Title Reviewed:
American Indian Policy in the Jacksonian Era

Author Reviewed:
Ronald N. Satz

Walter H. Conser, Jr.


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 72, Issue 4, pp 369-370

Article Type:
Book Review

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American Indian Policy in the Jacksonian Era. By Ronald N. Satz. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975. Pp. xii, 343. Maps, notes, illustrations, appendix, selected bibliography, index. $12.95.)

Recent historiography regarding the American Indian has been divided between those sympathetic to or critical of the treatment of Indians by the federal government. In his study of American Indian policy Ronald N. Satz calls for a dispassionate and systematic consideration of this policy during the Jacksonian era. His well researched and complete discussion comes close to this goal. His analysis contains three focuses: the development of the legislative sanction for removal, the formulation of an administrative bureaucracy for Indian affairs, and the implementation under these governmental auspices of Indian policy.

In the initial chapters Satz assembles the congressional debates, the well known Marshall decisions, the attempts to foster proremoval factions within the several tribes, as well as the various white lobby groups hoping to influence the vote on the Removal Bill of 1830. In so doing, the author shows some sympathy for Jackson and his lieutenants as he sees the "encouragement" of proremoval sentiment (p. 18) and the "winning over" of chiefs (p. 98) where others have seen bribery, the withholding of tribal allotments, and coercion. Yet beneath this level lies a more general political context in which the removal question was a "political football" (p. 48) between Whigs and Jacksonian Democrats. Thus, Satz correctly argues that the Indian question, along with those of the bank, tariffs, and internal improvements, contributed significantly to "the formation of a new two party system in the 1830s" (p. 39).

By the late 1830s, though the majority of eastern Indians had been evacuated west of the Mississippi, their status in the new land remained problematic. Satz highlights the formation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and especially the administrations of Thomas McKenney and T. Hartley Crawford. Partisan politics once again figured significantly in Jacksonian Indian relations. First, the development of a governmental bureaucracy—ostensibly to handle Indian affairs, hand out provisions and annuities, and supervise domestic peace—provided attractive sinecures for patronage dispensing politicians. More significant than the politicization of the Indian office was that, as Henry Schoolcraft, agent in Michigan, put it, the Indians were "politically a nonentity …. the whole Indian race is not, in the political scales, worth one white man's vote" (p. 200). Thus, as Satz effectively argues, Indian affairs rarely gained attention, and what concern they engendered too often reflected the avaricious zeal of opportunistic politicians.

Against this unsavory background Satz pits those recommendations, such as the Stokes Commission of 1834, for an Indian territory with autonomous self rule. Such proposals made little headway, however, as the Office of Indian Affairs consolidated its control of Indian matters and the patronage powers that went with it. By the 1840s and the administration of Polk the Indians were once again posed as the obstacle to American expansion toward the Pacific. Jackson's removal program, Satz concludes, represented merely a charade never achieving its announced goal of "civilizing" the Indians, or consonance between its reality and rhetoric. Instead control and management were the watchwords, and once again Indian tribes "would continue to relinquish their land at approximately the same rate that whites demanded it" (p. 2).

Satz' study stands as an able contribution to the growing scholarly literature on American Indian history. There is room to differ with specific points in this well written book, but such is to be expected in an area as controversial as this one. His presentation throughout is full and even handed and provides readers with a rich and thorough study of Indian-white relations in this crucial era.

Brown University, Providence Walter H. Conser, Jr.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.