December 1, 2013
The Band of American Women Who Tried to Stop Andrew Jackson’s Native American Removal Policy
Condensed by Native Village
In the early 19th century, the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Choctaw nations stood in the way of white settlement in the South. President Andrew Jackson made their removal a major goal of his administration.
Jackson and his allies framed the issue as one of protection. They claimed the removal would reduce conflicts between white settlers and Native Americans. They wanted southern tribes to move west of the Mississippi River.
Lawmakers who opposed removal—including Henry Clay—were sympathetic to the Native Americans’ claim on the land. They were bolstered by the Christian press which argued that some of these tribes had taken up agriculture and Christianity in response to white teachings.
The fight against Jackson's Indian removal is the first time that American women became politically active on a national scale. They were empowered by the ideology of "republican motherhood" -- that women deserved a political voice because they were educators of sons and guardians of the moral code.
An 1830 petition signed by more than 60 women from Steubenville, Ohio pleased with Congress to reconsider Andrew Jackson’s removal policy. This “memorial” (another term for “petition”) was humble to the extreme.
The memorialists called themselves “the feeblest of the feeble.” They acknowledged that lawmakers might find such “presumptuous interference” to be “wholly unbecoming the character of American Females.” They also begged readers to remember that American ladies enjoyed a “generous deference” unknown in other countries. Could not the senators and congressmen listen to the women’s plea for a “hapless people”?
While the campaigners deluged Congress with women’s petitions, the campaign ultimately failed. Many in Congress mocked anti-removalists for their inability to keep their ladies out of things.
The Indian Removal Act was passed and enforced. Some tribes signed treaties and left voluntarily. Others, including most of the Cherokee, were forcibly removed.
Many women involved in the petition drive, including Harriet Beecher (Stowe) and Angelina Grimké, later took up the abolitionist cause, where they found more success.
Village © Gina Boltz
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