Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, And A Great American Land Grab, by Steve Inskeep, read by the author
There is a lot that is both moving and rather futile about this book. The author has a clear perspective, and it should be noted, a perspective that is shared by many of the people who are likely to read this book, and that is a sense of loss and sadness about the fate of the Cherokee and others who were dispossessed so that greedy Southerners could appropriate their land. The author notes repeatedly that Andrew Jackson sought to interpret laws and instructions in a way that allowed him to fulfill his goals and that he was rather ruthless in pursuing his interests while always maintaining a sense of self-righteousness about his line of contact. The author also notes repeatedly that the ethics of neither Jackson nor Ross would be acceptable in the present-day concerning the combination of personal and public interests. The author also seeks to exculpate Ross from the blame for the murders of those members of the treaty party who signed the treaty of New Echota that extinguished the Cherokee claims to land in the East. While Ross and the Cherokees sought to maintain their land, they were ultimately deluded in believing that the United States would protect the claims to land that white Americans wanted for themselves, and lacked the demographics to command the respect of those who repeatedly demanded more land and more space from the Cherokee.
In listening to this book I was struck by the tension that existed between the author’s celebration of democracy and general underdog tendencies with the author’s tendency for elitism. The figures the author discusses were all in some way or fashion members of elites. Ross was himself a barely Cherokee descendant of mostly British merchants who was able at times to pass as white for his own protection and interests. Jackson, his associates in various land deals, the members of the Supreme Court, missionaries, the members of the Treaty Party of the Cherokees who correctly saw no way for the Cherokee to remain in their homeland in the face of the pressures of Southerners who lusted after the developed farmland and properties of the Cherokee. As much as the Cherokee map may have been a valid alternative to the familiar map of state and county borders and as much as contemporary southerners may lean into the heritage of the Cherokee and Creeks and Seminoles who still reside in part in their homelands, it was unrealistic to expect the Americans to refrain from taking what was in their power to seize, and to justify it however they could, however inadequate their justifications may appear to us now.
Overall this audiobook consists of ten discs that takes about twelve hours to listen to. The book is written in a generally chronological fashion and focuses on the period between 1812 when Ross and Jackson first came to each other’s acquaintance during their shared service in the American army against the Red Stick Confederacy until the removal of the Cherokee from their land and the resulting demographic disaster of the Trail of Tears. The author’s desire to convey the horror of removal for the Cherokee somewhat fails because he is an honest enough historian to note that had they prepared for it psychologically or logistically it would not have been so great a disaster. It was the resolute refusal to accept that removal would happen until it happened that made it such a tragedy. This sort of effect has all kinds of ramifications when it comes to the way that we view humanitarian disasters. There was nothing surprising about removal when it happened, and it is just to hold Jackson and Winfield Scott and others responsible for what was in large part due to the failure of the Cherokee themselves to prepare themselves for removal to what is now Oklahoma? Justice is by no means an easy thing to assess.