Portrait of Andrew Jackson

Indian-Killer Andrew Jackson Deserves Top Spot on List of Worst U.S. Presidents

Gale Courey Toensing/ICTMN Staff

This article was originally published on Presidents' Day 2012.

Unlike the statement in Indian Country Today Media Network’s “Best Presidents for Indian country” story, it’s a bit easier identifying the “worst” presidents for Indian country. Five tend to stand out with the majority of the rest huddled together after that. Here are our nods to the presidents who did more harm than good for Native Americans while in office.

Portrait of Andrew Jackson (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)

Andrew Jackson: A man nicknamed “Indian killer” and “Sharp Knife” surely deserves the top spot on a list of worst U.S. Presidents. Andrew Jackson “was a forceful proponent of Indian removal,” according to PBS. Others have a less genteel way of describing the seventh president of the United States.

“Andrew Jackson was a wealthy slave owner and infamous Indian killer, gaining the nickname ‘Sharp Knife’ from the Cherokee,” writes Amargi on the website Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory & Practice. “He was also the founder of the Democratic Party, demonstrating that genocide against indigenous people is a nonpartisan issue. His first effort at Indian fighting was waging a war against the Creeks. President Jefferson had appointed him to appropriate Creek and Cherokee lands. In his brutal military campaigns against Indians, Andrew Jackson recommended that troops systematically kill Indian women and children after massacres in order to complete the extermination. The Creeks lost 23 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama, paving the way for cotton plantation slavery. His frontier warfare and subsequent ‘negotiations’ opened up much of the southeast U.S. to settler colonialism.”

Jackson was not only a genocidal maniac against the Indigenous Peoples of the southwest, he was also racist against African peoples and a scofflaw who “violated nearly every standard of justice,” according to historian Bertram Wyatt-Brown. As a major general in 1818, Jackson invaded Spanish Florida chasing fugitive slaves who had escaped with the intent of returning them to their “owners,” and sparked the First Seminole War. During the conflict, Jackson captured two British men, Alexander George Arbuthnot and Robert C. Ambrister, who were living among the Seminoles. The Seminoles had resisted Jackson’s invasion of their land. One of the men had written about his support for the Seminoles’ land and treaty rights in letters found on a boat. Jackson used the “evidence” to accuse the men of “inciting” the Seminoles to “savage warfare” against the U.S. He convened a “special court martial” tribunal then had the men executed. “His actions were a study in flagrant disobedience, gross inequality and premeditated ruthlessness… he swept through Florida, crushed the Indians, executed Arbuthnot and Ambrister, and violated nearly every standard of justice,” Wyatt-Brown wrote.

In 1830, a year after he became president, Jackson signed a law that he had proposed – the Indian Removal Act – which legalized ethnic cleansing. Within seven years 46,000 indigenous people were removed from their homelands east of the Mississippi. Their removal gave 25 million acres of land “to white settlement and to slavery,” according to PBS. The area was home to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole nations. In the Trail of Tears alone, 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger, and disease on their way to the western lands.

Portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)

Dwight Eisenhower: President Dwight Eisenhower, the World War II hero who served as President from 1953 until 1961, was an early advocate of consultation. On August 15, 1953, he signed into law H.R. 1063, which came to be known as Public Act 280, because he believed it would help forward “complete political equality to all Indians in our nation.”

Public Act 280 transferred extensive criminal and civil jurisdiction in Indian country from the federal government to California, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Alaska. Other states were allowed to opt in later. In a signing statement accompanying the bill, Eisenhower objected to certain sections because they allowed other states to impose H.R. 1063 on tribal nations, “removing the Indians from federal jurisdiction, and, in some instances, effective self-government” without requiring “full consultation.” He recommended that Congress quickly pass an amendment requiring states to consult with the tribes and get federal approval before assuming jurisdiction on reservations.

The bad news is Eisenhower didn’t veto H.R. 1063. If he had, the devastating termination and relocation era would have been delayed and possibly stopped, according to Edward Charles Valandra in his book Not Without Our Consent: Lakota resistance to termination, 1950-59. “Indeed, his veto could have stopped its passage. Arguably, had Eisenhower vetoed H.R. 1063, the termination program would have been effectively curtailed long enough for Native peoples to mobilize a preemptive campaign against further measures similar to H.R. 1063. At the very least, Native, state, and U.S. relations would have taken a much different course from what the Native population actually experienced,” Valandra wrote.

