Alisse Theodore points out that women first became politically active in the fight against Andrew Jackson’s genocidal Indian Removal campaignHistorians in the News
tags: Andrew Jackson, Trail of Tears, womens history, Alisse Theodore
From the Women’s Marches to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, there’s a distinctly gendered element to a lot of activism in the Trump era. In fact, the American tradition of women speaking about politics goes back to Andrew Jackson’s genocidal Indian Removal campaign, as historian Alisse Theodore explains.
Jackson’s defeat of President John Quincy Adams in 1828 gave him “a clear mandate from southern states to establish U.S. sovereignty rather than preserve Indian rights,” Theodore writes. But there was also a loud force taking the opposite side. In 1829, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, representing missionaries who were trying to “educate and Christianize” Native nations in the South, lobbied against the plan. Jeremiah Evarts, the ABCFM’s corresponding secretary, also became a widely-read spokesman for the opposition under the pseudonym William Penn.
Evarts thought women could help spread his message effectively, so he enlisted his friend Catharine Beecher, the head of a Connecticut girls’ school, to help. Beecher enthusiastically agreed, writing an anonymous letter “To the Benevolent Women of the United States,” which was distributed in circulars and newspapers across much of the country. In response, more than 1,400 women signed petitions protesting the forcible removal of Native people from their lands.
This marked the first time groups of women appealed collectively to the federal government. Between 1789 and 1830, most petitions to Congress had dealt with issues like immigration, tariffs, and postal routes—unambiguously matters for men by the standards of mainstream politics at the time.
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