180 years ago, President Andrew Jackson
handed a letter to a military officer
with a message for two American Indian
tribes: Leave Mississippi and Alabama,
direct language was the start of federal
efforts leading to the forced
relocation of five tribes and the
infamous "Trail of Tears," as thousands
of Indians died from starvation,
exposure, and disease.
historians have always had to depend on
a draft of Jackson's message -- not the
final copy carried by Maj. David Haley
to Choctaw and Chicasaw leaders. It was
believed lost to history.
letter was discovered last summer in a
private family collection, and sold to the Raab
Collection, a dealer
of autographs, historical documents and
manuscripts. Raab then sold it to
a major collector of American documents
in New Jersey for a price "well into
five figures." Rabb declined to identify the buyer.
is a once-in-a-lifetime find,"
said Nathan Raab, vice
president of the Raab Collection.
"It's one of the most important
documents in American history. To
discover it after nearly two centuries
is nothing short of breathtaking."
has enthralled academics, historians,
historical point of view, what it
documents is a pivotal point in
relations between the federal government
and Native American tribes," said Leslie
Morris from Harvard University. ''
... it's something
you would want if you're doing an
exhibition on this topic. It's
evocative. [The paper] is very well worn
as if it had been carried around."
Morris says the
draft and original "are similar but
different in tone. Reading it now gives
a sense of immediacy. . . . The fact
that it survived at all is remarkable."
letter, "Jackson sets in motion the
punishing policy of Indian
resettlement," said Andy Waskie, a
historian, author, and Temple University
professor. ". . . By all appearances, this
is a very historic document. This could
be a windfall find."
Jackson's message -- which indicates it
was directly presented to Haley by the
president -- captured a crucial moment
in history while offering fresh
insights, especially when comparing the
final copy with the draft.
words, written in a graceful cursive by
the president, were intended to coax and
cajole his "friends"
and "brethren" to
relocate to lands in what is now
Oklahoma. They also carried a clear
them as friends and brothers to listen
[to] the voice of their father, &
friend," Jackson wrote. "Where [they]
now are, they and my white children are
too near each other to live in harmony &
peace. Their game is destroyed and many
of their people will not work & till the
earth. Beyond the great river
Mississippi, where a part of their
nation has gone, their father has
provided a co[untry] large enough for
them all, and he ad[vises] them to go to
made subtle changes in the letter given
to Haley. In the published draft, he
told the tribes they must move if they
want to "preserve their Nation." That
threatening language was removed and
replaced with wording -- in the final
letter -- that still implied a threat.
''. . .
Tell them to listen," Jackson wrote.
"[The proposed plan] is the only one by
which [they can be] perpetuated as a
nation . . . the only one by which they
can expect to preserve their own laws, &
be benefitted by the care and humane
attention of the United States. I am
very respectfully yr. friend, & the
friend of my Choctaw & Chickasaw
brethren. Andrew Jackson."
stands out was the tone Jackson takes,"
said Raab. "It was not uncommon in his
letters to find this direct language.
Yet he adopts some language that would
appeal to these Native American nations
when he speaks of himself as their
father and calls them his children and
Chief David Folsom, who had been a
Jackson military subordinate years
earlier, received the message on Nov.
29, 1829, and reportedly rejected it on
1830, Jackson signed into law the Indian
Removal Act, which led to the "Trail of
Tears." The Choctaw were the first to be
relocated, in 1831, followed by the
Seminole in 1832, the Creek in 1834, the
Chickasaw in 1837, and Cherokee in 1838.
my perspective, we opened the door on
history; we see Jackson differently,"
said Raab. "Looking at a draft is not
the same thing as experiencing the event
as the native tribes would have.
past has a habit of jumping out at you,"
he said. "That's what happened here. A
crucial moment has bounded nearly two
centuries into the future -- and allowed
us to experience a momentous, defining
event. We are still seeing the
repercussions of events set in motion
Trail of Tears