“Unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights,” this is the definition of intolerance from Merriam-Webster Dictionary. In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered native people in what is now Puerto Rico. He proceeded to enslave and massacre them, despite their hospitality towards him. Fast forward 500 years and nothing has changed for them, we still oppress the native populous, but now at least civil rights activists are protesting it. For 500 years, the native North American people have been enduring discrimination and intolerance from Europeans and have not been able to do anything about it, this is a topic that needs to have more light shed upon it because it has been swept under the rug for too long.
Before the discovery of the new world by Europeans in 1492, Native Americans lived fruitful and peaceful lives. Then Christopher Columbus attempted to find a better trade route to Asia and instead found a rich and prosperous land filled with kind and caring people, who he then massacred, exploited, and conquered. After that, people flocked to the “new world” in droves, where they proceeded to oppress and discriminate against the Native populace. The most notable of these people being the British who have had previous experience of this with the oppression and intolerance of the Native people in Ireland.
In 1607, English colonists landed at Jamestown, Virginia. Based on various explorations, the British and French laid claim to the territory comprising present-day West Virginia and Native Americans were forced west. Many of the tribes were destroyed by constant warfare and catastrophic diseases. At the same time, trade with the Europeans proved a strong attraction, enabling the Indians to acquire valuable new products, such as guns, steel hatchets, cloth, and kettles. The fur trade in particular made many tribes powerful and more aggressive. The Indian nations successfully played one European power against another. For instance, the British formed an alliance with the Iroquois Confederacy to cut the French out of the lucrative fur trade. However, the Native Americans also negotiated treaties and traded with the French.
In 1754, hostilities broke out between English and French troops in western Pennsylvania. English troops under a young commander, George Washington, were overwhelmed by the French at Fort Necessity, beginning a lengthy war for control of the American colonies. While the English had made it clear they intended to settle the frontier, the French were more interested in trade. This influenced many Native American tribes to side with the French. Although the Native Americans officially remained neutral, many of them allied with the French. This war would not be the last time that Native Americans would be caught up in other countries’ quests for land.
On March 15, 1767 in Waxhaw, South Carolina, a baby was born. This baby’s name was Andrew Jackson and he would go on to be the seventh president of the United States, while also committing atrocities towards Native Americans along the way. Andrew was born into a immigrant family of five and was the first member of his immediate family born in the USA. He rose from humble backcountry origins to become a U.S. congressman, senator, and president.
He was a rather bad student, but he showed some educational promise when he entered the legal profession in 1784, which was when he traveled to Salisbury, North Carolina and entered the law office of Spruce McCay. After learning some law there, he left Salisbury to work at the office of Colonel John Stokes, a brilliant North Carolina lawyer and worked there for three years. After that, he passed the North Carolina BAR test and officially became a lawyer. He headed to Tennessee and established himself as an able prosecutor. In 1796, Jackson was elected as the new state’s first congressional representative, an office which he held from 1796 to 1797. After a five month stint as a US senator, he became a judge on the Tennessee Superior Court for 6 years.
In 1802, he won an election to be a general of the Tennessee militia, where he excelled and became a national hero. The First Seminole War of 1817-18 was fought to deter raids on Georgia settlements. Jackson’s troops tended to kill American Indians indiscriminately, men, women, and children alike. They burned and looted every Indian village they found. During the Creek War Jackson had several soldiers executed for desertion. At times during the campaigns Jackson appeared to be acting on his own, regardless of orders. In 1818 he invaded Florida in response to reports that the Seminoles were staging their raids from there. He crushed the Seminole Indian invaders and executed two British citizens who were believed to have been helping the Seminoles. Afterwards, having heard rumors of a British invasion into the United States from the town of Pensacola, Florida, the general undertook an even more extraordinary action, the seizure of an entire Spanish town. He informed the Spanish governor that he would be taking control until the Spaniards could assure the United States they would not allow British invaders into their ports. The evidence is not conclusive about whether Jackson had an order to invade Florida. One order from General Edmund Gaines authorized him to pursue the Seminoles across the border but not to attack if they were sheltered in a Spanish port. Yet the will of the James Monroe administration to possess Florida was well-known. Jackson’s orders from Monroe were intentionally vague–with carefully worded suggestions, but not orders, that he should take care of the Spanish. Afterwards, Monroe and John C. Calhoun (then secretary of war) denied authorizing the invasion but Jackson escaped punishment because he had enough high-level support. A high-profile campaign for his censure, however, was led by none other than Henry Clay, an influential senator from Kentucky and a critic of the Monroe administration. The incident created an international uproar that was quietly settled in 1819, when the Spanish sold Florida to the United States, which was the goal of the James Monroe administration all along.
