A prior post included the transcript of an 1830 speech to Congress by President Andrew Jackson promoting the Indian Removal Act. Although Congress eventually passed the bill, it was not without opposition. In particular, the Honorable David (“King of the Wild Frontier”) Crockett spoke against the legislation.
Congressman Crockett had served as a scout for Andrew Jackson during the Creek War of 1813-1814. Crockett’s own grandparents were murdered on the East Tennessee frontier in 1977. While the elder Davy Crockett’s sons were away with the Revolutionary army at King's Mountain in 1777, he and his wife, were two of a dozen or so settlers living near present-day Rogersville who were massacred by Creek and Cherokee Indians.
The younger Crockett’s stand against the Indian Removal Act likely contributed to his loss in the next election. He was the only member of the Tennessee delegation to vote against the Act.
A SKETCH OF THE REMARKS OF THE HON. DAVID CROCKETT, REPRESENTATIVE FROM TENNESSEE. ON THE BILL FOR THE REMOVAL OF THE INDIANS, MADE IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WEDNESDAY, MAY 19, 1830.
Mr. CROCKETT said, that, considering his very humble abilities, it might be expected that he should content himself with a silent vote; but, situated as he was, in relation to his colleagues, he felt it to be a duty to himself to explain the motives which governed him in the vote he should give on this bill.
Gentlemen had already discussed the treaty-making power; and had done it much more ably than he could pretend to do. He should not therefore enter on that subject, but would merely make an explanation as to the reasons of his vote. He did not know whether a [congress]man within 500 miles of his residence would give a similar vote; but he knew, at the same time, that he should give that yote with a clear conscience. He had his constituents to settle with, he was aware; and should like to please them as well as other gentlemen; but he had also a settlement to make at the bar of his God; and what his conscience dictated to be just and right he would do, be the consequences what they might.
He believed that the people who had been kind enough to give him their suffrages, supposed him to be an honest man, or they would not have chosen him. If so, they could not but expect that he should act in the way he thought honest and right. He had always viewed the native Indian tribes of this country as a sovereign people. He believed they had been recognised as such from the very foundation of this government, and the United States were bound by treaty to protect them; it was their duty to do so.
And as to giving the money of the American people for the purpose of removing them in the manner proposed, he would not do it. He would do that only for which he could answer to his God. Whether he could answer it before the people was comparatively nothing, though it was a great satisfaction to him to have the approbation of his constituents.
Mr. C. said he had served for seven years in a legislative body. But from the first hour he had entered a legislative hall, he had never known what party was in legislation; and God forbid he ever should. He went for the good of the country, and for that only. What he did as a legislator, he did conscientiously. He should love to go with his colleagues, and with the West and the South generally, if he could; but he never would let party govern him in a question of this great consequence.
He had many objections to the bill some of them of a very serious character. One was, that he did not like to put half a million of money into the hands of the Executive, to be used in a manner which nobody could foresee, and which Congress was not to control. Another objection was, he did not wish to depart from the rule which had been observed towards the Indian nations from the foundation of the government. He considered the present application as the last alternative for these poor remnants of a once powerful people. Their only chance of aid was at the hands of Congress. Should its members turn a deaf ear to their cries, misery must be their fate. That was his candid opinion.
Mr. C. said he was often forcibly reminded of the remark made by the famous Red Jacket, in the rotundo of this building, when he was shown the pannel which represented in sculpture the first landing of the Pilgrims, with an Indian chief presenting to them an ear of corn, in token of friendly welcome. The aged Indian said “that was good.” The Indian said, he knew that they came from the Great Spirit, and he was willing to share the soil with his brothers from over the great water. But when he turned round to another pannel representing Penn's treaty, he said “Ah! all's gone now.” There was a great deal of truth in this short saying; and the present bill was a strong commentary upon it.
Mr. C. said that four counties of his district bordered on the Chickasaw country. He knew many of their tribe; and nothing should ever induce him to vote to drive them west of the Mississippi. He did not know what sort of a country it was in which they were to be settled. He would willingly appropriate money in order to send proper persons to examine the country. And when this had been done, and a fair and free treaty had been made with the tribes, if they were desirous of removing, he would yote an appropriation of any sum necessary; but till this had been done, he would not vote one cent.
He could not clearly understand the extent of this bill. It seemed to go to the removal of all the Indians, in any State east of the Mississippi river, in which the United States owned any land. Now, there was a considerable number of them still neglected; there was a considerable number of them in Tennessee, and the United States' government owned no land in that State, north and east of the congressional reservation line. No man could be more willing to see them remove than he was, if it could be done in a manner agreeable to themselves; but not otherwise. He knew personally that a part of the tribe of the Cherokees were unwilling to go. When the proposal was made to them, they said, “No: we will take death here at our homes. Let them come and tomahawk us here at home: we are willing to die, but never to remove.” He had heard them use this language.
Many different constructions might be put upon this bill. One of the first things which had set him against the bill, was the letter from the secretary of war to colonel Montgomery-from which it appeared that the Indians had been intruded upon. Orders had been issued to turn them all off except the heads of the Indian families, or such as possessed improvements. Government had taken measures to purchase land from the Indians who had gone to Arkansas. If this bill should pass, the same plan would be carried further; they would send and buy them out, and put white men upon their land. It had never been known that white men and Indians could live together; and in this case, the Indians were to have no privileges allowed them, while the white men were to have all. Now, if this was not oppression with a vengeance, he did not know what was.
It was the language of the bill, and of its friends, that the Indians were not to be driven off against their will. He knew the Indians were unwilling to go: and therefore he could not consent to place them in a situation where they would be obliged to go. He could not stand that. He knew that he stood alone, having, perhaps, none of his colleagues from his state agreeing in sentiment. He could not help that. He knew that he should return to his home glad and light in heart, if he voted against the bill. He felt that it was his wish and purpose to serve his constituents honestly, according to the light of his conscience. The moment he should exchange his conscience for mere party views, he hoped his Maker would no longer suffer him to exist. He spoke the truth in saying so. If he should be the only member of that House who voted against the bill, and the only man in the United States who disapproved it, he would still vote against it; and it would be matter of rejoicing to him till the day he died, that he had given the vote.
He had been told that he should be prostrated; but if so, he would have the consolation of conscience. He would obey that power, and gloried in the deed. He cared not for popularity, unless it could be obtained by upright means. He had seen much to disgust him here; and he did not wish to represent his fellow citizens, unless he could be permitted to act conscientiously.
He had been told that he did not understand English grammar. That was very true. He had never been six months at school in his life: he had raised himself by the labor of his hands. But he did not, on that account, yield up his privilege as the representative of freemen on this floor. Humble as he was, he meant to exercise his privilege. He had been charged with not representing his constituents. If the fact was so, the error (said Mr. C.) is here, (touching his head) not here (laying his hand upon his heart). He never had possessed wealth or education, but he had ever been animated by an independent spirit; and he trusted to prove it on the present occasion.