President Andrew Jackson signed a bill into a law that ultimately led to the forced relocation of Native Americans from the eastern U.S.
By the time that Jackson became president in 1829, white settlers were rapidly encroaching upon traditional Indian land in the southeastern states of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. This region was home to over 50,000 Indians belonging to various tribes, with the five most prominent being the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. These were called the Five Civilized Tribes because they had tried assimilating into U.S. culture. No longer satisfied with assimilation, white settlers now wanted the Indians gone.
Meanwhile, state officials began responding to white pressure by imposing tighter restrictions on Indian activities. Indian leaders countered that their tribes were independent nations and thus were not bound by state or even federal laws. In his first message to Congress in December 1829, President Jackson argued that Indian tribes within states could not be independent nations because the Constitution “declares that ‘no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State’ without the consent of its legislature.”
Jackson recommended that Congress create “an ample district west of the Mississippi (River), and without the limits of any State or Territory now formed, to be guaranteed to the Indian tribes as long as they shall occupy it… This emigration should be voluntary… But they should be distinctly informed that if they remain within the limits of the States they must be subject to their laws.”
This proposal disregarded the fact that Indians had resided in the southeastern U.S. long before white settlement, and thus had the right to their own sovereignty. Moreover, the Constitution was designed to protect that sovereignty through its basis in natural law, which guarantees the right to life, liberty, and property for all people, including Indians.
The Supreme Court ruled that Georgia did not have the right to exercise authority over Indian tribes within the state. This decision was consistent with U.S. policy toward Indians since the presidency of George Washington, which had called for treating Indian tribes the same as all other sovereign nations. Jackson and Georgia state officials ignored the ruling and changed the policy by siding with white settlers pushing for Indian relocation.
Congress answered Jackson’s request for legislation by passing the Indian Removal Act in the spring of 1830. This authorized the president to buy land from Indians in the southeastern states in exchange for offering them new land west of the Mississippi, outside U.S. jurisdiction. It also transferred oversight of Indian affairs to the federal government, which overrode states’ authority to handle their own affairs within their own borders. States usually resisted such federal infringements on their prerogatives, but not so much when it came to Indian removal.
Opponents of this bill included Congressmen Davy Crockett of Tennessee and Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey. Frelinghuysen declared, “We have crowded the tribes upon a few miserable acres on our southern frontier; it is all that is left to them of their once boundless forest; and still, like the horse-leech, our insatiated cupidity cries, give! give!… Sir… Do the obligations of justice change with the color of the skin?”
Supporters insisted that any removal would be “free and voluntary.” To Jackson, the Indians were children who needed guidance if they were to remain living among the more civilized whites. This justified tighter state restrictions on Indians than whites. And if the Indians refused to submit, then they would be compelled to leave. For Jackson, this was the only way to ensure peace between Indians and whites.
The bill passed largely along regional lines, with northerners generally opposing Indian removal and southerners (who lived where most Indians resided) supporting. The House of Representatives approved the bill by just four votes before Jackson signed it into law.
Although the law did not authorize forcible removal, Indians were strongly pressured by government officials to sell their land and leave. As such, Jackson signed over 90 relocation agreements with various tribes. Many Indian signatories were unaware of what they were signing, and most treaty provisions greatly favored white interests.
Even Indians remaining on their land and obeying state and federal law were often cheated out of their property, and government offered them little protection. Tribes such as the Choctaw in Mississippi eventually moved after tiring of white harassment and injustice. Jackson’s reelection in 1832 convinced many other tribes to leave.
The Indian Removal Act led to a mass relocation that was often tragic and violent, as in the case of the Trail of Tears (1837-38) and the Seminole Wars in the 1840s and ’50s. The notion that Indians were not eligible for constitutional rights or protections led to an inhumane U.S. policy that later established the reservation system and relegated most Indians to poverty ever since.
- Andrew Jackson by Robert V. Remini (New York: HarperCollins, 1966) p. 146-149
- A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen (New York: Penguin Books, 2004) , p. 208
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), p. 137-38, 140-41
Wednesday, December 16
General Joseph E. Johnston was given command of the Confederate Department and Army of Tennessee. Johnston succeeded William Hardee, who had temporarily taken command from Braxton Bragg earlier this month. President Jefferson Davis disliked Johnston and was reluctant to give him command, but Johnston was generally respected by the troops and it was hoped that his presence would improve army morale. Johnston soon left his post at Brandon, Mississippi to Army of Tennessee headquarters at Dalton, Georgia.