Jackson’s conduct during the Indian campaigns earned him a reputation among journalists and many Washington legislators as a coward, tyrant, and murderer. Among the general population, however, Jackson’s popularity as a no-nonsense military leader grew. He was bold and sometimes cruel in dealing with his enemies, but in the eyes of the public, especially settlers in the U.S. South and West, he was the man to keep them safe from foreign invasions. Jackson’s popularity won him another election to the U.S. Senate representing his home state of Tennessee, where he served from 1823 to 1825. Jackson was elected president in 1828, at the age of 61. He would serve two terms.
In 1830, during his first term, he passed the Indian Removal Act. It exchanged Native American tribal lands east of the Mississippi River with lands west of the Mississippi River without tribal agreement. It was prompted by the desire of white settlers to gain access to Native American land east of the Mississippi River. While the US government financially compensated the relocated tribes for the loss of their historical land, no amount of money could replace the land that those tribes had lived on since their formation. Later on, this act would spark a period of time in our country’s history that most people would like to forget about.
In defense of the passing of the act, Andrew Jackson explained that they could not coexist with white settlers because they were uncivilized. This was not true however, as George Washington founded a project that would try to civilize these Native American tribes. This project succeeded with, as they are known today, “the five civilized tribes”. These tribes were The Cherokees, the Choctaws, the Chickasaws, the Creeks, and the Seminoles.
In September of 1830, the Choctaws became the first tribe to sign a removal treaty with the government. Under the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, the tribe gave up more than 10 million acres of their communal lands in central Mississippi and west-central Alabama to the U.S. government. In 1831, the U.S. Army began forcing the Choctaws to move to the designated Indian territory. Members of the tribe journeyed on foot, without food, supplies, or any help from the government. They struggled to cross the Mississippi River in the winter cold. Thousands died without reaching their destination. Those who opted to stay in Mississippi were eventually forced to head west after white settlers squatted on their land or cheated them out of their property. Over the next few years, some 13,000 members of the tribe were forced to move to the Indian territory.
In 1832, the Chickasaws signed their own treaty with the U.S. government. Under the Treaty of Pontotoc Creek, the tribe agreed to sell its remaining homeland in Mississippi and Alabama to the U.S. government.
In 1837, most members of the tribe undertook the long and difficult journey to their new home in Oklahoma. More than 500 died of dysentery and smallpox along the way. Upon their arrival, the Chickasaws agreed to purchase part of the Choctaw land in the Indian territory.
The Creeks had already lost millions of acres of land in Georgia and central Alabama to the U.S. government by 1814. In 1832, the tribe signed the Treaty of Cusseta, in which it gave up all claims to their homeland in east Alabama in exchange for legal titles to part of their former territory. The new Creek landowners, however, were soon cheated out of their property or driven out by white squatters. In response, many Creeks began stealing livestock and crops from white settlers. In 1836, the remaining Creeks were forced to leave, without a removal treaty. More than 3,000 of the estimated 15,000 tribe members died on the way to Oklahoma.
In 1835, some self-appointed Cherokee leaders negotiated the Treaty of New Echota, in which the Cherokee homeland in Georgia would be traded for $5 million, relocation assistance, and compensation for loss of property. Seeing the treaty as a betrayal of the tribe, about 15,000 Cherokees, led by Chief Ross, signed and submitted a petition of protest to the U.S. Congress. Despite the petition, however, the treaty was approved. The Cherokees were given two years to migrate voluntarily, after which they would be forcibly removed.
