Miraculously, I’ve somehow managed to spend much of my weekend on the book, thinking less about current controversies —including super-burning issues like this week’s Rand study documenting this country’s ongoing betrayal of new veterans — than about those of 1830: how long slavery should last, and what to do about the pesky presence of the original inhabitants of this continent. And I found a surprising new veteran character for the book: Davy Crockett, emblazoned in popular culture with a rifle and a coonskin cap, who killed many Indians in Andrew Jackson’s first wars.
To my surprised delight, I found that Crockett, then a Congressman from Tennessee, stood up to Jackson years later, when the then-president asked for formal endorsement of his policy of moving all Indians across the MIssissippi:
Soon after the commencement of [my] second term, [Jackson’s] famous, or rather I should say his in-famous, Indian bill was brought forward, and I opposed it from the purest motives in the world. Several of my colleagues got around me, and told me how well they loved me, and that I was ruining myself. They said this was a favorite measure of the president,and I ought to go for it. I told them I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure, and that I should go against it, let the cost to myself be what it might; that I was willing to go with General Jackson in every thing that I believed was honest and right; but, further than this, I wouldn’t go for him, or any other man in the whole creation I had been elected by a majority of three thousand five hundred and eighty-five votes, and I believed they were honest men, and wouldn’t want me to vote for any unjust motion, to please Jackson or any one else; at any rate, I was of age, and was determined to trust them. I voted against this Indian bill, and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgment.
Crockett’s faith in his voters may have been misplaced; he was soon returned to civilian life, a fate he’d foreseen from the beginning: “ I know’d well enough,though, that if I didn’t ” hurra ” for [the President’s] name, the hue and cry was to be raised against me, and I was to be sacrificed, if possible.”
While Crockett didn’t then join fellow veterans Noah Worcester and Wiliam Ladd in their American Peace Society, instead taking the opposite stance and dying fighting for slavery at the Alamo, his vote against removal still counts for something. I’m still working to tease out how much, in this alchemists’ brew of dissent that I’m tracking. But I wonder how many deserters from subsequent wars traded stories about the frontiersman who stood up to a president.
By the way, before some random historian finds this and slams me: I know Andrew Jackson didn’t come up with the idea of removal. Sweet old Tom Jefferson had conceived of such tactics fifteen years earlier, should his chosen strategy of creating a red/maroon Generation Debt fail:
To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want, for necessaries, which we have to spare and they want, we shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good and the influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands. . . . They will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi.
In other words, Jefferson provided the ideology, Jackson the means, and reckless Western governments an incomplete Final Solution.
Thinking about all this, the poetry of white people pouring away their life savings at Indian-owned casinos comes clearer; I should probably mind less my parents going to Foxwoods in formerly Pequot Connecticut, or Mohegan Sun farther east. Though I understand the reluctance of William Penn’s city to want to allow a similar payback on their soil.