved into what it is. There are no -- every sinner has a past -- a future, every saint has a past. And now we see Democrats such as Hillary Clinton -- Andrew Jackson-ist like.
INSKEEPWell, that's an interesting connection. It is something that is important to remember, that Andrew Jackson was the founder of what became the Democratic Party, and people still hearken back to him in some ways. There's a memo by Paul Begala, if I'm pronouncing his name correctly, who was an advisor to Bill Clinton, who said at some point, late in Bill Clinton's administration, you Mr. President, have touched the hearts of your people more deeply than any president since Andrew Jackson.
INSKEEPThat's a statement that maybe some people would question in many different ways, but it is absolutely true that Jackson was a man -- let's not say a man of the people, he was a man of his people. The white people that he supported, the poor white farmers and slave owners, as well, of the West and elsewhere, were really, really with him.
PAGEBrett, thanks so much for your call. You know, it was interesting. I was reading the press release that your Penguin Press put out, about your book and it has the standard series of blurbs saying, it's a great book and you really should buy it. And one of the blurbs that you have is from Principal Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation. What reaction have you gotten from Cherokees to this book and this story?
INSKEEPIt's early, but I've been gratified by the response. I was gratified to hear nice things from the keeper of Andrew Jackson's papers, as well as John Ross's successor as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. People, I think, have been excited that this story is being investigated. It's a story that does get a degree of attention, but I tried to go at it more deeply. I feel like it's a story that everybody knows without quite knowing, and I wanted to know it better. And I look forward to the reaction. People feel a connection to this in my early conversations with the public.
INSKEEPI was at a book signing yesterday and one person says I'm of Creek descent. Another says I'm of Cherokee descent. Another says I'm of Cherokee descent and have links to Andrew Jackson's family. And yet another book that I signed was for someone whose son was named after Andrew Jackson. So, I mean, there are people who feel connections to both sides of this story. It's a very personal thing.
PAGEAnne has sent us an email asking, do you think the National Museum of the American Indian Exhibit, that details this treaty relationship between the United States between the Cherokees, gets the story right?
INSKEEPHaven't been there, eager to go. People have been telling me about it for days. It's right here in Washington, D.C. I do need to get there.
PAGEAnd Brian has sent us a tweet and he asked, ask Steve how long it took him to write this book and what it was like juggling his research with his full time job. So, how did you go about writing this book?
INSKEEPWell, it took me a couple of years, and I basically used all the spare time that I had. I took some time off of work. I also would work in the afternoons. I work an early morning job. And I -- it's the kind of thing that gets at you and I thought about it all the time. And I would often do Morning Edition in the morning, work through the morning. At some point in the afternoon, I would leave work and I would go to the Library of Congress, which is an amazing institution, and I would be reading someone's letters or reading an old out of print book.
INSKEEPOr simply sitting in that incredible reading room in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress and thinking and writing.
PAGEOne of the things I liked best about this story is the Cherokee Phoenix, the newspaper that the Cherokees started.
PAGEWhy was that important?
INSKEEPIt was important for different reasons than I think people find out about it. It was a place where articles were printed in the Cherokee language. That was vital to the Cherokee Nation. What's important to me, though, politically, is that they were also printed in English and mailed to the editors of other newspapers across the nation and some of the articles went viral, to use a modern phrase. So, it was a way the Cherokees could speak for themselves, politically, rather than depending on white people to speak for them.
INSKEEPAnd they could get their own views across. Ultimately, the editor was frustrated that he hadn't had enough of an effect, but he certainly got his views across the United States over time.
PAGEAnd, of course, like newspapers today, it leaves a record of the time. It tells you about how they saw what was going on.
INSKEEPAnd that's another thing you can get at the Library of Congress. Sometimes, I was brought original copies of this newspaper from the 1820s. They're in these huge bound volumes and you can flip through these old broad sheet newspapers and read the best approximation of what people were thinking then.
PAGESteve Inskeep, thanks so much for joining us this hour.
INSKEEPThank you. I loved this conversation.
PAGESteve Inskeep has just written a new book. It's called "Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross and a Great American Land Grab." I'm Susan Page of the USA Today. I've been sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. Thanks for listening.
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