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American Genocide

The way his supporters saw it, his lack of political experience was a benefit. His brashness and his crude demeanor merely served to set him apart from his career politician opponents. Those opponents saw him as reckless, emotional, unfit to govern—but his supporters saw him as a breath of fresh air. He was the type of guy whose supporters would stay loyal even if he shot someone in the street. He would never have been able to win a majority of votes, but with so many candidates running, he didn't need to. And when the votes were all counted in the election of 1824, Andrew Jackson led the pack with 41% of the popular vote and 38% of the electoral college.

But without a clear majority in the electoral college, Jackson couldn't claim victory, and the career politicians outmaneuvered him. Following the rules set out in the Constitution, the House of Representatives took a vote to select the President. Fourth Place finisher Henry Clay, Speaker of the House at the time, urged his allies to support runner-up John Q. Adams, and Jackson was shut out for four years.

In 1828 Jackson ran again, determined to win despite his considerable baggage. It didn't matter to his followers that he had married a woman who wasn't yet divorced from her first husband. Nor did it matter that he had once killed a man in a duel, and participated in more than a hundred other duels. Or that he had earned most of his fortune through the slave trade. Or that he had had six militia men executed after they deserted during a battle. No, what mattered was that he talked tough and he wasn't John Q. Adams. Jackson supporters were convinced that Adams was a despot who had not legitimately won the previous election.

As Jackson campaigned against Adams for the office he believed was rightfully his, the mudslinging was heavy on both sides. When the dust settled, Andrew Jackson was the winner in a landslide.

He immediately set to work reshaping the country. In Jackson's first State of the Union address, he called for relocation of the Indian tribes of the southeast, claiming their presence was interfering with states' rights to govern their territories. The Indian Removal Act, passed by Congress on May 28, 1830, gave Jackson the authority to negotiate with southeastern tribes to force them into settlements west of the Mississippi.

In the case of the Cherokees, Jackson worked out a deal with John Ridge, a member of the Cherokee National Council who had been sent to Washington in an attempt to talk Jackson out of removal. Jackson refused to budge, and Ridge became convinced that the Cherokees had no choice: They could accept relocation on Jackson's terms, or face military retribution. But when Ridge reported back to National Council, he found few supporters.

Meanwhile, relations between the Cherokees and the State of Georgia were deteriorating. The Georgia Legislature passed a series of restrictive laws, forbidding Cherokees from testifying in court, forbidding the National Council from meeting, forbidding white people from entering Cherokee territory without a permit. Samuel Worcester, a Congregational missionary, protested that last law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court would eventually make a broad ruling that states had no jurisdiction over tribal lands, thus invalidating all of Georgia's laws regarding the Cherokees. But by then, gold had been discovered in northern Georgia, and leading Georgians were calling for Jackson to move forward with relocation. The Georgia Legislature had passed its own Cherokee Removal Bill, and was hoping to complete the removal despite the Supreme Court's ruling. Jackson agreed.

After winning reelection in 1832, Jackson presented a new removal treaty to the Cherokees. He made it clear he wasn't going to cooperate with the Supreme Court, and nobody was in a position to stop him. Principal Chief John Ross offered several proposals that would let the Cherokees keep their lands, but Jackson refused to consider anything but wholesale removal. By 1835, it became clear that neither Ross nor Jackson would budge. Failing to reach an agreement with Ross, Jackson took his treaty to Ridge. Once he had Ridge's signature, Jackson sent the treaty to Congress to be ratified. Ross protested that the treaty was never approved by the Cherokee National Council, and was therefore invalid. The impasse was eventually broken when the United States Army was sent to ensure compliance.

Approximately 16,000 Cherokees left Georgia for what is now eastern Oklahoma. Only 12,000 survived the journey. And the Cherokees were only one of five tribes affected. By the time it was over, Jackson's policy of ethnic cleansing had forced 46,000 people from their homes and resulted in more than 10,000 deaths.

So when Donald Trump talks about rounding up Hispanics or Muslims or journalists, these are threats we should take seriously. Don't assume it can't happen here. It has before.

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