Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jacksonland: A Book Review

A lawless President, a supine Congress, political manuevering and a group of people used as pawns to ensure a desired election could be modern America, but it is not.

To read Steve Inskeep's JACKSONLAND is to read about one Presidential era while surrounded by the very same underhanded skullduggery that forms America's present-day political fabric.

Andrew Jackson is a fascinating character, in large part because of his ancestry. A product of the Ulster Plantation migrated to America in search of religious freedom, he brought with him the same mindset that led to The Troubles and the oppression of Catholics in Ireland for centuries. Land taken by conquest, followed by punitive laws, worked for the British as they took the property of Catholics who refused to give up their faith. And so too did Andrew Jackson set out to take the land of the American Indian nations who happened to be living in a part of the expanding United States that Mr. Jackson wanted for his fellow whites.

The book can be dense in places, but it is well worth crawling through the forest of details to get a strong grasp of the underhanded methods employed by the Jacksonians, and the brilliant strategies employed by the Cherokee leader John Ross in doing all he could to stop the land grab.

Mr. Inskeep traces the relationship between the two warring parties from its origin, the War of 1812, when American rule over the North American continent was sealed with England's retreat from its former colonies. Andrew Jackson is shown as a ruthless man who would use any tool available to him to achieve his goal, and he used an alliance with the Cherokee in that war to further his own aims. The way in which he then turned on a former ally forms the heart of the tale, and it is not a pretty story.

The author does not shy away from presenting a less-than-admirable treatment of the real estate sales that Jackson arranged to his own benefit, making himself wealthy in the process, leaving the natives to an ever-shrinking world. Honesty between whites and Indians was not seen as a necessary component in business transactions for those who saw pots of gold strewn across Cherokee territory.

Indeed, the book is a litany of abuse that was accepted by those who believed that they had a right to land. Where the past meets the present is in Jackson's complete disregard for the law, including a refusal to abide by a Supreme Court ruling on the rights of the Cherokee to not be forced off their homeland.

JACKSONLAND is a very timely read in this era of political gamesmanship, with various tribes in use as pawns by politicians who seek to retain the power they hold. At the same time it is a history that has its roots in Ireland, where a similar scenario played out and followed the same path charted by another mighty empire that sought to wipe out the existing culture.

The book is worth reading for its lessons in history, which tend to repeat because so much of the history has been forgotten.

(Dear FTC: My copy of JACKSONLAND was provided by Penguin's First To Read Programme. In case you're wondering.)

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