Federal Brigadier General John Buford was promoted to major general just before dying of typhoid. Buford had gained prominence as an effective cavalry commander, particularly at the Battle of Gettysburg.
A fire destroyed a regimental hospital, arsenal, and bakery at Yorktown, Virginia, causing $1 million in damage. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory.
Thursday, December 17
President Abraham Lincoln submitted a Freedman’s Aid Society proposal to Congress requesting creation of a Federal “Bureau of Emancipation” to provide assistance to freed slaves. A Federal expedition began from Washington, North Carolina. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia and Mississippi.
Friday, December 18
President Lincoln urged Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to remove Major General John Schofield as commander of the Department of Missouri. Radical Republicans in Missouri opposed Schofield’s conservative policies, and this was causing conflict between the state government and the military. Lincoln suggested replacing Schofield with Major General William S. Rosecrans, who had been relieved as command of the Army of the Cumberland in October.
The Richmond Dispatch urged southerners to postpone criticizing the Confederate government due to “this decisive crisis in the national affairs.” Chaplains serving the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia reported a ”high sense of religious feeling throughout the army.” Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, North Carolina, eastern and western Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and the Indian Territory.
Saturday, December 19
President Davis assured new Confederate Army of Tennessee commander Joseph E. Johnston, “The difficulties of your new position are realized and the Government will make every possible effort to aid you…”
The Lincolns hosted a reception for government officials and officers of Russian warships visiting the U.S. Federal naval forces continued bombarding St. Andrew’s Bay, Florida, which included the destruction of 290 salt works and 268 buildings in 10 days. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia and West Virginia as part of the continuing Federal railroad raids. Skirmishing also occurred in eastern Tennessee.
Sunday, December 20
President Lincoln assured a member of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society that he would “not attempt to retract or modify the emancipation proclamation…”
Monday, December 21
Federal expeditions began from Bealeton, Virginia; Rocky Run, North Carolina; and Roseville, Georgia. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia and Tennessee.
Tuesday, December 22
Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk assumed command of the Confederate Army of Mississippi, replacing Joseph E. Johnston who was taking command of the Army of Tennessee. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Mississippi.
Primary Source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)
On March 2, 1836, a group of Texians organized and signed the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico. Proclaiming the Republic of Texas, the Texians drafted a constitution based on the U.S. Constitution. The provisional government consisted of President David G. Burnet and Vice President Lorenzo de Zavala.
In addition, a regular army was created and Sam Houston was appointed commander. Stephen Austin, commander of the volunteer militia, resigned to become the commissioner to the U.S. The new nation was nicknamed the Lone Star Republic because its flag featured a single white star.
Santa Anna ignored the proclamation, instead leading a 6,000-man army into Texas to put down the rebellion. He divided his force and moved with 3,000 of his men on San Antonio, the political and military center of Texas, where a Texian volunteer force was stationed at a mission called the Alamo.
The volunteers at the Alamo had withdrawn to the Alamo to await reinforcements, but none came. This left 187 Texians under Colonels William B. Travis and James Bowie to defend the mission against Santa Anna’s 3,000 Mexicans.
After an 11-day siege, the Mexicans attacked the Alamo. Within an hour, the fort was overwhelmed and all the defenders were killed; the Mexicans suffered from 600 to 1,000 casualties in the attack. The defenders were hailed as heroes by the Texan rebels, and the fall of the Alamo inspired Texas settlers to redouble their efforts to secure independence. “Remember the Alamo” became a war cry.
The infographic at left was powered by Marriott.
For more information, see the Alamo in San Antonio infographic.
Wednesday, December 9
President Abraham Lincoln’s annual message was read to Congress. Lincoln reported that foreign relations were peaceful, Indian relations in the territories were stable, and the naval blockade was growing stronger. Lincoln stated that northern optimism seemed to be rising following the major military victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga.
Noting the pessimism that had pervaded the North a year ago, Lincoln stated that “the crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union is past.” His message ended with a salute to the soldiers, to whom “the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.”
General Ambrose Burnside’s request to be removed as commander of the Federal Department of the Ohio was granted. Burnside had long resented accusations of failing to support the Federals at Chattanooga and failing to act decisively in eastern Tennessee. He was replaced by Major General John G. Foster.
Federal troops suppressed a mutiny of black soldiers at Fort Jackson, Louisiana. The incident occurred due to allegations that white officers were mistreating the black troops.