Although the termination era had its roots in the post World War II years and lasted through the 60s, it came under full steam during Eisenhower’s presidency. During that time, Congress “terminated” – withdrew federal acknowledgment from and the trust relationship with – 109 tribes and removed more than 1,365,000 acres of land from trust status. More than 13,260 people lost their tribal affiliation.

A writer on the Native American Netroots website sees the termination era as part of America’s Cold War battle against global communism, “Following World War II, the United States turned its energies into fighting communism. Indian reservations and policies which would allow Indians to determine their own futures were deemed communistic and the federal government set out once again to destroy (terminate) Indian tribes and to ‘allow’ Indians to assimilate like other immigrants. Indian people and their tribal governments vigorously opposed these policies,” the writer says. President Richard Nixon ended the termination era in 1970 and introduced the “self-determination” era.

George W. Bush

George W. Bush: While George W. Bush was one of three presidents since 1995 to issue proclamations designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month, his understanding of tribal sovereignty is limited.

At the Unity: Journalists of Color Conference (see video below) in 2004 when questioned by Mark Trahant, the then editorial page editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, about sovereignty in the 21st century, Bush gave a muddled answer.

“Tribal sovereignty means that. It’s sovereign. You’re… You’re a… you’ve been given sovereignty and you’re viewed as a sovereign entity,” Bush stumbles through his answer. “And therefore the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities.”

And sovereignty isn’t the only Native American issue Bush was unclear on during his presidency. A 2004 report titled “The Civil Rights Record of the George W. Bush Administration, 2001-2004” by the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights details where the president fell short on civil rights for Native Americans.

“President Bush has acknowledged the great debt America owes to Native Americans. However, his words have not been matched with action,” the report states.

To back up its claims, the report details how Bush did not provide sufficient funding for tribal colleges and universities, and even proposed cutting $1.5 billion in funding for education programs that benefit Native Americans.

The report also detailed how the Bush administration provided inadequate funding for the Indian Health Service, funding it at $3.6 billion in 2004 when health needs in Indian country called for $19.4 billion.

Housing in Indian country wasn’t funded adequately by Bush either. He failed to provide enough funds to cover the cost of the 210,000 housing units that were needed.

The final point made by the commission was Bush’s termination of critical law enforcement programs, like the Tribal Drug Court Program.

Watch Bush’s response to tribal sovereignty in the 21st century:

Abraham Lincoln: The majority of the United States knows Lincoln as the president who “cannot tell a lie,” and as the leader of the Emancipation Proclamation. However, if you were to ask Native Americans their perception of the great president, the image would be much darker. Lincoln made no effort to work with Native Americans, instead he worked against them. When the Sioux demanded its $1.4 million they had been promised for the sale of 24 million acres of land, that had already started to be settled by whites, Lincoln did nothing. According to an article on the United Native America website, The Sioux revolted and Lincoln called upon General John Pope to handle the uprising. Pope began his campaign by saying, "It is my purpose to utterly exterminate the Sioux. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromise can be made."

President Abraham Lincoln (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)

Lincoln did not argue, the Indians were defeated, and Lincoln ultimately signed the fates of 38 Indian prisoners in Mankato, Minnesota according to Greatdreams.com/lies.htm. In Lincoln’s defense, 303 Indian men were sentenced to death, but Lincoln only signed for 38. On December 26, 1862 the largest mass execution in United States history took place, based on a cloud of doubt.

The Navajos were subjected to a similar situation as the Dakota, as were others. Lincoln followed his “American System” through battles in the Plains, South and Southwest crippling tribes and forcing them from their lands.

Before he was president, Lincoln was the attorney for the railroads, which in order to be completed, the Indian “situation” had to be taken care of—a belief Lincoln carried into office with him. His railroad connections according to United Native America would lead, not only to the attempted annihilation of the Indian, but to tremendous scandals in the administration of another of Lincoln's war criminals, Ulysses S. Grant.

