Indian questions: Native American writing in response to removal

Daniel Cole, Fordham University


This dissertation reads Native American and American literatures against the context of the Indian removal debates that of the 1820's and 1830's, and argues that Native-authored texts generated arguments and discourses that countered, disrupted, and refuted the rhetoric deployed to support Indian removal (though they could not dislodge it). The "Indian Question," as it was called, reached a moment of crisis in the period between the Supreme Court's McIntosh ruling in 1823 that provided a legal basis for dispossessing the Indians, through the passage of the Removal Bill in 1830, to the Supreme Court's rulings in the Cherokee cases in the 1830's which paved the way for the Trail of Tears in 1838. The intervening years saw a remarkable amount of literary output on, about, and by Native Americans. I examine the relationships between some of these works and their contexts (including problems of authorship they pose), and trace how the debate on Indian removal which gripped the country also played out in their pages. I argue that white Indians such as John Dunn Hunter (Osage), Mary Jemison (Seneca), and John Tanner (Ojibwe), by way of their status as liminal figures, expose the contradictions and inconsistencies in Lewis Cass's construction of race in his defenses of federal Indian policy. I show how William Apess (Pequot) and Elias Boudinot (Cherokee) both critique miscegenation and intermarriage anxieties and also address the denial of Indian sovereignty that emerges in the legal discourse of Chief Justice Marshall, and in the historical and sentimental fiction of Lydia Maria Child, Catherine Maria Sedgwick, and James Fenimore Cooper. I also examine the scientific case for removal which emerges in the writing of Robert Montgomery Bird, and fords legitimacy in the work of Samuel G. Morton. Against these two works, I read Black Hawk's Life, which explicitly denounces the elicit trade in Indian skulls and cadavers that provided specimens to scientists like Morton. The dissertation argues that the Native texts of the 1820's and 1830's explicitly resist Andrew Jackson's removal policy, and assert Indian identity, rights, nationalism, and sovereignty in the face of a dominant culture that granted them none of these things.

Subject Area

American literature|Native Americans|Native studies

Recommended Citation

Cole, Daniel, "Indian questions: Native American writing in response to removal" (2007). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3286417.