- Driven West: Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears to the Civil War
An emeritus professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, A. J. Langguth has written diverse works of history, journalism, and fiction. His most recent publication, Driven West, weaves together the removal of the Cherokee from the southeastern United States and the coming of the Civil War into a narrative history. Although specialists will find little revelatory in this volume, it offers a carefully structured and clearly written account that covers an impressive amount of detail. Instructors should consider assigning Driven West, especially in upper-division undergraduate courses where students will have the background to engage the volume critically.
Langguth organizes Driven West into twenty short chapters, most of which take their title from the names of prominent men like Henry Clay, [End Page 262] Andrew Jackson, Sequoyah, John Ross, and Major Ridge. The chapters, however, are not strictly biographical, as each focuses on a sequence of personalities and developments. The strength of this episodic approach is that Langguth manages to introduce a variety of key players, including Cherokee leaders, Christian missionaries, and U.S. politicians, while quickly advancing the narrative. At its best, this approach also conveys the complexity of the relationships involved in the removal of the Cherokee and the volatility of politics in the Age of Jackson. To complement this structure, Langguth uses a journalistic style that relies on evocative details instead of an overt thesis. Langguth withholds his own judgment, but he is unsparing in relaying the greed and corruption common to U.S. politicians and bureaucrats, the factional and sometimes self-serving decisions of Cherokee leaders, and the indictments offered by those who saw removal unfold. This volume will have much to offer those unfamiliar with the Trail of Tears or the underside of the early United States' democratic ethos.
Langguth's narrative ranges from the Cherokee alliance with Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 up through the postremoval divisions that informed Cherokee stances during the Civil War. Driven West coheres around the rise of the second party system and its role in frustrating Major Ridge, John Ross, and their close associates as they negotiated with the federal government for protection from Georgia settlers. If not original, this topic allows Langguth to present not only the Cherokees' forced migration west but also a host of interconnected stories. He recounts, to name a few examples, the "Eaton malaria" during Andrew Jackson's presidency, Sequoyah's creation of the Cherokee alphabet, and John Howard Payne's career as an actor and playwright in Europe. Although occasionally tangential, these anecdotes help to contextualize removal. From them, nonspecialists can grasp the ties connecting Cherokee elites to the social and cultural fabric of the early United States, the tensions between northern missionaries and southern settlers, and the value of removal as an issue for both Jacksonians and Whigs. Langguth covers the political dimensions of removal well, describing John Quincy Adams's skepticism toward the fraudulent Treaty of Indian Springs, the uncertain authority of the antebellum federal government over the states, and Andrew Jackson's disregard of the Supreme Court's ruling in Worcester v. Georgia. As Langguth suggests, Henry Clay might have interceded on the behalf of the Cherokee if he had become president but found his ambitions hobbled by the "corrupt bargain" of 1824. Langguth attends to the Cherokee leadership in similar detail, addressing the repeated efforts of John Ross and the Ridges [End Page 263] to negotiate an alternative to removal and the deep antagonism between them after the Ridges signed the Treaty of New Echota. Langguth carries his story up beyond removal, surveying U.S. expansionist activity in the 1840s, the ensuing demise of the second party system, and the internecine conflicts that wracked the Cherokee leadership in the trans-Mississippi West. Readers may find his discussion of the decade-long run-up to the Civil War rushed, but Langguth nonetheless...