Author David A. Nichols when describing how Lincoln handled the conflicts with the Indians in The Other Civil War: Lincoln and the Indians addressed it by saying, “in his response to these crises, Lincoln was instrumental in determining the fate of Native Americans in the years following his death.”

General Ulysses S. Grant in Uniform (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP)

Ulysses S. Grant: Grant made it on our ‘Best’ Presidents list as well. Mostly because his intentions were in the right place and something that hadn’t been seen in that time. But those good intentions can’t save him from the fact of the matter. Ultimately it was one word that sealed Grant’s fate for this list—reservations. His hopes to move Indians closer to white civilization by creating these “Native communities” backfired. They became a form of bad policy that did more harm than good by cutting ties for Native Americans to a vast area of land they had been used to occupying for hundreds of years. Reservations isolated Native Americans to an area that was and is taken advantage of by federal government administrations for years to come.

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wisgriz's picture
Submitted by wisgriz on
Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law P.L. 280 but instead of him. It's Harry Truman who holds the blame instead of IKE. Truman's administration is what laid the foundation for the laws that Ike signed. F.D.R. has to be one of the worst presidents for Indians. It was his administration that created the bureacracy that sill hampers a great deal of Indian Country (IRA TRIBES&JOHN COLLIER). Twenty years of a Democratic Administration from 1932 to 1952 still wreaks havoc in Indian Country. The burreaucracy from these years are the cause of so much corruption in many IRA TRIBES. Bill Clinton is one of the worst presidents for Indian Country. He stonewalled the Senate inquiry's of Interior Secretary Babbit handling of the COBELL case. He held meeting's in the oval office with his staff to thwart the Cobell lawsuit. As for George W. Bush, he made a mistake with his speech in regards to Tribal Soverignty. The staff writers here need to look at the bigger picture of George w. I know firsthand from the University of Montana lawyer that George W. did more than Clinton in providing funds for Indians in regards to education. On the other hand George W. did nothing to resolve Cobell either. Bill Clinton was on Pine Ridge in 1999. He took a pipe from the people and held it up as a good will gesture. He turns around and obstructs the biggest case against Indian country. Obama isn't to be commended either. If we read and understand the settlement. The language sounds no different than original policies of 1887. We need to be better educated in regards to past and future presidents and the their appointments from the past in regards to the BIA. WISGRIZ

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
"Worst" is only a matter of OPINION. I wouldn't go so far as the writer's opinion of setting up STRAW PEOPLE to knock over! Let's see national time and resources being spent on 3 major wars: Civil War - Abraham Lincoln Cold War - Dwight Eisenhower Islamic World Wars - George HW Bush. In times of national urgency, of courses resources are going to used for more 'pressing' matters. Lets give credit and kudos where credit is due: George H.W. Bush was the last US President to recognized the Navajo Code Talkers that the CLinton failed to do.

williamkirkland's picture
Submitted by williamkirkland on
The one question I have is this; when you say "...Bush did not provide sufficient funding for tribal colleges and universities..." Isn't it Congress that controls the checkbook, not the President? I believe the Congress at that time was controlled by the Democrats, correct?

alanseeger's picture
Submitted by alanseeger on
The article refers to 1930 as being a year after Andrew Jackson became president. That should read 1830.

editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
Thank you for your comment. The article has been corrected.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
andrew jackson was a bad man- i agree, keep spreading the news of the history and suffering of our people sw

Dennis J. Mason's picture
Dennis J. Mason
Submitted by Dennis J. Mason on
I can't touch a 20 dollar bill without getting the creeps. I certainly don't keep one in my pocket. (Old Hickory - Indian killer - that reputation helped get him elected) Everytime someone starts to give me a 20, I tell the story. Apparently this is not taught in public schools.

tina.azadourian@laposte.net 's picture
Submitted by tina.azadourian... on
The red people are the real owner of America ! neither white neither black people are really at home !! Indians people are right !

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
38 DAKOTA were hanged at Mankato. We are not SIOUX and we declared war, please make this correction.

marcbowlegs's picture
Submitted by marcbowlegs on
Andrew Jackson was the arch-enemy of my Grandfathers including Billy Bowlegs who led the Seminoles against him in the Third Seminole War. His blatant bigotry and ruthless blood thirst rightfully earn him top spot of the worst U.S. Presidents. It's a travesty that his face is on the $20 bill. This needs to be changed!

