New York Times columnist Gail Collins has dived into the Jackson Removal debate, commenting that replacing the slave owner and Indian killer with the escaped slave, Harriet Tubman, would be the “best trade ever.” She points out that “freedom” is an abused word when it’s “applied to everything from capital gains tax cuts to office towers” and putting it in the context of slavery might reclaim the word to mean, well, freedom.
While it’s a pleasure to welcome Ms. Collins on the Jackson Removal bandwagon, it’s also interesting to see what her column provoked in the comments section. Here is a tiny sample, starting with perhaps the most American comment:
Charles of New Jersey asked, “Why not sell portrait rights to the highest bidder?”
Kevin from Miami reminded us of some history, “Even the guy on the Buffalo nickel is an amalgamation of three Native Americans, and the version of Liberty on the Peace Dollar (my personal favorite coin) was the sculptor's own wife! The Morgan silver dollar was Liberty, modeled on a school teacher acquaintance of George Morgan’s.” That’s news to me, and makes me wonder why it took three Indians to make one?
Norma from Albuquerque had her heart in the right place even if her facts were wrong when she replied to a spirited defense of Jackson that he “was also a slave owner and responsible for the Trail of Tears that displaced American Indians from their Oklahoma lands to give to his cronies. Not exactly a symbol we should encourage to represent our country…” Come to think of it, I guess the Indigenous Peoples of Oklahoma were replaced to create Indian Territory. It’s not like that land was empty when the U.S. made it the biggest reservation ever.
Robert from Connecticut opined, “Tubman for Jackson is a good deal… A lot of people know the story of Harriet Tubman; a lot of people don’t. Let’s do something about that, and let’s get some change for our twenty.” Maybe Robert’s last sentence could be the Jackson Removal slogan?
Steve from New York offered some history, apparently copied from somewhere, because it contained footnotes. One quote appears to refer to the bogus Cherokee removal treaty, New Echota: “The treaty, passed by Congress by a single vote, allowed Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama to round up about 13,000 Cherokees into concentration camps in Tennessee before being sent to the West. Most of the deaths occurred from disease, starvation and cold in these camps. Their homes were burned and their property destroyed and plundered. Farms belonging to the Cherokees for generations were won by white settlers in a lottery. After the initial roundup, the U.S. military still oversaw the emigration until they met the forced destination.”
He then quotes Army Private John G. Burnett: “Future generations will read and condemn the act and I do hope posterity will remember that private soldiers like myself, and like the four Cherokees who were forced by General Scott to shoot an Indian Chief and his children, had to execute the orders of our superiors. We had no choice in the matter.” Another soldier tasked with the nasty business was quoted, “I fought through the War Between the States and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.”
Priscilla from Lamoni, Iowa demonstrated that she knows the final case in the Cherokee Trilogy at the foundation of federal Indian law, Worcester v. Georgia:
“Symbols are important, and this is a reason to replace Andrew Jackson, who illegally defied a ruling by the Supreme Court, with Harriet Tubman, who emancipated herself from enslavement.”
Richard of Texas knew the obscure fact that one Indian has appeared on U.S. paper currency: “I suggest the Native American chief, Running Antelope, whose portrait was on the beautiful 1899 U.S. $5 bill. Solves the issue of Jackson’s war on the Indians.”
Greg from Davis, California dissented: “If you want a woman on the $20 bill, I still favor Pocahontas.” This led me to wonder what representation of Pocahontas he has in mind and to hope it would not be Pocahottie.
Mike from Yucca Valley, California, is no Jackson fan: “Jackson liked to murder Indians, and then renege on treaties with the survivors. He was just another charismatic bully, from a frontier region where it was OK to steal and kill if you could figure out a way to get away with it…”
William of Texas has a problem and a solution: “Most famous Americans powerful enough to have a major impact on U.S. history come with baggage. Andrew Jackson signed the act that put the Cherokee on the ‘Trail of Tears.’ Abraham Lincoln signed the order that sent the Navajo on ‘The Long Walk,’ the Navajo version of the ‘Trail of Tears.’ Franklin Delano Roosevelt put Japanese-Americans in internment camps. The modern-day vilification of American political leaders by both liberal and conservatives ensure that no present or future president will be enshrined on our paper currency. It seems the days of heroes is past. Why not replace faces of actual people with images of America’s national parks? We could start by replacing the Egyptian pyramid with the weird eye on the dollar bill with Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan.”
Jackson had a number of defenders, but none of them history-challenged enough to deny Jackson’s association with slavery or Indian Removal. No matter how the Jackson Removal project goes, it has encouraged a discussion worth having and Gail Collins deserves kudos for moving that discussion along.