Federal expeditions began from Waldron, Arkansas and Houston, Missouri. Federal naval vessels seized the British blockade-runner Minna off Charleston, South Carolina. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Tennessee, and Mississippi.
Thursday, December 10
Skirmishing occurred in eastern Tennessee as General James Longstreet’s retreating Confederates tried concentrating near Greeneville.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis expressed concern about the shortage of military manpower.
Federal cavalry conducted raids along the West Virginia, Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. Federals also destroyed a Confederate salt works at Choctawatchie Bay, Florida. Other skirmishing occurred in North Carolina.
Friday, December 11
Federals launched 220 artillery rounds into Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina; a magazine explosion killed 11 and wounded 41. This was the last bombardment of Fort Sumter for the year.
In the Confederate War Department’s annual report, Secretary of War James A. Seddon acknowledged major defeats and an increase in desertion, straggling, and absenteeism. Seddon proposed repealing the substitute and exemption provisions of the draft law.
Skirmishing occurred in West Virginia as part of the Federal cavalry raid on the railroad. A Federal expedition began from Pulaski, Tennessee.
Saturday, December 12
Federal cavalry attacked several points in their railroad raid in West Virginia. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and northern Georgia.
Sunday, December 13
A potential scandal erupted when Emily Todd Helm visited her half-sister, First Lady Mary Lincoln, at the White House. Mrs. Helm was the widow of Confederate General Ben Helm, and some accused Mrs. Lincoln of treason for associating with her.
Skirmishing increased as Federal cavalry continued railroad raids in Virginia and West Virginia. Skirmishing occurred in eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia, and Arkansas.
Monday, December 14
President Lincoln announced that Mrs. Lincoln’s half-sister, Emily Todd Helm, had been granted amnesty by swearing allegiance to the Union. This diffused the controversy of a Confederate widow visiting the White House.
James Longstreet’s Confederates attacked Federals at Bean’s Station in eastern Tennessee. The Federals were initially driven back in heavy fighting before making a stand.
A Federal expedition began from Rossville, Georgia. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, West Virginia, and Arkansas.
Tuesday, December 15
In eastern Tennessee, Federals withdrew from Bean’s Station despite having made a stand there yesterday. Confederate Major General Jubal A. Early was assigned to the Shenandoah Valley District. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia and Tennessee.
Primary Source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)
In 1856, Senator Charles Sumner was beaten with a cane by a congressman responding to Sumner’s bitter condemnation of slavery. Reaction to this attack reflected the deep divisions between North and South.
In the decade prior to the War Between the States (1861-65), Charles Sumner of Massachusetts had become one of the most vocal anti-slavery critics in the Senate. He vividly expressed his point of view in a speech during the debate over whether or not slavery should be allowed in the new Kansas Territory. The speech was called “Crime Against Kansas.”
Sumner angrily denounced the recently enacted Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed settlers in Kansas and Nebraska to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery. To Sumner, slavery should have been prohibited in all U.S. territories, which would stop the “Slave Power” from expanding its political influence on the federal government. Sumner equated the Slave Power pushing for slavery in Kansas to a man forcing sexual relations on a woman:
“Not in any common lust for power did this uncommon tragedy have its origin. It is the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery; and it may be clearly traced to a depraved desire for a new Slave State, hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of slavery in the National Government.”
Sumner then targeted Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, one of the top proponents of spreading slavery into the territories:
“The senator from South Carolina… has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him… I mean the harlot, Slavery. For her his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this senator.”
Sumner’s words shocked and outraged many senators from both northern and southern states. His use of sexual imagery in condemning slavery, as well as his declaration that the history of South Carolina should be “blotted out of existence” prompted Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, sponsor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, to call Sumner a “damn fool” who “is going to get himself shot by some other damn fool.”
Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina was especially outraged, mainly because he was Butler’s nephew. Two days after Sumner delivered his speech, Brooks entered the Senate chamber and told Sumner that “I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” As Sumner tried to stand, Brooks struck him on the head with a heavy cane.
As Sumner fell, he became trapped under his desk, and Brooks struck him several times. Sumner finally freed himself and tried escaping, but he fell in the aisle unconscious, and Brooks continued beating him until the cane broke. Senators trying to intervene were stopped by another South Carolina congressman, who brandished a pistol. After Brooks’s cane broke, he left the chamber with his colleagues and the senators tended to Sumner.
Sumner suffered severe head trauma, chronic pain, and various other disorders attributed to the beating. Even though he was unable to serve in the Senate due to his injuries, the Massachusetts General Assembly reelected him that November as a symbol of resistance to slavery. Sumner did not return to the Senate until three years later.
