By Jonathan Nicholson
Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, died in 1845. Tennessee gave a statue of him to the U.S. Capitol in 1928. But the conflict over his legacy continues today for Native Americans.
With cities and states reconsidering the symbolism of local statues to Confederate figures, as well as a move by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to rid the U.S. Capitol of Confederate statues that were sent by the states, two House lawmakers wonder if it’s time to look at Jackson.
Jackson’s exploits in driving Native Americans from the Southeast helped win him the presidency in 1828 but make him almost universally reviled by tribal members today. The statue from Tennessee sits in a place of honor, under the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the Rotunda, seen by thousands of tourists each year in pre-coronavirus days.
“There’s no question Andrew Jackson was the worst president ever for Native Americans — cruel, horrible,” said Rep. Deb Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat. Haaland is one of only four Native Americans and one of two Native women in Congress.
Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico, said Jackson’s statue doesn’t deserve its place in the Rotunda.
“I mean, who are our heroes? I know Speaker Pelosi took the portraits down in the Speaker’s gallery. This is along those same lines,” she said, referring to Pelosi’s removal from an area just off the House floor of four portraits of past House Speakers who joined the Confederacy.
Rep. Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat and a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, echoed Haaland.
“I think it’s a good conversation for us to be having,” she said. “I think that a lot of people don’t probably know a ton about the relationship between Andrew Jackson and the Native people here on this continent, during that time frame,” she said.
“If it were up to me, I would remove the statue,” said Davids.
Jackson is one of several presidents whose statues or busts line the 96-foot diameter Rotunda. As part of a collection of statues sent by home states for display on the Capitol grounds, his caped figure stands with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. Other statues in the Rotunda honor Martin Luther King, Alexander Hamilton and early women suffragists.
While he’s known for being the hero of the battle for New Orleans during the War of 1812 and, in his presidential term, killing the Second Bank of the United States, Jackson’s legacy in Indian Country is much darker.
As the nation expanded into what are now the Southeast states in the early part of the 19th century, several tribes put up a fight. Jackson led soldiers against the Muscogee (Creek) Nation as well as the Seminole Tribe of Florida and negotiated treaties with several other tribes to get them to cede land for settlement.
He also signed into law the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which authorized the president to give lands west of the Mississippi River to tribes removed from the Southeast. The removal of the Cherokee Tribe, in particular, became known as the Trail of Tears, though several tribes also faced similar hardships on the trip westward.