Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory

Claudio Saunt. Norton, $26.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-393-60984-4
University of Georgia history professor Saunt (West of the Revolution) investigates the origins and repercussions of the 1830 Indian Removal Act in this eye-opening and distressing chronicle. Contending that the “state-administered mass expulsion” of 80,000 Native Americans from their homelands was both “unprecedented” and avoidable, Saunt contrasts pro-deportation depictions of indigenous peoples as “impoverished drunks” facing “imminent extinction” with examples of diverse communities interwoven into regional economies in the Great Lakes and Southeast. He incisively recounts congressional debates over removal (Southern slave owners wanted to open up new territories for cotton production; Northern reformers argued that preexisting treaties should be honored) and notes that the legislation passed by a mere five votes in the House of Representatives. When Native Americans refused to emigrate, state officials turned “ordinary property and criminal law into instruments of oppression,” Saunt writes, and by the mid-1830s, federal troops were engaged in “exterminatory warfare” against indigenous families. He tallies deaths along the Trail of Tears, millions of dollars in real estate losses, and the spread of slavery into new regions across the South. Saunt presents a stark and well-documented case that Native American expulsion was a political choice rather than an inevitable tragedy. This searing account forces a new reckoning with American history. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 02/26/2020
Release date: 03/24/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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