Northerners reacted to the assault with horror. The Cincinnati Gazette declared, “The South cannot tolerate free speech anywhere, and would stifle it in Washington with the bludgeon and the bowie-knife, as they are now trying to stifle it in Kansas by massacre, rapine, and murder.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I do not see how a barbarous community and a civilized community can constitute one state. I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom.”
Southerners celebrated Sumner’s beating, as Brooks received several canes as a gesture of gratitude. The Richmond Enquirer stated that Sumner should be caned “every morning,” praising the attack as “good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequences,” and denounced “these vulgar abolitionists in the Senate” who “have been suffered to run too long without collars. They must be lashed into submission.”
Brooks resigned from the House of Representatives that summer, even though a motion to expel him was rejected. He declared that had he intended to kill Sumner, he would have used a different weapon. He was tried in a District of Columbia court, found guilty of assault, and fined $300.
This incident helped propel Sumner and his Republican Party to the forefront of national politics. More northerners began siding with the new Republicans, and more southerners began resisting the Republican agenda of barring slavery in the territories, raising tariffs to protect northern industries, and nationalizing finance. The stark difference between northern and southern reactions to Sumner’s vicious beating demonstrated a rift that would ultimately lead to separation.
The U.S. military dispersed a group of war veterans that had assembled in Washington to demand relief from the growing economic recession of 1932.
In 1924, Congress passed the Adjusted Service Certificate Act. This pledged a bonus of up to $625 for military veterans of the World War (later known as World War I). The veterans were given certificates that they could redeem for the cash 20 years after the law took effect, which would have been 1945. The law passed over the veto of President Calvin Coolidge, who argued that “patriotism… bought and paid for is not patriotism.”
By 1932, the economic recession was turning into the Great Depression, and destitution was rampant. In May, veterans and their families gathered and marched on Washington to demand that Congress repeal the 20-year provision and pay out the bonuses immediately. As many as 43,000 veterans and their wives and children arrived in buses, cars, trains, or on foot by the summer. The press called this the “Bonus March,” and referring to the “American Expeditionary Force” that served in the World War, the protestors were called the “Bonus Expeditionary Force,” or simply the “Bonus Army.”
Most protestors assembled together in camps made of wood, tarpaper, or cardboard in Anacostia Flats near the U.S. Capitol. While there, they lobbied Congress to change the law. Politicians expressed sympathy for their plight, but most (including President Herbert Hoover) opposed paying the bonuses early because taxes would have to be raised to generate the revenue needed to pay them. And raising taxes during a recession generally worsens the economic downturn for everybody.
Nevertheless, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would have paid the bonuses early, but the bill was rejected in the Senate. This prompted all but about 2,000 members of the Bonus Army to return home. After lingering in Washington for over a month, Attorney General William D. Mitchell finally ordered the protestors off government property.
A fight broke out between the protestors and police trying to enforce Mitchell’s order, killing two veterans and wounding several policemen. In response, President Hoover ordered the U.S. military to expel the protestors from their camps. General Douglas MacArthur led the military force, aided by Majors Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton.
Government employees gathered to watch the military march down Pennsylvania Avenue, then shouted in protest when the troops began firing tear gas into the Bonus Army camp. Hoover ordered a halt after the troops crossed the Potomac River into Anacostia Flats, but MacArthur ignored the order and destroyed the camp. Over 1,000 people were injured by the tear gas, including two babies who suffocated.
The Bonus Army’s demands had no basis in law, and their demands for special privileges could have made the recession worse by further depleting government revenue. Nevertheless, the press demonized Hoover for unleashing the military on poor war veterans. This, combined with the growing economic downturn, directly contributed to Hoover’s defeat in that year’s presidential election.
When Hoover’s opponent, Franklin D. Roosevelt, became president in 1933, he was faced with another veterans’ protest. Roosevelt responded by providing coffee to the protestors. Despite this warm reception, Roosevelt vetoed a bill granting the veterans their bonus, invoking the same objections to an early payout that Hoover had. However, Roosevelt’s veto was overridden, and veterans got their payments early.
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), p. 391-392
- A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen (New York: Penguin Group, 2004), p. 554-555
- Don’t Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), p. 347-350
Wednesday, December 2
In northern Virginia, Federal Major General George G. Meade ended his campaign to flank General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Mine Run. The Federals withdrew north of the Rapidan River, and both armies settled into winter quarters.