Barbara Black's picture
Barbara Black
Submitted by Barbara Black on
This is shocking to read. I had no idea the extent of the carnage during this time frame, and the injustice gives me chills just thinking about it in detail. And white people wonder why Native Americans have a reputation for becoming alcoholics & drug addicts, it's a sign of a nation beaten down so bad, that to have any hope is to be called "foolish". Similarly, the black community feels these same pains, as "kindred spirits". Just look at the ghettos many blacks are forced to live it, because of being segregated by so many similarities to Native Americans. But nothing is so beautiful as a mixed race child. Now days the Native Americans have gambling legalized, which is just another form of government control. Can't help wondering what they will come up with for the African American's to be controlled with, in future generations. God Help Us Everyone. In Jesus Name, I pray. Amen & Amen.

debororah.sanchez1@gmail.com's picture
Submitted by debororah.sanch... on
Does my opinion count, I am the product of the decolonization of First Nation Peoples, born here in the USA but Native Ancestry from Canada? With at least 4 Algonquin Clan's blood in my veins , though watered down is my very point! I am the product of the genocidal mindset of the European leader's. I identify myself as Native, yet I am non status. Though I graduated from A Native American GED center in Boston, MA. I am Metis', mixed French and Algonquin for many many generations, though never losing the Native Blood, but also keeping the French blood. My paternal side had instilled in me that I was Native American. I have paper trail of birth records all the way back to the 1700's the first listed Full Blooded Native Ancestors, but it did not stop there. Like a basket weaving of beauty, we never had a generation without the continuity of First Nation heritage, however, because my paternal Native side refused to assimilate in Canada, went south to the US to leave behind a history of slavery to the French Missionaries with a bounty on their heads, entered into the US forfeiting their Canadian citizenship , became US citizens finally getting monetary payment for their mill work instead of "fish head's", and had only 2 options for the US Census , White or Negro, they chose White...It wasn't about abandoning their family and Clan, it was about not conforming to Canadian Law, only to find out they would have to conform to US Laws, however, they got profitable income for their labor. It just offends me that Native's themselves would deny me status, to me , it's contributing to the genocide that is still going on today. I have close relationships with status Natives and I've lived and loved Native men my child is Hawaiian descent and Filipna. We both identify with our Native routes. I have met my cousins left behind in Quebec, and they recognize me as part of their families. Yet, as long as First Nation Counsel's make it hard of impossible for non status's to return, the genocide will continue with the assistance of First Nation Leaders . I'm not alone with this problem, other non status feel the same like myself. Stop the Genocide of the First Nation non status and do not Isolate us from our ancestors and cousins. dms

Linda Bergeron's picture
Linda Bergeron
Submitted by Linda Bergeron on
Glad to see this article. In addition, I believe first Supreme Court Justice John Marshall argued that the state of Georgia had no right to remove the Cherokee people from their lands, and Pres. Jackson went against the Justice and assisted Georgia in doing whatever it wanted to do - remove the Cherokee. Also, President Grant fully promised the Joseph Band of Nez Perce in northeast OR to reserve particular homeland which he rescinded. I think this list is a great one as a beginning. If every tribe lent comment on the severity of presidential influence and heavy-handedness on their people over the centuries, it could be a fantastic anthology with weight. DeLoria's not with us to do the editing, but there are others who could surely who could take on the task and bring it together. LB

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Barbara Black, you are not the only one out here reading who had no idea at how we folks in Indian Country have been screwed. You should read & listen to the stories as told by our peoples who were eyewitnesses & survivors to these mass murders of innocent women, children & elders in times past. There are the stories that the mainstream Invaders & land thieves put in books & teach in public schools & then there are the REAL stories as told & written down by our ancestors through the centuries. The REAL stories about OUR peoples are many times vastly downplayed when read by many a child in public school & even in the college settings as well in times past. If the REAL stories had been put in the history books it would have incited a revolution among people who are good & decent children of the Creator. There is the REAL truth & then there is the "truth" as told by those who outright lied & had the gall to print it all as "fact" for all to read in newspapers of those times & printed in books as "history". If you want to learn the truth about a people, just ask them THEIR version of the same stories in those history books & many times you will see something completely different my friend.

