The Trail of Tears, during which the United States violently expelled thousands of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral homelands in the southeast, was anything but inevitable. Nor was it not the only manifestation of the federal government’s hotly debated Indian Removal policy of the 1830s. In his latest book Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory
(W. W. Norton, 2020), historian Claudio Saunt
shows how coalitions between southern slaveholders, social and religious reformers, financiers and speculators, and politicians produced what Saunt argues to be an unprecedently massive deportation initiative aimed at eliminating all Indigenous peoples living east of the Mississippi River.
Starting with Jeffersonian policies towards Indigenous lands and communities, Saunt traces the evolution of federal policy through the now infamous Jacksonian removal policy. Saunt shows how controversial the Indian Removal Act was among American politicians, and how a wide-ranging coalition of pro-removalists consistently struggled to force Indigenous communities from their homes. At the crux of pro-removalists troubles were the many forms of resistance Indigenous peoples, communities, and nations used to refuse whatever fate was conjured for them. Unworthy Republic foregoes an oft-repeated history of inevitable erasure, recounting instead how Native resistance and refusal shaped the aggressions and animosity of proponents of removal.
Annabel LaBrecque is a PhD student in the Department of History at UC Berkeley. You can find her on Twitter @labrcq.