Hidden History: Slave Rebellions and Forced Native American Evacuation


Episode 9: Rebellion and Removal: Tightening of Slavery

A New History of the American South

Dr Edward Ayers (2018)

Film Review

This lecture covers the major slave rebellions occurring in South Carolina and Virginia between 1830-1850, as well as the forced removal of Native Americans from the southeastern US.

Ayers begins by describing the slave rebellion freeman Denmark Vesey organized with a slave called Gulla Jack in Charleston South Carolina in June 1832. The plan was to free as many slaves as possible and escape with them to Haiti.* They called the rebellion off after another slave betrayed the plot. The city militia arrested and hung sixteen of the leaders.

Ayers talks at length about the background of Nat Turner, who organized the slave rebellion in Southhampton County Virginia in 1831. An enslaved African American preacher, Turner saw visions and heard the voice of God telling him to gather arms and free local slaves from their masters. Turner eventually recruited 28 men, who moved from farm to farm killing white families. They attacked 15 homesteads before other white families learned of the revolt spread and abandoned their plantations. Turner and his followers were eventually arrested and executed.

Increasingly paranoid, white residents of North and South Carolina and Virginia (being greatly outnumbered by their slaves) began to see slave rebellions everywhere. This led to heated debates in the Virginia legislature about the “debilitating” effects of slavery on economic development. Western Virginia, which had the fewest slaves, petitioned the legislature to take steps towards ending slavery. One proposal put forward was for the state to purchase all slaves born after 1840 and either colonize them in Africa or sell them to plantations further south. Instead legislators passed harsher laws to limit the ability of free Blacks to move or gather.

Ayers spends the last half of the lecture on the Indian Removal Act, overseen by President Andrew Jackson despite being overturned twice by the Supreme Court twice. At the time of the forced removals (to “Indian Territory,” ie Oklahoma). By 1830, many Native Americans in the Southeast had converted to Christianity and owned property and slaves.

The Choctaw of northern Georgia were the first to be forcibly moved (after speculators discovered gold on their land) after selling, at a loss, their land and all goods they couldn’t carry with them. Nearly one third died of starvation, exposure or disease during the 500-mile journey.

The Cherokee removal occurred between 1836-39. The US forcibly removed 16,000 members of the Cherokee Nation and 1,000-2,000 from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. Roughly one quarter died.

The Creeks of Alabama were forcibly removed between 1830-36, with roughly 38% dying.

The Seminole of Florida were never evacuated. Jackson launched the second Seminole War started in 1836. Costing more than $20 million, it dragged on for six years. More than 5,000 (out of 36,000) US troops were killed with many more experiencing debilitating injuries.

The film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

*Where slavery ended with the 1791 Haitian Revolution.


Andrew Jackson: America’s First Populist President

Top 10 Scandals to Hit American PresidentsThe Skeptic’s Guide to American History

Episode 6: Andrew Jackson: An Odd Symbol of Democracy

Mark Stoler Phd (2012)

Film Review

According to Stoler, President Andrew Jackson, a well-known populist, owes his 1828 election to the elimination of the property qualification (for male voters) that occurred in most states. On inauguration day in 1829, a mob of Jackson supporters took over the White House while the new president and his family fled.

Born into poverty, Jackson became a war hero during the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. At the time of his election, he was a wealthy Tennessee planter and slave owner. By this time, the Federalist Party had collapsed, leaving a single Democrat-Republican Party supporting limited government and states rights.

Although Jackson received a plurality of the popular vote, the electoral college vote was split between four candidates. The decision was referred to the House (as designated in the Constitution), which awarded the presidency to John Quincy Adams.

In the 1828 election, Jackson defeated Adams outright.

Despite Jackson’s reputation as a “man of the people,” Stoler gives many examples of undemocratic behavior on hos part: he apposed abolition of slavery and rights for women, Blacks and Native Americans; he supported the Postmasters’ Revolt (tje refusal by Southern postmasters to deliver abolitionist materials); he supported South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis;* he lobbied for the Indian Removal Acts (which authorized the military removal of southern tribes to federal lands west of the Mississippi), and he refused to enforce Supreme Court decisions he disagreed with.**

Sovereign money enthusiasts venerate Jackson for his closure of the industry-dominated Second National Bank (precursor to the Federal Reserve) in 1833. Closing the Second National Bank was a major campaign issue in 1832 – one that voters responded to by electing Jackson to a third term.

Stoler seems a bit confused about Jackson’s constitutional reasons (ie the Constitution specifically grants the power to create money to Congress, not to private central banks) for opposing the Second National Bank.

He also seems confused about British economist Adam Smith’s views on government intervention in a so-called “free market” economy. In Book V Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth, Smith makes a compelling case that government intervention is essential in free markets to ensure economic growth and general prosperity.

*South Carolina declared the federal tariffs of 1828 and 1832 unconstitutional and refused to enforce them.

**One specific decision related to Georgia’s efforts to forcibly remove Cherokee from their state. Although the tribe won the decision, Jackson refused to honor it.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.