But in the second paragraph in the excerpt above, the former senator goes well beyond defending “Old Hickory” not by putting his thumb on the scales but by downplaying the impact of Jackson’s actions.
First off, Webb utterly fails to understand what constitutes genocide. Arguing that the man can’t be labeled genocidal because he “adopted” an Indian child is like saying a white man can’t be racist if he is married to a black woman. The official language in this matter is quite clear.
According to Article II-e of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, one element of genocide is “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
The separation of Indian children from the tribes, and not just orphans of this or that slaughter, was a major aspect of the Indian wars in those days long before genocide was yet a word. The “bloody fight” Webb takes note of was the 1813 U.S.-Creek Battle of Tallushatchee, of which Davy Crockett wrote in his memoirs, "We shot 'em down like dogs." No slouch at Indian killing himself, Crockett was sickened by what he saw. Found on the battlefield that day was the boy, Lyncoya, of whom Jackson said to his wife, Rachel, when shipping the toddler home to the Hermitage: “Keep Lyncoya in the house. He is a savage but one that fortune has thrown in my hands.”
As for Jackson’s alleged desire to protect the Indians from clashes with whites, it should not be forgotten that the forcible cession of millions of acres of Indian land was one of Jackson’s claims to fame. He did it to make space for white settlers throughout the South and for his personal profit in the real estate boom that followed the Indians’ ceding of land at gunpoint.
When the Tennessee River Valley in what is now Alabama was ceded, Jackson and his favored pals took 45,000 acres for themselves. As Steve Innskeep pointed out last year, “Jackson both created and scored in the greatest real estate bubble in the history of the United States up to that time.”
Indians who had allied themselves with Jackson in the so-called Red Stick Creek War were much praised by him, but when they later sought government payment for losses incurred in their support of Jackson, he told the secretary of war that their claims were a “complete tissue of groundless falsehood.”
The selling and settling of that Indian land was the reason for the “certain annihilation” Webb refers to. Removal, much of it focused on Indians who had adopted white language, culture, religion, living styles and agricultural techniques, added more land to that already taken. Jackson was no reluctant advocate of removal done only to save Indians from white depredations. On the contrary, Jackson as soldier and president was one of the leading predators. In the 1820s and ‘30s, he actively encouraged state governments and ad hoc militias to drive the Indians out, which typically meant killing a bunch of them and grabbing their property outright.
In a letter to the Creeks of Alabama just weeks after his inauguration in 1829, Jackson wrote that they would be better off and protected from “troublesome whites” if they agreed to remove themselves to west of the Mississippi River to land that—in one of the most infamous phrases expressed in American history—would be theirs “as long as the grass grows or the water runs, in peace and plenty.” That land was already occupied by tribes like the Osage, Caddo, Apache, Kiowa and Wichita. But that made no never-mind to Jackson. Eventually, most of that land in what is now Oklahoma wound up in non-Indian hands, too.
As Jon Meacham wrote in his 2008 biography of Jackson, American Lion:
There is nothing redemptive about Jackson’s Indian policy, no moment, as with Lincoln and slavery, where the moderate on a morally urgent question did the right and good thing. [...] In the message to the Creeks he signed on Monday, March 23, 1829, Jackson repeatedly returned to the idea that he was a father leading children, and that they should trust him. “This is straight and good talk,” he said. But it was only straight, not good.
If Webb wishes to continue his pitiful rehabilitation of Jackson’s reputation from what it has suffered from “skew[ing] our national consciousness,” as he puts it, he might have better luck if he stopped defending the indefensible.
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