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In our pages: 'Driven West' reviewed

December 14, 2010 |  8:47 am

Drivenwest In "Driven West: Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears to the Civil War," historian A.J. Langguth looks at the removal of Native America tribes from their lands. The account is "unfocused yet scarifying," Wendy Smith writes in our review.

[C]onflict between the federal and state governments over Indian policy involved opposing principles whose collision ultimately led to the Civil War. It's grimly ironic that Jackson, so opposed to Southern states' assertion of the right to nullify federal laws that he threatened to hang South Carolina's John C. Calhoun for treason, colluded with their defiance of the Supreme Court in the case of the Cherokees. He was willing to let the states have their way when it suited his purposes.

Despairingly aware that the government had no intention of enforcing court decisions in their favor, some Cherokee leaders concluded it was wisest to accept removal as inevitable and cut the best deal they could. In 1835, a faction signed the Treaty of New Echota, which promised $5 million to the tribe in recompense for their Southern lands, new territory west of the Mississippi and subsidies to make the move. The majority of the tribe, Langguth makes clear, rejected the treaty and resisted to the end. Forcibly removed from Georgia by the Army in 1838, the Cherokees "saw their houses stripped bare and set on fire," writes Langguth.

In 2009, Congress apologized "for the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States." The apology, Smith notes, "is as inadequate to its terrible subject as is this well-intentioned but undisciplined book."

-- Carolyn Kellogg