A portion of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal army was moving to reinforce General Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Ohio under siege at Knoxville in eastern Tennessee.
In accordance with Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s order on November 30, General Braxton Bragg relinquished command of the Army of Tennessee to General William Hardee at Dalton, Georgia. Bragg had been generally disliked by his subordinates, and his departure pleased most of the troops.
The Federal naval bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina continued. A Federal expedition began from Waldron, Arkansas. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee.
Thursday, December 3
At Knoxville, General James Longstreet’s Confederates began moving north and east, away from the oncoming Federals. Longstreet’s objective was Greeneville, where he could either launch another offensive in Tennessee or rejoin General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Longstreet incurred southern criticism for his lackadaisical conduct during the Knoxville campaign. His withdrawal gave the Federals a complete victory in Tennessee.
The Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter continued. Skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana.
Friday, December 4
The intense Federal bombardment of Fort Sumter ended after over 1,300 rounds had been fired over the last seven days. Despite heavy pummeling through much of the year, few Confederate casualties had been sustained and the harbor forts showed no sign of surrender.
James Longstreet’s Confederates continued withdrawing eastward, with skirmishing at Kingston and Loudon. Other skirmishing occurred in the West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and the Nebraska Territory.
Saturday, December 5
Federals fired only 61 rounds into Fort Sumter after the intense bombardment ended yesterday. Federal naval forces were repulsed at Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina.
Federal expeditions began from New Berne, North Carolina; Rossville, Georgia; Norfolk, Virginia; Columbia, Kentucky; and Little Rock, Arkansas.
James Longstreet’s Confederates continued toward Greeneville, with skirmishing at Walker’s Ford on the Clinch River and Loudon. Other skirmishing occurred in Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
Sunday, December 6
General William T. Sherman arrived at Knoxville, ahead of his Federal troops coming to reinforce those who had been under siege. Sherman learned that frantic reports of Ambrose Burnside desperately needing help had been exaggerated. This enraged Sherman because he had forced his exhausted men to hurry to Knoxville immediately after the Battle of Chattanooga.
President Davis briefly considered sending General Robert E. Lee to help reorganize the Army of Tennessee but relented.
The Federal monitor Weehawken sank near Morris Island, South Carolina due to defective construction. James Longstreet’s Confederates continued toward Greeneville, with skirmishing near Fayetteville and Clinch Mountain. Skirmishing also occurred in West Virginia.
Monday, December 7
The fourth session of the 1st Confederate Congress assembled in Richmond and received President Davis’s annual message. Davis reported that foreign aid was still not forthcoming, finances were poor, and the armies needed reinforcements. He condemned the “disorderly retreat” at Chattanooga, in which “some of our troops inexplicably abandoned a position of great strength…”
Davis denounced the “savage ferocity” of “these pretended friends of human rights and liberties against the unfortunate negroes…” He concluded by stating that although the Confederacy had not yet secured independence, the “patriotism of the people has proved equal to every sacrifice demanded by their country’s need.”
The first session of the 38th U.S. Congress convened in Washington. A Federal expedition began from Hampshire, West Virginia. Skirmishing occurred in Tennessee and Mississippi.
Tuesday, December 8
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which offered pardons to Confederates who “directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion” if they swore allegiance to the Union and promised to obey Federal laws. This proclamation included what became known as the “Ten Percent Plan,” which proposed that if 10 percent of a state’s registered voters swore loyalty to the Union and recognized the “permanent freedom of slaves,” then that state could form a new government, send Federal representation to Washington, and resume its former place in the Union.
The “Radical” Republicans supported Lincoln’s demands for loyalty oaths and the end of slavery, but they believed that his “Ten Percent Plan” was too lenient. Democrats opposed the plan because it was undemocratic for only 10 percent of a state’s population to dictate how that state’s government should be organized. Nevertheless, it was an effort by Lincoln to appease various political factions, and it was his first significant political step toward restoring the Union.
President Davis asked Robert E. Lee to come to Richmond for a conference about the deteriorating military situation. Meanwhile, Confederate Congressman Henry S. Foote of Mississippi bitterly criticized Davis’s military and civil policies.
John C. Braine and fellow Confederate sympathizers seized the Federal merchant steamer Chesapeake off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Federal vessels pursued Chesapeake until she was retrieved on December 17 in Sambro Harbor, Nova Scotia. William Averell led a Federal cavalry raid on railroads from New Creek, West Virginia, raiding railroads.
Primary Source: The Civil War Day by Day by E.B. Long and Barbara Long (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971)