AlauraBorealis's picture
Submitted by AlauraBorealis on
Nixon should be on the best presidents list for ending the termination policy and starting the self determination.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Every single President on Mount Rushmore belongs on this list as do most Presidents. Face it, we've NEVER been on the mind of anyone who DIDN'T want something from us. We can go around and around regarding the ills or contributions of recent Presidents, but the plain fact is that the minority of Presidents have understood us, and an even smaller number actually cares about Native Americans. We are the invislble people. They only suck up to us when they want our votes, our land, or the mineral resources under our homes.

Gopher's picture
Submitted by Gopher on
Obama, not so surprizingly, isn't here as the WORST president...and that is due in part to his lip service to the Native American community. What sheeple! His treasonous act, by passing Congress, tyrannically run health care, no budget, lavish vacations for Moochelle, and letting Iran run amuck do make him the worse president and all Natives should know this, or at least not buy into his lies. Name on major accomplishment he has done on behalf of Native Americans during his time in office (Cobell doesn't count since that was start and finished during the Bush Administration). See, you can't. The Native Americans, as well as the rest of the country have been sold a bill of goods as far as Obama is concerned. 1857 Executive Orders, which is more than all the previous presidents combined...and for what...so he and Reggie Love can go on exclusive golf vacations? Hey skins, get a clue get a grip and start to realize that Obama is even more damaging to the Native issues than any other previous president...and he is getting away with it because he is BLACK

Julian Malone
Julian Malone
Submitted by Julian Malone on
Achh, a lot of this is ascribing the policy du jour to the acting president. Not right to put Ol Abe and Ike in the same company as Ol Hickory and the Shrub. Lincoln and Eisenhower were good men and good leaders. Bush and Jackson were not good men.

Jason Fernandes
Jason Fernandes
Submitted by Jason Fernandes on
@williamkirkland , Well the Republicans had control from 2000-2006, are you suggesting Bush wasnt able to get anything passed through Congress in that window? Six years is a long time.

Cherie Snyder
Cherie Snyder
Submitted by Cherie Snyder on
How did George Washington miss being included on this list? He was an evil man who we referred to as town destroyer. he referred to our Haudenosaunee ancestors as beasts and ordered his men to completely destroy all of our villages and burn all the food stored. Within a few years he had destroyed nearly 30 Seneca towns. His soldiers would skin our warriors from the waist down and wear those skins as boot tops. And people wonder why the term "Redskins" is offensive and painful? There is much more to say about him but i think this is enough. Happy Presidents day!

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
(regarding Andrew Jackson - from the article): " “He was also the founder of the Democratic Party, demonstrating that genocide against indigenous people is a nonpartisan issue. ______________________________________________________________ Not so fast there! Before you go declaring our genocide as a strictly nonpartisan issue you should understand that the two parties actually SWITCHED ideologies in their infancy. Check this out: During the 1860s, Republicans, who dominated northern states, orchestrated an ambitious expansion of federal power, helping to fund the transcontinental railroad, the state university system and the settlement of the West by homesteaders, and instating a national currency and protective tariff. Democrats, who dominated the South, opposed these measures. After the Civil War, Republicans passed laws that granted protections for African Americans and advanced social justice; again, Democrats largely opposed these expansions of power. Sound like an alternate universe? Fast forward to 1936. Democratic president Franklin Roosevelt won reelection that year on the strength of the New Deal, a set of Depression-remedying reforms including regulation of financial institutions, founding of welfare and pension programs, infrastructure development and more. Roosevelt won in a landslide against Republican Alf Landon, who opposed these exercises of federal power. So, sometime between the 1860s and 1936, the (Democratic) party of small government became the party of big government, and the (Republican) party of big government became rhetorically committed to curbing federal power. How did this switch happen?" To read on go to: http://www.livescience.com/34241-democratic-republican-parties-switch-platforms.html ____________________________________________________________ As for George W. Bush (from the article): " While George W. Bush was one of three presidents since 1995 to issue proclamations designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month, his understanding of tribal sovereignty is limited." Bush's understanding of most things was severely limited. Who else could have come up with the statement, "I believe that men and fish can coexist."