By 1838, only about 2,000 Cherokees had left. President Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), who had replaced Jackson in 1836, sent 7,000 soldiers to force the Cherokees into stockades at gunpoint. The members of the tribe were not even allowed to gather their belongings, which the white settlers looted as the Cherokees left. Some members of the tribe were kept in the stockades for months before their journey west. More than 15,000 Cherokees were forced to walk more than 1,200 miles from Georgia to the Indian Territory in the winter. About 4,000 died from starvation, exhaustion, and diseases like whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, and cholera.
The Seminole tribe in Florida had already lost much land to the U.S. government by 1818. In 1832, the Seminoles signed the Treaty of Payne’s Landing, which allowed some tribe leaders to inspect their designated land in the Indian territory. If these lands were found to be suitable for the tribe, the Seminoles were to be relocated there within three years. The following year, a small group of Seminoles was forced to sign the Treaty of Fort Gibson, which affirmed the terms of the earlier agreement.
Most of the Seminoles refused to honor the new treaty and refused to leave their homeland. The resulting war lasted from 1835 to 1842 and left thousands dead. Most of the Seminoles eventually moved to the new territory after the war. The few who opted to stay had to endure another war when the U.S. military tried to drive them out. Eventually, the U.S. government paid the remaining Seminoles to move west.
The continual erosion of Native American rights and violations of treaties precipitated new wars throughout the 19th century. Two of the most prevalent Native American resistance leaders were Sitting Bull, who was a Sioux chief and Geronimo, who was an Apache chief. They led resistances against the virtually unbeatable American military and even won a few battles, with the most notable being the Battle of Little Bighorn.
In 1789, with the establishment of the federal government under the US Constitution, Indian affairs were placed under the control of the Department of War. In 1834, the office of Indian affairs was created as a part of the war department to oversee Indian Removal in the West. The heart of the attack on Indian land rights stemmed from the allotment of reservation lands to adult tribal members, rather than the tribe as a whole, and the sale of so called “surplus lands” to non-Indians. Most Native American nations resisted these land-allotment policies. The Supreme Court rejected their arguments, however. Reservation Indians were forced to assimilate into the dominant American Culture. The Indian New Deal was passed by Franklin D. Roosevelt just before the start of World War 2. After World War 2 ended, congress started to undo the benefits of the Indian New Deal.
The reservation system for Native Americans grew out of prior policies, practices, and ideological formations. The roots of the reservation system can be traced to England’s ventures into Ireland. These reservations were originally meant to conform the Irish people to the English Culture. The English thought that the Irish were a savage and inferior race and the reservations were used to civilize them and extract resources for investors and the Crown. In order to achieve the aforementioned goals, the people who ran the reservations often used extreme violence. They continued these practices in Colonial North America.
The Indian reservation system was created to keep Native Americans off of lands that European Americans wished to settle. The reservation system allowed Indian tribes to govern themselves and to maintain some of their cultural and social traditions. The Dawes Act of 1887 destroyed the reservation system by subdividing tribal lands into individual plots.
The reservation system had unforeseen effects outside of the United States. For example, Adolf Hitler’s efforts to contain and eliminate unwanted groups in Nazi Germany required the importation of American technologies, including punch card technology (developed by IBM), the application and instrumentalization of data systems, and the machinery for creating and implementing systems of containment and eradication, such as the reservation system. Nazi administrators, academics, and scientists studied the reservation system and other procedures and mechanisms for managing unwanted populations, including eugenics, euthanasia, and forced sterilization. American practices were well known in Germany by the 1920s, so much so that many appeared in Hitler’s manifesto, Mein Kampf, including containment, incarceration, isolation, monitoring and surveillance, antimiscegenation, and identifying, circumscribing, and eliminating populations according to race criteria.
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