The Band of American Women Who Tried to Stop Andrew Jackson’s Native American Removal Policy

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Aug. 14 2013 1:00 PM

The Band of American Women Who Tried to Stop Andrew Jackson’s Native American Removal Policy

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

More than 60 women from Steubenville, Ohio, signed this 1830 petition begging Congress to reconsider Andrew Jackson’s plan to remove southern Native Americans beyond the Mississippi. (The petition is now held in the National Archives.)

In the early 19th century, the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Choctaw nations stood in the way of white settlement in the South, and Jackson made their removal one of the major goals of his administration.

Advertisement

While Jackson and his allies framed the issue as one of protection, arguing that removal would reduce inevitable conflicts between white settlers and Native Americans, lawmakers in the opposition—including Henry Clay—were inclined to be sympathetic to the Native Americans’ claim on the land.

These supporters, bolstered by advocacy in the Christian press, were particularly moved by the fact that some of these tribes had taken up agriculture and Christianity in response to white teachings.

As historian Mary Hershberger writes, the fight against Native American removal was the first time that American women became politically active on a national scale. Empowered by the ideology of republican motherhood, which argued that women had a political voice based on their place as educators of sons and guardians of the moral code, women decided to step into the debate.

This “memorial” (another term for “petition”) was humble to the extreme. Calling themselves “the feeblest of the feeble,” the memorialists acknowledged that the lawmakers might find such “presumptuous interference” to be “wholly unbecoming the character of American Females.”

Nonetheless, the women begged their readers to remember that in the United States 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, Hershberger writes, the campaigners succeeded in “deluging Congress with women’s petitions,” the campaign ultimately failed. Congressional Democrats scoffed, mocking 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, while others, including most of the Cherokee, were forcibly removed.

Many of the women involved in the petition drive, including Harriet Beecher (Stowe) and Angelina Grimké, later took up the abolitionist cause, where they found more success.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Watch Little Girls Swear for Feminism

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Culturebox

The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 23 2014 1:51 PM Is This the ISIS Backlash We've Been Waiting For?
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 23 2014 1:34 PM Leave Me Be Beneath a Tree: Trunyan Cemetery in Bali
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 23 2014 1:46 PM The Real Secret of Serial Has Sarah Koenig made up her mind yet? 
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.