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.
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.