Religion: A Historic Aside to Jackson, Natives, & Slaves

Quick aside: There’s a great scene in Season 2 Episode 8 of House of Cards where Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is meeting with a group of American Indian Tribal Leaders. When they enter the room they notice an Andrew Jackson portrait on the wall and ask “If he’ll be joining us in the conversation.” Frank says surely not, this is a terrible oversight, takes it down, and then when the Tribe’s representatives leave he puts it back up and spends a considerable amount of time ensuring it’s not crooked. Read into that as you may.

Alright, now the real post.

Jackson held presidency in a time of great change. Another religious awakening was changing the social landscape and greatly increasing the number of American church attendees. There was somewhat of a moral uprising with Presbygationals insisting in the participation in secular leadership for upholding moral principles. Southern Evangelicals were pushing to convert enslaved people and began to enthusiastically press against slavery in some circumstances. Others were proselytizing to native populations and were able to, in their minds, “assimilate” many of the people into farming, christian communities. All this is fine and well, but in the end none of it mattered. Politics, not religion, remained the dominant force of the time even with what seems like an overwhelming majority of citizens to consider themselves Christian and the dominant theory of the time relating to moral theology, Slavery still held strongly rooted in the south and Indians remained exactly the opposite.

Jackson’s view and belief in state’s rights and the precedent set before him allowed southern states like Georgia not only to continually support the institution of slavery unhindered but also to begin annexing land held by natives in the name of states’ rights. Georgia, being the prime example, begain eagerly removing the Cherokee people and were prepared to stand up to National military force to do so. However, when the national forces were pulled back, it condoned the action of annexing and moving native lands farther and farther west. This continued until Jackson’s pro-removal policies were put into place slowly and surely, using vaguely worded laws in order to legitimately dissolve Cherokee Governments and hasten removal if necessary. This is directly related to Michael Dunbar’s post on Jackson’s supposed moralism. While it was somewhat a staple of his presidency and certainly of the religious times of the nation, I agree that it is an inherent oversight to gloss over the tragic and inherent racism that constituted a large part of his presidency and even legacy, as the House of Cards illusion can certainly suggest.

While there was a rise in moralist teachings of the church, ultimately these are powerless in politics. Whether this speaks to a depressing reading of the human condition or rather to the cold, Machiavellian politics of the time is unclear. However, in this circumstance, the popular religious teachings of the day could not change the harrowing times of the Jacksonian era for Natives and even Slaves.


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